By Liam McInerney
The general public won’t identify with the name Gary Daly.
Gary is a solicitor from Dublin. Growing up he helped his father, who is a teacher, build, paint, decorate, anything that needed doing. He also boxed.
But what makes Gary unique is the extraordinary way he uses the aforementioned skills.
Calais Jungle, the migrant camp in France that was cleared by French authorities this week, with refugees being transported across the country, is where Gary has exerted most of his influence.
What inspired this?
“Last summer I was in Brazil and Argentina with my brother just enjoying a normal holiday,” Gary told thecity.ie. “A friend of mine, Caoimhe Butterly, was on the Balkan route with refugees coming through Greece trying to make it up to Germany and she posted pictures and updates and it really brought it home to me,” he told The City.
“I had been interested in it before but when Caoimhe posted these updates it really made me realise that firstly something must be done, people really needed help, and secondly that things could be done. So when I got home I rang her and said ‘next time you’re going I want to go’. So a few weeks later we went to Lesbos in Greece and spent two weeks there volunteering and ever since I’ve been travelling to different places doing what I could.”
In Lesbos, Gary heard harrowing stories from refugees such as, ‘two months ago my father was murdered in front of me’ or ‘my mother was beheaded in front of me.’ Since then his perception of life has altered.
Last Christmas, Gary travelled to Calais for the first time and spent ten days with refugees.
He explained: ”I got the lend of a van and filled it with pallets, mattresses, food, tools, clothes, I do boxing coaching as well so a big bag full of boxing gear. I’ve been going every month since.
“Initially I focused on building work, then when half the camp was demolished at the end of February I realised that it could be taken away from them at any time so I focused on more strategic ways of trying to make a difference, so I got Clare Daly and Mick Wallace over, trying to bring people who could influence decision makers.
“When the boxing gym was built I was doing boxing coaching every day I was there. And also I did some legal advice for refugees claiming asylum.”
I asked for more information about the boxing.
“It was fantastic,” began Gary. “One of the most inspiring things I’ve ever done was work with the guys in the boxing gym there. A guy called Josh McDonald is responsible for the opening of Calais Boxing Club. When you’re training, nobody’s a refugee or a rich white European, we are all just there sweating and training, it’s a very human experience, a beautiful bonding experience. I really enjoyed it.”
Gary mentioned that the endurance of refugees was “extraordinarily inspiring” but that “it’s also very important not to idolise them, they are ordinary people at the same time.”
“It really is an example of the human spirit, they’ve lost everything. It makes you reassess your own priorities. Syria, for example, was a very wealthy country with very educated people so it was a huge comedown for those travelling with a small bag on their back whereas previously they were living in a nice house, had a nice car, a nice job; middle class ordinary people having to pack their belongings in a bag and walk across very inhospitable places.”
The media coverage of the Calais migrants has been “dehumanising” according to Gary.
He said: “You can be sure a picture will emerge in one of the red top rag newspapers to say these people have lots of money and they don’t need our help, anything that can be done to dehumanise and vilify people that need help is being done at the moment and in my lifetime I don’t recall anything as bad, especially since Brexit.
“It’s just been really appalling, and I have to say [that in] the comments section in our own media, you see casual and very violent racism expressed. And it’s always people who have never actually been in a refugee camp, or experienced fleeing a war. It’s just casual, selfish, lazy people who just don’t care and don’t have a dose of humanity in them.”
This week Gary organised a demonstration called ‘Save Calais Camp’ at the French Embassy in Dublin with one of the aims being to relocate 200 refugees from Calais to Ireland.
Gary believes the Irish Government has been “appalling” with regards to those fleeing from war-torn countries.
“When Sean Crowe of Sinn Fein asked a question in the Dail about what’s happening in Calais and should Ireland be assisting, Frances Fitzgerald’s response was that ‘it’s an internal French matter and we shouldn’t interfere,’ which is going to be the response when we push on with this 200 children campaign, but we’re going to push on regardless.
“We’ve taken in 500 out of the 4,000 that we’ve committed to which was meant to be completed by the end of next year. I have to say, there’s been no effort made.”
He added: “Canada has been the most progressive along with Portugal and Germany. But Ireland has been shameful. When you consider our history of migration, particularly during famine times and the recession, they were economic migrants. If economic migrants now come to this country they are vilified, we’ve had nothing but economic migrants leaving this country for decades. Irish people aren’t aware of their own hypocrisy.”
I concluded by asking Gary what people can do to direct progress on the distressing situation.
“I think it’s really important that the anti-immigrant media narrative that’s being pushed out, not as badly in Ireland but it’s still not great, is countered. People who need help, that their story is humanised, and that people understand why they leave their country, they have no other choice.
“If my country was being bombed I wouldn’t stay, I would not have my children growing up and at risk of being bombed, I would be a bad parent if I risked by children being blown up or conscripted into ISIS or whatever other awful organisation are looking to conscript child soldiers which is happening across the world.
“So the first thing is to challenge the right wing anti- immigrant narrative and secondly to challenge the Government in particular. The most important thing people can do is speak to their elected representative and say ‘if you’re a Fianna Fail or Fine Gael member you are simply not doing enough, the response is inadequate and shameful.’ The only way things will change is on a political level.”