I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate, and I compliment Deputy Pringle, who tabled the motion. He has been interested in this issue for many a long year and he is supportive of a change in the direct provision system. That view is becoming more widely accepted.
The system is detrimental to families and individuals and, in particular, children. I am particularly disappointed that the Government has tabled an amendment. It is unnecessary, because the House should not be divided on this issue. There is significant cross-party support for a change to the system and, even at this late stage, I call on the Minister of State to withdraw the amendment and allow the motion to be passed unanimously by the House and implemented in the near future.
I deal with asylum seekers on a regular basis. There is a direct provision facility, Bridgewater House, in Carrick-on-Suir in my constituency. It has been in operation for some time. There are excellent relations and good interactions between the asylum seekers and the local community and there is excellent support from the community for the residents and their children.
The children attend local schools and are involved in many local organisations, including the GAA, while also participating in many traditional cultural events. Many of the adults are engaged in education and training and they are supported through the Nano Nagle centre in Carrick-on-Suir. Everybody in the town should be complimented on the good interaction and support provided for the residents of Bridgewater House.
As Deputy Pringle said, this is the 14th year of direct provision. Approximately 4,300 asylum seekers are currently resident in 34 centres in the State, many of whom have been in the centres for up to ten years, while a few have been there even longer. More than 1,600 of them are young people under the age of 18, and there is no doubt the system is having a negative effect on them, in particular, and on families.
There is widespread support for the view that this system needs to be changed, although that view was held in some parts of society from the beginning.
A retired Supreme Court judge, the former Ombudsman, Ms Emily O’Reilly, the Special Rapporteur for Children, many civil society organisations, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and numerous politicians have come to share this view. I hope the Minister of State will withdraw the amendment and agree to the passage of the motion unanimously.
A total of 4,360 persons are in direct provision, of whom 2,800 live in 851 family units. Some 1,666 residents are aged under 18, while another 451 are aged between 18 and 25. Although the numbers in the system have decreased over the past number of years, the length of stay in the centres has increased significantly and there is no doubt that now is the time to change the system.
The 34 centres are located in 18 counties but only three were purpose-built for accommodation. The remainder are former hotels, hostels or guest houses, convents, nursing homes and so on, which were never intended for long-term residents. This is not good for individual residents and it is particularly negative for children.
Since the introduction of the system in 2000, the weekly personal allowance has not changed. It remains €19.10 per week for an adult and €9.60 for each child. There are serious concerns about the effect the system is having on children.
Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, the Special Rapporteur for Children, has mentioned this in his reports. For instance, he stated:
The particular needs of children in the Direct Provision system should be examined with a view to establishing whether the system itself is detrimental to their welfare and development and, if appropriate, an alternative form of support and accommodation adopted which is more suitable for families and particularly children. In the interim, the state should implement without delay an independent complaints mechanism and independent inspections of Direct Provision centres and give consideration to these being undertaken through either HIQA (inspections) or the Ombudsman for Children (complaints)…
Research is needed on the specific vulnerability of children accommodated in the system of Direct Provision and the potential or actual harm which is being created by particular circumstances of their residence, including the inability of parents to properly care for and protect their children and the damage that may be done by living for a lengthy period of time in an institutionalised setting which was not designed for long-term residents.
This is a particularly damning view. The system is detrimental to children and needs to be changed urgently.
The UN Human Rights Committee has also addressed the issue in a report, stating: “The Committee is concerned at the lack of a single application procedure for consideration of all grounds for international protection.”
According to the report, the system must be completely changed.
I again ask the Minister of State not to introduce the amendment because Deputies agree more than they disagree on this issue. Rather than divide on the motion, the House should pass it unanimously.
Seamus Healy TD
Direct Provision for Asylum Seekers: Motion [Private Members] (30 Sep 2014)
link to debate