Wednesday, 24 September 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Direct Provision Data
4. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality her position with regard to direct provision; if she will provide in tabular form the number of persons in direct provision per direct provision centre; the length of time those persons have been in direct provision; her plans to reform this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35438/14]
Ireland would not be categorised as a target destination for asylum seekers, and that is possibly a by-product of the direct provision system in this country. Genuine issues have been raised about that system, however, particularly humanitarian issues and the issue of catering and providing for children. Will the Minister outline the number of persons in each direct provision centre and her plans for reform in this area?
I can certainly provide the Deputy with the background information, if he has not received it already. I have the numbers but time does not permit giving the details for each place. I can give the Deputy an idea of the scale of the numbers of people living in different centres. It ranges from 31 in some centres to 81 and hundreds in others. The maximum number is 245 in Kinsale. I do not know if the Deputy has visited the Mosney centre but I have. Every effort is made by the managers there to provide very humane conditions. Many of the families are living in their own units. There is general catering and families can do a small amount of self-catering as well.
The number of centres has been reduced from a high of over 70 to 34. The most recent closure of a centre, that in Donegal town, took place in July 2013. The annual budget for direct provision accommodation at its highest in 2008 was €91 million. This year, the cost will be €51 million. The number of people in direct provision has fallen to 4,300, a reduction of 46% on the figure which obtained at the highest point. As already stated and as conditions change throughout Europe and across the globe, the number is climbing again.
There are two priority areas on which we must work. Deputy Mac Lochlainn referred earlier to food. There is cultural diversity and, in that context, attention is given to people's different dietary needs. I visited the kitchens in Mosney, saw the foods being distributed to families and am aware that a wide choice is available to people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Every effort is made to ensure that this is the case, particularly as it is part of the conditions relating to the direct provision centres. Of course, there are some who will remain dissatisfied. It is important to note that those kinds of efforts are made.
In the context of public information, the Reception and Integration Agency publishes annual reports and the most recent of these relates to 2013. Protests are taking place throughout the country at present. I appeal to people not to take part in such protests. I am of the view that the way forward is by means of legislation and through the efforts of the working group we are establishing to deal with the issues which Deputies Niall Collins and Mac Lochlainn have raised.
The Minister referred to protests. Doras Luimní, an NGO and advocacy body which operates in Limerick, recently organised such a protest. There are two reception centres in Limerick at Mount Trenchard, which is near Foynes in my constituency, and Knockalisheen, which is in the city itself. These centres are very different, mainly because a large number of children are living at the one in Knockalisheen whereas this is not the case at Mount Trenchard. The position with regard to children has given rise to concern, particularly as many of them hold Irish passports. A large number of them were born in this country to parents who entered the jurisdiction in order to seek asylum. This aspect of the issue must be kept centre stage. Why does it take up to three years for 46% of asylum seekers' cases to be processed? Why have 14% of asylum seekers been in the system for more than seven years?
The immediate answer to the Deputy's question is that none of the Governments which preceded this one reformed the application process. The waiting times relating to that process must be reduced and brought into line with those which obtain in every other EU member state. Previous Ministers for Justice and Equality decided to introduce large-scale immigration Bills and did not focus on the single procedure. There is no question that the very large body of work relating to the Bill in question must be done at some point. In the interim, however, we must isolate the single procedure and introduce legislation that will allow us to reduce the number of steps in the process. It is as simple as that. The cases of 2,000 of those who have been in direct provision for over four years are the subject of judicial reviews. People have a right to use the legal system but, as the Deputy is aware, the number of judicial reviews is endless.
A further 800 of those in direct provision are the subject of deportation orders. As is the position in other European countries, it is not possible to return people who are the subject of such orders to countries such as Somalia, Syria and Iraq. A decision was recently handed down in the High Court to the effect that people cannot be detained at their own homes by the Garda and removed for deportation. This has had a significant impact on the number of individuals being deported. This matter must also be dealt with.
At the recent protest in Limerick organised by Doras Luimní, residents from the Mount Trenchard and Knockalisheen facilities raised issues in respect of the basic conditions in which they are living. What independent monitoring takes place with regard to the standard of food and accommodation being made available to those within the direct provision system? The Minister indicated that the Reception and Integration Agency has some level of oversight in this regard. Is there an independent body, similar to HIQA, which has overall responsibility in this regard? Has the Minister considered setting up such a body in order that it might assess the standards which obtain and make recommendations in respect of them rather than allowing an agency of her Department to do this? Does she have any plans to establish a body of this nature?
The Deputy referred to a protest organised by Doras Luimní. I hope NGOs are not organising protests outside direct provision centres. I would be very concerned with regard to the impact of this on both the children and families of the protesters.
It is one thing to draw attention to the problem. I again call on people not to protest in a way that makes it impossible to run the centres, to have them cleaned and to have food delivered to them. I am concerned with regard to what is happening. Changes can be made without the need for such protest action.
Accommodation centres are subject to inspection on three occasions each year - twice by staff from the Department of Justice and Equality and once by staff from an independent company, QTS Ltd. All completed inspection reports relating to the centres are published on the Reception and Integration Agency's website. I accept that issues arise and there has been much discussion - in recent weeks and even earlier - with individual residents in respect of particular complaints. When I held workshops in conjunction with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, one of the issues which arose related to the possibility of establishing an independent complaints mechanism. This is a matter on which we can and should make progress in order that people will have clarity.