Ireland: Protests force McDowell climbdown

CWI members in Ireland and Nigeria force Irish government to bring back deported Nigerian school student

On Monday 14 March Elukanlo Olukunle, a 20 year school student living in Palmerstown was snatched by the Gardai and deported to Nigeria in his school uniform.

This disgusting act is only one example of the governments draconian policy of deporting those seeking a better life in Ireland.

As a result of a brilliant campaign of "people power" waged by his school friends from Palmertown Community School and others from the community, Minister for Justice, Michael Mc Dowell, was forced to make a humiliating climb down. This campaign shows that when working class people, young people and asylum seekers take united action, then the brutal deportation policies of this government can be defeated.

Neil Burke who was one of the main organisers of the ’Bring Kunle Home Campaign’ spoke to The Socialist.

How was the Bring Kunle Home Campaign set up?

We felt we had to do something for Kunle so the Wednesday following his deportation we organised a protest outside the Dail with about 55 of us on it. There we met Joe Higgins TD from which we organised a public meeting in Palmerstown that night. It was attended by 70 people from the area including his workmates from SuperValu.

Why do you think your campaign got such a positive response?

I think we helped put a face to a statistic. This was a young person who was about to do his exams and trying to make a better life for himself here in Ireland. People saw how young people from our school were helping another young person who they knew. I think also a lot people realised the story was so horrible and outrageous. Here was a young person simply doing his exams in Ireland and was then deported to Nigeria in his school uniform.

Why do you think McDowell was forced to back down?

I think there were a number of reasons. The fact that the people of Palmerstown got behind Kunle and mobilised through protests meant that he and the government came under massive pressure. Secondly amongst the public there was a general feeling of solidarity towards Kunle because they realised what had been done was wrong so this added to the pressure on Mc Dowell.

Do you think this campaign has helped politicise you and your school friends?

Before Kunle’s deportation a lot of us didn’t even know who Michael McDowell was. Now I think we have a greater awareness of politics and how it effects day to day life. We also know who the politicians in the Dail are and what their policies are. I think we also started out believing that you can’t change anything however we showed that by protesting that you can put people like McDowell under real pressure.

BEFORE COMING back to Ireland, Kunle thanked the role played by the Socialist Party and the Committee for a Workers International in the campaign to bring him home.

"I also thank the Socialist Party members, especially Joe Higgins TD, for their solidarity and support since my unjust deportation. Joe, for instance, had contacted members of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), an affiliate of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) in Nigeria, to secure me accommodation and oversee my upkeep.These protests from my friends and solidarity by the Socialist Party have contributed immensely to force the Irish government review this injustice and recall me. I shall forever be grateful for this."

The reactions of some sixth year students from Palmerstown Community School on the success of their campaign to get Kunle back to Ireland:

Donal Mooney

"I’m delighted, I can’t believe that McDowell changed his mind. He did it because of public pressure. I’d like to help stop it happening to other people as well."

Alison Quigley

"I’m much more politically aware, I see how important it is now to be active."

Janine Dowdall

"Yesterday, I didn’t think that the protest would have an impact. But at the end of the protest, there was much more pressure on McDowell’s back and he couldn’t hack it any more. We’ve proved how to get our point across."

This article is taken from the April edition of the Socialist, newspaper of the Socialist Party in Ireland

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April 2005