|Eugene Quinn is the Director of the Irish Jesuit Refugee Service. JRS Ireland aims 'to accompany, advocate and serve' the cause of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. It focuses mainly on supporting people seeking asylum in state-provided accommodation, assisting immigration-related detainees, working for integration and supporting the international work of JRS.|
What does social justice mean to you?
The starting point is respect for the human dignity of each and every person. The right to life for all persons means that all people have basic rights to those things that are necessary for them to live and thrive (food, shelter, health, education, etc.,). Our commitment to the value of each human life should be reflected in both individual choices and in the policies and structures of society.
What do you regard as the major problems facing asylum seekers and refugees in ireland today?
In my opinion the greatest problem facing asylum seekers are the length of time it takes to process asylum claims and the dehumanising aspects of the ‘direct provision’ regime.
Imagine you have fled a situation of persecution and after a journey fraught with many dangers finally reached Ireland. Then you find yourself in a state provided accommodation centre, with no opportunity to prepare your own food, an income of less than twenty euro per week and no right to work. Imagine the legal process determining your status takes a year, then another, and then drags past five years… JRS visit one person who is over ten years (thankfully a rare occurrence) waiting for his status to be determined, not surprisingly his mental health is very poor and he has become increasingly introverted and socially isolated. Even if was granted status now what will be the long term consequences on his employment opportunities and quality of life.
Which living persons do you most admire and why?
Nelson Mandela for his dignity, integrity and courage in opposing and bringing to an end apartheid in South Africa. Aung San Suu Kyi whose extraordinary opposition to the odious Burmese military junta has resulted in her being under house arrest for years. Yet her courage has never failed her and she continues to be a symbol of hope for millions of oppressed people in Burma.
Both of them represent hope that through the actions of ‘ordinary’ people unjust systems that appear intractable can be changed.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Do you have any bad habits?
Too numerous to mention
How do you unwind?
Swimming and playing football with my children
When are you happiest?
By the sea with my family – swimming, surfing, walking, playing football or building sandcastles it doesn’t matter - it is just good to be there.
Where were you on holidays last?
Doolin for a week during the mid-term – holidays run in sync with the school year since the boys have started in school.
What qualities do you most value in people?
Integrity and generosity of spirit
What talent would you most like to have?
Oratory – I am awe of the oratorical skills of people like Barack Obama. On the sporting front a decent left foot!
What is your earliest memory?
My mother going away for a holiday and arriving back with a new baby sister, I was three at the time.
What is your most treasured possession?
My wife and four children - everything else is replaceable. I am not too sentimental about things but after my father passed away I was given his wedding ring and that is of great value to me.
What books or films have inspired you?
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. I was sucked into the epic scale, characters and themes in the story. In a world peopled with great heroes, warriors and wizards – the fate of all rests on an ordinary hobbit.
On a more personal level, the God of Surprises by Gerard Hughes SJ, was very influential at a key moment in my life.
What other career/line of work might you have chosen?
I am an actuary by profession. I worked in insurance for ten years so I expect I would be working in financial services if I was not with JRS.