Direct Provision for Asylum Seekers 1.10.14

 

Direct Provision for Asylum Seekers: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Ciara Conway: Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara ConwayAre we saying we do not believe these people? I know I would not choose to live in one room and to have food given to me that I could not give my children. Children are finicky eaters. There is not a mother in Ireland who does not try to coax her child with one food or another. A mother in a direct provision centre does not have that luxury. If the child does not eat, he or she goes hungry. The Minister of State knows this. The malnutrition of children in the centres has been written about and reported on by the Irish Refugee Council.

Have we learned nothing as a country? We have another institution that is creaking along. I am very glad that Deputy Pringle has tabled this motion. The Labour Party has spoken about this matter before. Now that we are in government, I am glad the Minister of State has been given responsibility for addressing this issue, along with his colleague the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I welcome what the Minister of State is doing regarding the round-table discussions and reporting on how we can fix the system as a whole. However, in the here and now, there are practices that the Government can no longer stand over.

Deputy Doherty told a story about the welfare of a very ill child being played with as if in a game of ping-pong between the people trying to run the centre and the woman trying to rear him on her own in a foreign country away from her family. Such people come to my clinic every week. I refer to people who are in absolute turmoil because they do not know what is happening from week to week. Not only do they fear being returned to their own countries, but they live in fear here because they do not know when the knock will come on their door. They do not know how to plan for the weeks ahead. This brings instability to a parent and it manifests itself in the children in that they become shy, withdrawn and unable to cope in school. The children were born in Ireland and we owe them and their families an immediate solution to the kind of carry-on that is evident right around the country.

When I refer to families, I include single men, who are often placed in big, bulging hostels. There is one in my constituency on the quay in Waterford. There are men from all over the world put into dormitory-style accommodation. Some suffer from mental health difficulties and abuse alcohol, while others do not. They live in fear. They come to my office saying they have not slept in weeks. This is no way to treat anybody who comes to our shores looking for help.

As with Deputy Murphy, I have seen the transformation that happens when somebody in direct provision receives a red passport with a harp on the front of it. These people have so much to offer and bring to our society and communities. They are doing so already. I do not need to be convinced of that, nor does anybody. They enrich our communities and society. I echo Deputy Murphy’s call for an amnesty. As a Government, we need to close direct provision once and for all and have an amnesty for those are caught in a system of our making. Although we were not in government when the system was introduced, we are now. My God, we had better do something about it.

Deputy Tom BarryInformation on Tom Barry Zoom on Tom Barry I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. There is merit in an amnesty-type approach at present because we simply cannot have people, and their children who were born here, in the country for so long without making a decision on their status. The problem is that we have never had a proper discussion on this. Why are there so many people in direct provision and why are they being processed so slowly? Are we looking for such a considerable burden of proof that it will never be achieved?

We need to work to a timescale and work out whether people’s stories are genuine and whether Ireland has an obligation to take them in. We should remember that the system is not in place to take everybody in; its job is to take in the people who have absolutely no other refuge to go to. Perhaps we need to discuss this also. Do we take in everybody who wants to come here? I do not remember this discussion ever taking place. Personally, I believe we have an obligation to those souls who are crossing into Italy on a regular basis and dying of disease. We have an obligation to the Syrian people who are crossing into Turkey. Turkey has taken in more than 1.5 million people. We need to start examining this problem and being responsible Europeans. It is fine to condemn what is happening abroad, but we need to ask what we can do. The centres have probably reached their term and they need to be dealt with quickly. We need oversight.

I must raise the fact that the stories are not always negative. There are some really good people working in the centres. Only two days ago, I spoke to a chef who works in one of the centres. He was concerned about what we have heard and told me they were giving the residents the best of Irish food. He said he could understand the arguments of people who want to cook for themselves, but the practicalities of families cooking for themselves would make things very difficult as matters stand. Ireland is a food nation and produces food of the best quality. I am glad to say that the residents are at least getting three choices for dinner and lunch. I have to defend the food. The majority of the staff are doing the best they can to provide as good a living environment as they can.

Now that this discussion is taking place, will we talk about the matter sensibly? Will we process people who come to our shores more quickly? Have we got the gumption to refuse people we do not want to come here? There may be people who might not be an addition to our society and might be involved in terrorism or other practices; we do not know. We need to be aware of that; it is something we cannot inflict on our people. Taxpayers’ money is paying for the system. If we have a proper discussion on it, the future will be better, not only for Ireland but also for the people who seek our help.

Deputy Eric Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne Nobody in this House could not be moved by the horrendous sight of the bodies of dead asylum seekers on the beaches. That so many have been sacrificed, even on the high seas, by unscrupulous human traffickers is a blight on the face of humanity. Men, women and children are being sacrificed by evil traffickers of human beings. Some of those trafficked find security in whatever land they arrive at. They are essentially searching for a better life.

In talking of refugees, I compliment successive Irish Governments on how professionally we handle what we call the programme refugees, namely, those from Bosnia and various other countries. Programme refugees are the genuine refugees who are being facilitated through the United Nations and relocated in various countries. We do a brilliant job on their behalf. The same cannot be said about our approach to those in direct provision. I have experience of direct provision. I stayed a night in New Ross and saw the terrible problems that arose, including those of single men having to share their rooms with another person of a different nationality, and perhaps of a different religion. We saw the difficulties associated with the dietary demands of the diverse groups in the centre. This creates nothing but tension and distrust. As people have rightly said, an element of mental illness sets in.

It is absolutely unacceptable that anybody could spend two, four, seven or eight years incarcerated in a direct provision building. What the hell is happening? Why can today’s system not result in a decision in a period of less than seven to eight years? Why would anybody’s case require processing over a two-year period? It is unbelievable. The Minister must ask whether the legal process is the problem. Is there an indefinite conclusion to the legal processes people can avail of?