Thursday, 17 January 2019
Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Restoration of Birthright Citizenship) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]
-----and is based on ideology rather than reason. Under EU and international law, Ireland, like other countries, is obliged to examine the claim of any person who comes here and claims international protection or asylum under clearly defined grounds. If we believe in the integrity and the concept of asylum, then we should wish to have claims tested and to preserve the right of genuine applicants to receive international protection. Asylum is not a back door for economic migration. It is a system of international law established to protect those fleeing their home countries for well-defined reasons. All of us in this House should respect that fact. While a claim for international protection is being examined, Ireland is obliged to offer accommodation and related services. We offer all meals and food, medical care and utilities and a weekly personal allowance is paid to each person. Exceptional needs are covered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. There is a misconception, fuelled by those who should and do know better, that those provided with accommodation are in some way incarcerated or detained against their will. This is wholly inaccurate. In the first instance, there is no obligation to accept the offer of accommodation and some applicants do not take up the offer at all. There is no restriction on the freedom of movement of applicants throughout this State. Indeed, direct provision was introduced to deal with a situation whereby asylum seekers were effectively homeless and had no shelter or protection. Those calling for it to end have offered nothing by way of realistic or viable alternative.
There has been a great deal of criticism of the system of accommodation over the years, some of it warranted. In response, a programme of reforms has been instigated through the excellent work of Mr. Justice Bryan McMahon and his working group, in order to deliver real improvements in living conditions and standards for residents. This work will continue, including through the roll out of the independent living model and the implementation of new standards across centres. Residents also have access to the services of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children.
In terms of new centres, demand for accommodation services remains consistently high. There has been an increase in the number of applicants. In 2018, some 3,670 people applied for international protection, an increase of 25% compared to the previous year. In addition, over 700 people who have been granted protection status or permission to remain in the State have chosen to remain in accommodation centres. The RIA is assisting these people with the transition to mainstream housing services but this is a challenge in the context of the current housing environment. To respond to demand, the RIA has tendered for new centres and a number have opened in recent times. The RIA has not chosen specific locations but has simply identified premises offered through the tender process. I understand that the opening of new centres may cause some anxiety but I assure communities that the experience in areas where centres are long established has been positive. Friends-of-centre groups which were set up everywhere have been effective in promoting integration. Individual Departments are responsible for ensuring that arrangements are made for school places, health care and so on. I understand why communities say that they wish to be consulted in advance but we cannot consult in advance when trying to negotiate commercial contracts. That said, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and I will continue to look at ways to better support communities where centres open.
I wish to make brief reference to a point made by Deputy Gino Kenny. I want to make it quite clear that there is no scheme by which citizenship of this State can be bought or purchased for money. I ask Deputy Gino Kenny to reflect on his comments in the context of the overall debate.