Thursday, 30 March 2017
Direct Provision: Statements
I welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Labour Party in this debate. I agree with Deputy Shortall's last point, in that we need action on and the full implementation of the McMahon report. The first independent working group to examine and identify improvements in the system, it was established in October 2014 because the matter had been made a priority by the previous Government. My colleague, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, led the work on that priority. The report was published in July 2015 and signed off on by a number of NGOs and Departments, including the Department of Justice and Equality.
I do not doubt the intentions, work and commitment of the Minister of State as regards the implementation of the McMahon report but it needs to be implemented in full and acted upon. This is particularly so in terms of people who have been in direct provision for a long time. There are terrible stories of people who, having been there for years upon years, despair of ever getting their lives back. We need to acknowledge the progress that has been made. A large number of those who have been in direct provision for a long time have had their cases handled, but we need to reach the target of that not taking more than six months, which has not been achieved in respect of many people.
The issue of living conditions is important. We are referring to people's human rights. The Minister of State outlined that there had been progress to some extent, for example, cooking facilities and more space for families, but I have a clear picture in my head of a family that I visited in Knockalisheen, which is in County Clare but near Limerick city. A mother, father and two children were in a single tiny room with the children sitting on the bed trying to do their homework. There have been some improvements, but not everywhere. We need urgent action in this regard.
A statement was published by the Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children just before I entered the Chamber indicating their offices would be available to people in direct provision from Monday next. That is to be welcomed and was one of the McMahon recommendations. The Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, stated:
Children in Direct Provision will now have equal access to the Ombudsman for Children’s Office. This will enable my Office to make a constructive contribution to the overall welfare of children living in Direct Provision accommodation. Young people in Direct Provision can now be assured that there is a safe, secure and independent place they can come to make a complaint.
While access to the Office of the Ombudsman for Children is important, children should not have to live in direct provision and their families' applications should be dealt with speedily. This access must also apply to children whose cases have been completed but who are still in direct provision because their families have nowhere to go after being granted asylum or leave to remain. These practical issues need to be addressed urgently. The McMahon report must be fully implemented.
I will pick up on Deputy Connolly's point on access to higher education. As the Minister for Education and Skills, I was tasked with implementing the recommendation that young people should have access to higher education.
As such, we brought in a scheme on foot of the direct recommendation in the McMahon report and I have met people who have been able to attend universities and institutes of technology as a result. If, however, the scheme is not capturing the number of young people who are in school and are deprived of that opportunity and, as such, it needs to be reviewed, it should be. From personal experience, I know that there are many people who would love to have the opportunity to access education and jobs.
The most effective thing we can do is ensure that cases are dealt with swiftly and that people are provided with their full entitlements where they qualify for leave to remain and-or asylum in the State. The system has been broken and it does not serve the needs of some who are in the most desperate situations. That is what brings them to our country and we need to treat them with dignity and respect and to implement fully the recommendations of the report.