Direct Provision: Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 945 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly] On top of that, I know in Galway and other centres that people have been granted asylum status but cannot leave direct provision.

I and many other Deputies have asked many questions and we are going around in circles. We have been directed to the Department of Social Protection for people to get their entitlements, but that is not the issue. The issue is that the Department of Social Protection will not talk to people in direct provision if they do not have an address. A hostel address is not good enough for the Department. Having being granted asylum status, people are stuck in direct provision.

There are 35 centres around the country, seven of which are State owned and for which two companies have been contracted to provide services. The other 28 are privately operated and make huge profits. I am not criticising the providers because Government policy has allowed them to come forward. Our human rights obligations should not be fulfilled in such a way that companies and private operators are allowed to make profits. That is not the way to comply with our legal obligations.

The system should be streamlined, as the Government is trying to do with the new legislation. It is appalling that large profits are being made by those running direct provision centres while people cannot work or cook their own food. There have many discussions in the House regarding our obligations to children. Surely we will not distinguish between children based on the colour of their skin or country. I know the Minister of State is not the type of Minister to do that, but that is exactly what is happening in our policies. We are distinguishing between people because they are behind closed doors which means we do not have to look at them.

There is a narrative that money is being thrown at these people. They have come to our country seeking refuge, as Irish people did elsewhere in the past. We are giving adults and children €19.10 and €15.60, respectively, per week and calling that humanity. On top of that, we are creating many problems for the future, as the Minister of State knows. If we were to try living like that, what effect would it have on our physical and mental health, not to mention that of the children in the system?

The pilot project was introduced in 2015 to allow certain residents to go to university. I would like to know how many have fulfilled the criteria involved. They are very restricted – I understand an applicant must have been in direct provision for five years and attended a school for a minimum of five years. I ask the Minister of State to outline how many people have qualified under the rules.

From many of the discussions we have had in the Dáil, the Minister of State appears to be a very concerned Minister. How can he stand over direct provision, which was introduced as a temporary measure in 2000? Why not set a date to end it? It could be his legacy.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy Rae Zoom on Danny Healy Rae It is very difficult to know what is going on. The Government has stated it will accept refugees. I asked what agency will deal with the people involved and where they will be housed. It was stated that local authorities would be responsible for housing the refugees concerned. The local authority for which I worked for many years does not have the required houses, facility or staff to deal with refugees and no extra staff have been deployed to cater for them.

The refugees we have agreed to accept and those in direct provision are all human beings. It is not right for a mother, father, teenagers and babies to be living in one room. An asylum seeker could be in the country for seven, eight or nine years, but all they are entitled to is €19.10 a week, which is not right.

It was promised that the direct provision system would cease and the time involved in deciding on a person's status reduced. Many people have been waiting for eight or nine years, which is not right and should not be happening. A limit of five years was promised to decide whether a person can stay or must leave the country. I ask that the system be reviewed. Having one family in one room, in particular those with growing children, is not right. We have to deal with the issue. Those involved are human beings.

It is grand to hear the Taoiseach agree to accept 4,000 or 5,000 refugees, but he must make provision for them in terms of housing. Local authorities are stretched. Some people in Kerry have been on housing lists for 12 or 14 years, some of whom were refugees or asylum seekers. They must get priority. If we are agreeing to accept refugees this year, the Government needs to tell us where housing is available and have a dedicated group of housing officers in place.

Staff in our local authority are vetting people and trying to find houses for them. They are stretched to the bone, without having any more work placed on their shoulders. Those who have been on housing lists for 12 or 14 years will suffer and have to wait longer.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I am delighted to speak on this very important issue, which will haunt us in the future. I welcome the visitors in the Gallery.

The system of direct provision for asylum seekers is almost 17 years old and from the beginning it has been a cause of significant controversy and debate. Among the issues raised most recently are the duration of the stay in direct provision, the impact of this on family life, as Deputy Healy-Rae mentioned, children, oversight and monitoring and the right to work.

In 2015, the Joint Committee on Public Services Oversight and Petitions stated the system is not fit for purpose and recommended that it be replaced. The Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, has a lovely name but behind it are abject failures. It oversees the direct provision system on behalf of the Department of Justice and Equality. The latest available RIA report revealed that there is a continual increase in the number of single males seeking asylum and availing of the offer of accommodation and referred to the opening of new centres to manage this influx.

From a humanitarian perspective, we are duty bound to offer whatever assistance we can to those genuinely in need of asylum and ensure those who enter the direct provision system are treated with dignity and respect. It is a duty of the State under any human rights charter, never mind international human rights charters.

As Deputy Healy-Rae said, the Taoiseach needs to think things through when he agrees to accept refugees without considering all of the other issues involved. That is paramount. The human person must be at the centre of all of our laws. We are failing people and we have seen how we failed them in the past. If people are genuinely fleeing persecution and seeking refuge here, we need to extend our compassion and put into action the principles we spend so much time talking about.

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