Seanad debates

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Catherine McGuinness


1:00 pm

Photo of Kathryn ReillyKathryn Reilly (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Like previous speakers, I welcome our distinguished guest. It is great honour for the Seanad to have her here and to be able to discuss the issue with her. In my very limited time I will speak on direct provision, which is another example of the failure to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Some academics and researchers have criticised it as the new apartheid, a system aimed at socially excluding asylum seekers, enforcing abject poverty and an abuse of basic human dignity. It is plain to see that living in overcrowded, confined space with little or no access to study and recreational space, lack of control over meals, inappropriate diet, lack of resources and rationing has had a negative impact on children.
Given that this is a debate on children's rights, it is apt that I lend voice to one of these children, a 12-year-old child living in direct provision, as follows:

Life here is not easy, especially for children. The embarrassment and shame you feel is so tense and terrifying. I now feel like the best part of my childhood is gone. How embarrassed I am to tell my school friends where I live and how sad I feel when I have to tell my school teacher that I would not be going on school trips or retreats. Now that I am in sixth class, more pressure is added because I will be going to secondary school next year. While this year I still have retreats, trips, talks and fun things to remember each other, it's a shame that I will be the only person in my sixth class not to get her own personalised hoodie with everyone's name printed on the back because it costs €25. At lunch time it's very embarrassing for me to open my lunch bag, afraid that someone will tease me for having a sandwich which has the tiniest piece of ham and a baby carton of orange juice. Direct provision has gotten to the point where children I see are getting bullied and teased, and are always alone because of their colour, status and, well, behaviour. Children are born almost every week into direct provision and every child has the right to an amazing childhood, and I definitely do not want to see their childhoods go to waste.
Those are the words of a 12-year-old girl in direct provision and it is very important that we heed them.
A study, Parenting in Direct Provision: Parents' perspectives regarding stresses and supports, reported that one parent said:
It's always rice and potatoes, they don’t think about nutrients, anyway the food is not for growing, but so that we will not die, whether you are healthy or not, it is not their business.
Another parent said:
There is no recreation ground for the children to play, the only place is the corridor, your room or other residents’ room and you don’t know whose room they are entering and what is happening to them. The space is small and you cannot hold your children in one room for 24 hours.
When the Irish Refugee Council launched its report on children in direct provision almost two years ago in September 2012, Ms McGuinness said "the recommendations called for in the report are practical and achievable". Has she seen any movement or progress since then? Has there been a concerted movement on the recommendations? What can the Government do immediately to upgrade its F grade on this? What steps does Ms McGuinness think the Government should take to address the fact that increasing numbers of families with young children are living in hostels and hotels due to the housing crisis, and the impact this is having on child poverty?


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