Assistant Prof. in Gender Studies faces controversy over Abolish Direct Provision Ireland panel

Image Credit: Dominic Daly

Assistant Professor and Lecturer in Gender Studies at UCD Dr Mary McAuliffe is facing backlash over her appearance on a panel as part of an International Women’s Day event held by charity Abolish Direct Provision Ireland (ADPI). The panel of speakers is garnering heavy criticism for its lack of diversity, as all five speakers chosen were white women. 

International Women’s Day (IWD) is held annually on March 8th. There was reproval directed towards the charities choice of speakers, with one attendee clarifying that there was an expectation of a more diverse panel, given the charity’s focus. A Reception and Integration Agency (RIA, as part of the Department of Justice and Equality) survey showed that in 2018, Nigerian citizens made up the largest nationality living in Direct Provision centres. This was followed by Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Albania. 

While the speeches given by the panellists were hailed as ‘powerful’ by an attendee, they said that there was an obvious lack of representation across a spectrum of women. The panel did include Éirénne Carroll, a transgender woman who advocates for intersectional feminism and partnerships. She spoke of the importance of ‘breaking down barriers between women on [International Women’s Day]’.

One attendee spoke of Dr McAuliffe’s words at the event, that she was “inspiring and genuine”. While the talk included readings from asylum seekers living in Direct Provision, some Twitter users took issue with the advertising posters only promoting the five white speakers. On the representation controversy, Dr McAuliffe released a statement admitting that she attached her name to the group “without checking the organisations’ background or the panel makeup – as someone who has always demanded and campaigned on inclusion, I apologise to all, and learn the lesson to redouble on inclusion”. Dr McAuliffe also mentioned in a conversation online about the lack of ethnic representation that she too agreed that “the absence of Minceir (member of the Irish traveller community) women is absolutely regrettable, and something I’m sure the organisers will ensure won’t happen again”.

Abolish Direct Provision Ireland faced more controversy after the panel, when they were accused by several Twitter users of being involved with right-wing groups and organisations during various campaigns in opposition to the opening of Direct Provisions centres in Galway and Wexford. ADPI was linked to the Church of Scientology in 2019 when they were offered the use of a Scientologist church building for an asylum seekers cultural night. The event was later cancelled due to funding issues and concerns over the venue. Their press release from March 8th reiterated that ADPI “would like to make it clear we are not affiliated with a Scientologist church”. Dr McAuliffe’s statement also included her acknowledgement of ADPI’s links to various organisations; “I allowed myself to get involved in a IWD event without checking the organisations’ background”.

Abolish Direction Provision did not respond to request for comment on the backlash to panel diversity, but like Dr McAuliffe, many speakers at the IWD including News Editor at the Irish Examiner Deirdre O’ Shaughnessy, responded to the fallout: “Thanks to everyone who let me know of their concerns”.