New play examines the underworld of Irish institutionalisation

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KATIE O’Kelly is Belltable’s artist in residence and brings her work in progress to the theatre this week for a rehearsed reading.

Katie O’Kelly’s project DISPLACE delves into the dark secrets of Irish institutionalisation. The story traces a line from the how residents of a Magdalene Laundry were treated through to the refugees now in Direct Provision centres today.

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It is a story that has been “running around” in her head for some time she told Limerick Post.
“Basically there is two avenues. One thread is a girl called Molly who in incarcerated in a Magdalene Laundry in 1960s Limerick and the other strand is a Palestinian woman, Fidaa, who comes to Ireland seeking asylum.’

Fidaa find herself now in the same building that was once a Magdalene Laundry now re-purposed as a Direct Provision Centre.

In the last six months Katie has researched and met people in Direct Provision and interviewed survivors of The Magdalene Laundries.

She is particularly interested in the stories of the women who were at The Good Shepherd Laundry here in Limerick and how history appears to be repeating itself in Direct Provision centres.
“The elements that really mirror each other is the idea of being totally isolated, cut off from society in both systems. The Direct Provision system is so cruel – you are not told when you will get out. It is worse than prison. At least in prison you know when you are getting out and it was the same as the women in the laundries.”

The actor/ playwright is a passionate advocate for human rights. After a stay in Palestine, Katie quickly wrote and performed The Olive Tree, based on her experiences there which toured here and in Zimbabwe.

“I think theatre is a brilliant vehicle for challenging the system because it is very immediate. If you make a film it gets watered down. Theatre can be a quick reaction.”
DISPLACE highlights the parallels between victims of the Magdalene Laundries and those now stuck in the Direct Provision system which was set up in 2000 as an emergency fix that was supposed to be replaced within six months.

“I think people would be shocked if people knew what was going on in Ireland at the moment.”
Through her interviews with asylum seekers for this project, Katie has met “vibrant, brilliant people,” who are in the Direct Provision system.

“They are not victims. They are people, the same as all of us.”

And while the subject matter of DISPLACE is very serious, Katie met people with humour and bravery and these stories of hope are part of this narrative too.
For the playwright, DISPLACE is about showing people that we are all the same and it is our responsibility to take action, if that’s sharing a Facebook post or signing up to a newsletter.

“We have to got to stop this now or people in the future will be looking back asking how did we let that happen!”

A ‘work in progress reading’ of Katie O’Kelly’s play DISPLACE happens next Wednesday June 20 at Belltable from 8pm. Tickets just €5 for this rehearsed reading.