Direct Provision: Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 945 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin] In many cases, they are not there but the payment is still being made. This means that for a family of two adults and two children, for example, the cost of direct provision is €31,000, on average, per year. The equivalent cost for the same family on JSA and HAP is at least €10,000 per year cheaper. If people were allowed to work, particularly those with skills, the cost would be even less. Not only is this an appalling abuse of human rights, it is an appalling waste of taxpayer's money to the tune of millions of euro.

I wish to mention two other issues. The first is another scandal, namely, how the State treats people who have been granted leave to remain or their stamp 4. A total of 400 families who have the right to remain and work but who cannot get accommodation are trapped in direct provision. Those people are essentially homeless and direct provision has become their emergency accommodation. They are not getting jobseeker's allowance; they are still getting the reduced rate JSA, even though it is a JSA claim. They cannot save for a deposit. There are no additional supports for them to access private or public housing, let alone education or employment. I urge the Minister of State to consider the type of housing programme involved - he is looking at programme refugees, which I support - and making it available, with supports, to people transitioning out of direct provision.

While it is slightly off topic, the final issue I would like to raise is still relevant. There are 126,000 undocumented migrants in this State. Ministers and politicians from across the House were in the US recently calling on the US President to find a system for regularising undocumented Irish migrants in the US. We need to practice at home what we preach abroad. I acknowledge the Minister of State is examining this but I urge him to do here exactly what we want the US Administration to do and ensure that these 126,000 people have a process to regularise their status and have the security and safety they so rightly deserve.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger Solidarity - People Before Profit Deputies pushed for this debate to be put on the agenda and it has been difficult to reach agreement. The Taoiseach justified visiting a racist, sexist American President and offering him the hand of friendship - I do not know why the Minister of State is making a face - on the grounds that he would make a case about immigration and the illegal, undocumented Irish in the US. However, we have two scenarios in this country of undocumented people who have no status and who are not getting any assistance and the scandal of people being kept in direct provision. Labour Party Members have not bothered their barney coming to the House for the debate. During the previous Dáil, we were led to believe by the former junior Minister, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, that he would end direct provision and that we were on the precipice of a great development but Labour Party Members have not even shown up for this debate, which is disappointing.

  Direct provision is an inhumane system which should be ended immediately. Marie Williams, a constituent of mine, works with women who experience direct provision and helped establish the young mothers network with them. Ritah and Diane, who are also founders of the network, have been in contact and supplied some comments about living conditions. Ritah says:

The hardest thing was the loneliness, having no-one to talk to, no-one to reach out to, no-one to check-up on you. It's survival of the fittest in Direct Provision: people are always being moved, people are so stressed about their own situation, not knowing what the future holds, always being afraid of being deported. That's not an environment to develop stable relationships with people.

Diane was in an abusive relationship and she says, "[Direct provision] is that tough that I chose an abusive relationship rather than live in DP."

  Asylum seekers are given €19.10 a week, are unable to cook for themselves or have anything approaching a normal family life for themselves and their children. There is not a normal level of privacy for individuals and families. We have also heard reports of sexual abuse and reports of people being vulnerable to all sorts of other abuse. It is an environment in which mental health problems absolutely flourish. Diane said:

You're made to feel less than human. I've no trust in people anymore. When you live with people you don't know, you develop a defence mechanism to keep yourself safe, and this has followed me. I don't know how to trust people to this day, or how to build stable relationships.

There is a profound impact on children in direct provision as well. They do not know anybody, they do not know the language and they see a social worker once a month. They have no adult supervision and their lives are in the hands of strangers.

  There is also a huge power imbalance. One only need look at the most vulnerable people in society to know how the State would treat us all if it could get away with it. There is a massive power imbalance in the asylum system. Those seeking asylum have little power compared to the State and it is not unknown for people who raise issues about the conditions in particular centres to be moved to others. There were protests at direct provision centres in 2013 and 2014. Armed gardaí were used at the Mount Trenchard centre in Limerick to remove men who had peacefully protested against the conditions in which they lived. This arbitrary decision to move them was arrived at even after an agreement had been reached. What more of an illustration of the power imbalance in direct provision centres can I provide?

  Following the protests, the Minister set up a round-table working group at which the voice of asylum seekers was meant to be listened to but the opposite was the case. The Government instead retained the direct provision system and then brought in major changes, such as the regressive International Protection Act 2015, without any consultation with people in direct provision. The number of refugees on our planet has greatly increased due to war, etc. According to UNHCR figures, 65.3 million people have been forcibly displaced, more than half of whom are children. Every day, 34,000 people have to flee conflict or persecution and, instead of offering assistance, the State took a decision to send a message to them that they are not wanted and that we have a concentration camp or prison camp-style system if they come here without prior agreement. There has been a spike in the number of refusals at points of entry to the State under this Act. People are turned away at preliminary interview stage. There has been a 32% decrease in asylum seeker claims in the State, yet the Taoiseach went abroad to tell all and sundry that he thinks immigration and migration are great.

  I would like the Minister of State to comment on the form asylum seekers must complete. It is 60 pages long and extremely complex. The experience of asylum seekers is they are not getting the legal advice they need. Asylum seekers and immigration solicitors have reported that there can be legal advice consultations of approximately ten minutes before the form is completed. People with language difficulties need longer and it took somebody with fluent English an hour and a half to fill in the form. What does this do only send a message that these people are not wanted? There was acute distress earlier this year when people experienced this.

  The people have recently become increasingly aware of the barbarity of the institutionalisation of people by the church and State, with both of the latter taking control over so many lives in the 20th century, including in the context of mother and baby homes, Magdalen laundries and industrial schools. However, history will record the direct provision system as being equally outrageous and barbaric. The Solidarity Members stand for an immediate end to direct provision. Let people live in decent homes and accommodation.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I welcome those who are advocating for an end to direct provision and those who are in direct provision and who are present in the Gallery. I also welcome the debate. We have tabled a motion to end direct provision on the Dáil agenda and it has been signed by 37 Members to date. Unfortunately, we do not have a great deal of Private Member's time in which to take the motion but I am sure the Minister of State could respond on it.

I welcome his attempt to reform the system but I disagree with the reform of something that is rotten to the core. I would like to say something to the Fianna Fáil Members who have left the Chamber. It is a shame there is such a low participation in the debate.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The Leas-Cheann Comhairle had to leave and I was asked to stand in for a few minutes, just to be fair to everybody. He will be back shortly.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith My time is ticking away. I recognise that there is a lot happening, not least Deputy Paul Murphy's attendance in the courts. Missing Deputies are in the Four Courts with the Jobstown people. There is a great deal happening but this is important.

  The direct provision system does not work.

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