Wednesday, 4 November 2020
As we read in a message quoted in that infamous Villagemagazine article, a WhatsApp message dated 6 November 2019 said: “Leo literally couldn’t give a f--- about the refugees. It’s Flanagan’s baby. There would be a huge amount of work required to get it over the line.” November 2019 was the 20th birthday of Flanagan’s baby and there have been many reports about the need to change the system for applicants for international protection here and calls to end direct provision.
In December 2019, the interdepartmental group on direct provision reported to the Minister of Justice and Equality. The group was to review the implementation of our obligations under the EU Reception Conditions Directive. One recommendation was that applicants for international protection be accommodated in short-stay congregated reception and screening centres and then moved to permanent State-provided or leased accommodation centres. This is at odds with the more recent Report of the Advisory Group on the Provision of Support including Accommodation to Persons in the International Protection Process, submitted in September 2020 and recently published. This advisory group, chaired by Catherine Day, recommended “ending the congregated and segregated accommodation of applicants for international protection and providing own-door accommodation sourced through the local authorities within three months of an application for protection.”
Which report recommendations does the Taoiseach plan to implementing? When will the White Paper be available for review?
In August 2020, Powerless – Experiences of Direct Provision During the Covid-19 Pandemic, a report by the Irish Refugee Council, was published. It outlines a chronology of key events and shows that the Government was asked that vulnerable people be moved out of cramped direct provision accommodation on 22 March. On 23 April the Ombudsman's annual report on direct provision was published. By 8 May, advocates and organisations were calling for the closure of the Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen. By 19 May, 171 cases of Covid-19 were reported in 13 clusters in direct provision settings and the following week the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response looked at congregated settings. By the end of July, the residents of the Skellig Star Hotel were on hunger strike to highlight the inhumane conditions there. It was reported that approximately 1,600 people remained in shared bedrooms in August.
Also, in August, we learned that the Department of Justice was using resources to examine social media posts that are critical of direct provision.
This week, it emerged that two healthcare workers have been denied leave to remain in Ireland, despite having worked in nursing homes throughout the pandemic.
On 1 November 2020, the Sunday Independentreported that a mother in a direct provision centre claimed she was locked into her room without food or access to care during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic while waiting to be moved to the HSE isolation centre.
Also this week, I received a call about an alleged issue with a direct provision centre in Donegal, where a pregnant woman was trying to access transport for a hospital appointment. The centre is located way off the transport route.
Will the Taoiseach immediately grant leave to remain for any front-line workers who have been putting their lives on the line during the Covid-19 pandemic? Will he clarify whether he intends to implement the recommendations of the report by the expert advisory group chaired by Dr. Catherine Day or those contained in the report of the interdepartmental group?