Mary Raftery’s excellent RTÉ documentary series “behind the walls” details past and ongoing problems within Ireland’s mental health sector; the second story relates to the alleged imprisonment of captive slave labourers in Britain.
While we are rightly concerned and appalled at what has happened in both instances, we seem less concerned as a European community with what is still happening within our borders. In 2004 an Amnesty International report into mental institutions in Romania detailed the use of captive slave labour to prop up an under-funded care system. Individuals who did not need to be in institutions were being retained in the system to carry out unpaid maintenance and facilities work, replacing an inadequate budget with slave labour. No significant reform of the Romanian mental health system has taken place in the interim; suffering as depicted in the RTÉ documentary still goes on today, within the borders of the EU.
Throughout Romania’s EU accession process, Focus on Romania appealed to EU enlargement commissioners Gunter Verheugen and Olli Rehn to set basic human rights conditions to the entry of that country to the EU, but our concerns were ignored. Pat Cox, while president of the parliament, believed (wrongly )that accession would solve all such problems. We appealed to Bertie Ahern’s government to intervene during Ireland’s term of presidency of the EU (in the year of Romania’s accession), but we were ignored.
Politicians and public figures who publicly wring their hands at the RTÉ documentary or at British slavery story are hypocrites. While we must condemn atrocities that happened in the past, we should be even more concerned about the ones that are happening right now. The reality is that the EU effectively condones slavery and the inhumane treatment of its weakest citizens. It was ever thus, it will always be so, and we learn nothing.
Chairman, Focus on Romania