Thursday, 30 March 2017
Direct Provision: Statements
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.
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.