Direct Provision: Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 945 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] Talk is easy and talk is cheap. It is appalling to read reports that some children spend almost their entire childhood in these centres in the direct provision system. It is incarceration, nothing less. Prisoners are treated better. This must end.

I recently submitted a parliamentary question to the Tánaiste seeking the number of children who have been born to those in the direct provision system since its introduction in 2000. I received a reply from the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, that the information I had requested is not readily available as it is not collated by either the Department of Justice and Equality or the Registrar General of births, marriages and deaths. That is outrageous. I am not blaming the Minister of State for that but it is outrageous that we cannot tell the number of newborns in the centres. It is scandalous. It is extraordinary when one thinks about it. Presumably those children born to those in the asylum process are de facto part of that process, yet we have no data or numbers available. What is going on? Who are the RIA? We got rid of the IRA and we have agencies like this which are simply not fit for purpose. It cannot record that. Does it even know how many people are in the centres? My God.

However, while our humanitarian duty is clear, so also is the duty to the security of the State. The issue of oversight and monitoring and how the applications process is managed is critically important. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend our asylum system, just like those in most European countries, is not open to abuse and violation. Of course it is. There are those who will seek to enter this State through the asylum system and who will not have our best interests at heart. Of course we must not confuse these people with the genuine asylum seeker, but the ones we have here and have had here since 2000, surely we would have learned at this stage, 17 years later, how to look after them. We must not be so innocent as to believe all applicants are genuine. The direct provision system, as part of the overall asylum process, certainly needs to become more robust, even as it seeks to become more fair.

The number of asylum seekers accommodated by the RIA on 31 December 2015 was 4,696, an increase of 332 persons or 7.6% on the same date in 2014. This is the second year-on-year increase in seven years. The RIA spent €57.025 million on accommodation for asylum seekers in 2015, an increase of 4.7% on 2014. I know and we all know that there are some unscrupulous private entrepreneurs, some who have bought up hotels and places that are in despicable condition, and there are people incarcerated there. Worse than that, they entered into contracts. I know of one place in my own area, that they never came to. There were huge objections, unfortunately, 17 years ago but a contract was signed with an individual for ten years. It was in the village of Clogheen in County Tipperary. Why do they have to sign contracts? Why not have a breakout clause after a year in case there are unscrupulous and unsuitable people who pretend to care but who only want a quick buck? Surely to God the system is not so useless and so fatigued that there cannot be checks and balances, that we cannot check out after a year or two whether the accommodation is suitable, and that there would be a breaking clause in the contract rather than having to buy it out. This is kindergarten stuff. Children would not write these contracts.

As the migrant crisis continues to show no signs of abating, we can be sure that the costs and numbers of applicants within our asylum process will remain similar and more than likely increase in the coming years. In September of last year, I asked the Minister another parliamentary question about the number of forced deportations that were taking place. In her reply, the Minister noted that the overwhelming majority of persons who arrive at the frontiers of the State without permission to enter or reside here are refused leave to land without ever reaching the stage where they would be considered under the deportation process. She went on to say that the number of people arriving in this way rose substantially to almost 3,500 in 2015 and was expected to exceed 4,000 in 2016. They are frightening figures. Approximately 3,000 people removed or deported from Ireland in 2011, 2,200 in 2012, 2,700 in 2013, 3,790 in 2014 and 3,790 in 2015. According to the Department of Justice and Equality, the people who were refused entry or deported came mainly from five countries. The top countries of origin in percentage terms of deportation or removal are Albania, 9.2%, Brazil, 9.6%, Nigeria, 7.5%, South Africa, 7.4% and Pakistan 6%.

In September 2015, I also asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she would address concerns around a designation of a hotel in Clonea Strand as an emergency reception and orientation centre. This was another farce which involved a wonderful tourist facility and which caused a rumpus in the village. I do not believe that anyone went to it.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton It is full.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Since when? It was not full when I was there last summer season. It was not full; there was no one in it. Maybe the Minister of State would want to check the facts. It is very close to me, and I will be taking a walk along the strand and I will see and come back to him. I will accept if I am wrong. It was always full with people - holiday-makers and locals - but there was nobody in it when I was around there last July and August. The gates were locked and the doors closed. The concerns were brought to me by the local people who were deeply frustrated by the lack of engagement with them before the decision was made. That was the RIA again. It is like the NRA. It is all-powerful and listens to no one. As I said, we disbanded the IRA but we got a lot of agencies afterwards that we need peace processes or some sort of talks to get rid of them. We have quango after quango which are not accountable to anyone, either the Oireachtas, the Minister or anyone else other than themselves, and they get fine hefty cheques and fine hefty retirement packages.

  As part of the reply I received, I was told that in such cases, potential centres are assessed from a number of perspectives, including access to local amenities, the provision of State services and suitability of the accommodation for its particular purposes. To return to Clonea, the Minister of State probably knows it. He is only up the road on the same coastline. With all those people we saw out on the sea, and I salute the Naval Service, the ships that were out there and the rescues they made, I would have thought the last place those people would want to rest would be beside the sea with the fright and the terror they encountered crossing it. Remember Clonea village has no shops, no recreation and no infrastructure, so someone was codding someone there. I would have thought that it would be the last place, just from a human perspective. I am not saying that I am knowledgeable in this area but after such a terrorising trip across the sea, with some being rescued but so many drowned, I would have thought it would be the last place they would want to be sleeping or resting, that they would want to be in a place where they could not even hear the sea, and that they would want to be on terra firma, isteach san tír, inland. Someone would want to put on their thinking cap and see what is going on there.

  There is not one single mention of local engagement. I know this was for a refugee centre which is not strictly the same as the asylum centres but I want to note how important it is that we bring a community with us when we are attempting to progress this matter in a manner that is fair to all concerned. I know the Minister of State engaged with people in Roscommon who are now on board, but again they had not been engaged with properly before. What is wrong with the system here that we cannot hold a public meeting, meet the different agencies, talk to the people and bring them with us? Ní neart go cur le chéile. Together we stand, divided we fall. We have all this Big Brother, this arm of the law. We have officials who are unelected and unaccountable to anyone, who make these decisions and frighten people, and then the image goes out of a local community that is anti-asylum seeker when nothing could be further from the truth. Consultation is very important. If we are building a hen house or a shed, we have to get planning permission and put a notice up on the ditch, but these officials can do anything they want to do. They ride in roughshod like John Wayne into Cong in that film he made in the west with Maureen O'Hara. This is reckless. This is 2016 and 2017 we are talking about, when we are supposed to be a modern, pluralist State with all the good things and the bad banished.

  We will be here, or somebody else will be here, in 20 years having more inquiries into why people were incarcerated for 17 years. Deputy Connolly asked the Minister of State to give a date on putting some deadline on how long people should be kept for. Five years was envisaged at the start and even that was too long. We must be responsible and we must act on a human basis and try to alleviate all the suffering.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I do not understand or know why we are here making statements on direct provision. What is this about? The Minister of State scheduled this time slot for statements.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton No.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Well the Business Committee did-----

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Not me.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall -----but it is a Government statement. The Government opened with a statement on direct provision and we do not know if it is saying anything or not.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I cannot.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall It appears there is nothing new being said. There are no decisions being made in relation to the future of direct provision.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I would love to.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Every party in this House acknowledges, and they did so in their election manifestos, that the current system is not working and is not acceptable.

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