Dáil debates

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Reception Conditions Directive: Motion


7:25 pm

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent) | Oireachtas source

We all welcome the fact that we are opting in to this directive. I was surprised that a rushed 40 minute debate was arranged for this evening. I do not know how the decision was arrived at. A more serious debate a little bit further down the road might have made more sense.

This matter was debated for more than an hour at the Committee for Justice and Equality last week and many of the issues were teased out. The opt-in is not the issue. Everything else is. As has been stated by others, if the Supreme Court had not made the ruling it is unlikely we would be acting on this yet. We argued about the interim arrangement, which is totally ridiculous. The notion that an asylum seeker is expected to pay €1,000 for a permit to work for one year and to get a job that pays more than €30,000 a year is, as we discussed at the committee, out of the question. At least 99% of asylum seekers will not have an opportunity to work in that space. As we pointed out to the Minister at the committee, we have a suspicion that, given the clarity of the Supreme Court decision, there is a very good chance the Government's position of not allowing these people direct access to work from 10 February this year is unconstitutional. This may come back to bite it, but the State is very familiar with fighting avoidable legal battles.

The manner in which we have treated asylum seekers in this country is horrific. In the Minister's defence he is not alone, given that 20 years ago asylum seekers had the right to work in Ireland, but it was taken away. We introduced direct provision in 2000, so successive governments since have done nothing about it. They changed nothing. The length of time these people have spent living in these conditions does not bear thinking about. Deputy Clare Daly and I have been in contact with a number of people in direct provision, in the past few months in particular. These places are like refugee camps, to a degree, and I suspect the way we are organising them is part of the problem. The State is paying more than €60 million per annum for this. That is a large amount of money. We are outsourcing responsibility to private companies which are not treating well many of these asylum seekers in direct provision.

I know some of them really well and I have some detailed descriptions of what is going on in the place, what the food is like, the arrangements for young people and what they have to go through in terms of shared space and God knows what else. One of the bigger companies that has the contract here, and it is all being privatised, Aramark, is the largest prison catering company in the United States, and we know how they run their prisons. Those guys are making a fortune in Ireland.

A report was drawn up by Keelin Barry in 2014 into one of its units called What's Food Got To Do With It: Food Experiences of Asylum Seekers in Direct Provision. To cite that report, quite a lot of people said their food was inedible or not palatable on any level. Many people said the level of waste was disgraceful. There was not enough fruit and vegetables, with high sugar and high fat content monotonous food. Food was culturally inappropriate, bland, inedible and too salty.

It is not easy to fix any of these issues but given that this problem has being going on for so long, the State should hang its head in shame in terms of the way we have dealt with asylum seekers. I am sorry to say that while we will take in 4,000 over a period, we have not had a good approach across the board in this area. We should be ashamed of that.


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