Seanad debates

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre and the Future of Direct Provision: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for being available to join us today. I also welcome the series of commitments she has given on direct provision and, on top of this, her sincere personal commitment as Minister, and I know of the commitment of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to address this issue.

There is agreement across the House on the importance of this issue of addressing the immediate challenge in Cahersiveen and the broader question of direct provision. What we have seen in Cahersiveen is totally inappropriate with regard to keeping large groups of people in confined quarters for long periods of time. There are major flaws with the direct provision system, and the Minister outlined them quite clearly. All of us on the Government benches and on the Opposition benches will support plans to abolish the system. The experience in Cahersiveen gives rise to several questions for our State agencies in terms of their response. Inspections were carried out by public health officials of the HSE on the centre in Cahersiveen on 21 and 29 April which highlighted concerns and inadequacies of provision at the centre at the time. On 28 April, public health officials from the HSE Cork and Kerry region urged a move to alternative accommodation due to inadequacies at the hotel, which were compounding the level of infection and making social distancing and quarantining impossible.

We saw the outbreak of a Covid-19 cluster there at the same time as we were seeing outbreaks of clusters of infection at a number of meat plants. Correctly, these meat plants were closed down immediately. The question is why in the case of this centre was public health advice from public health officials of the HSE not followed. I realise the difficulties because we were in a period of lockdown but in terms of responsibility to individuals there was clearly a failure.

We must remember that at the heart of this discussion are individuals and families who have already suffered trauma as they fled from war, torture, famine and oppression. They came and sought refuge here in a country where, rightly, we should be proud of our reputation as a welcoming country. They have been let down by the State agencies.Their trust that Ireland is a welcoming country has been damaged. This, of course, was all compounded by the boil notice that was issued for Cahirsiveen three weeks ago. That should have set off further warning signals and I do not believe the State responded quickly enough.

The people of Cahirsiveen have been welcoming. Kerry is a welcoming county and the community there has been supportive. The asylum seekers in Cahirsiveen have got involved in local walking, soccer and other sports groups. I know the local councillor, Norma Moriarty, has been actively engaged with the asylum seekers, the staff and management of the centre.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that she intends to resolve many of the problems and transfer the families insofar as it is possible by the end of next week. I also welcome the Minister's clear commitment to do that. However, if there is a failure to do that, I ask that she would appoint an independent mediator because it is important that we rebuild trust among those who are resident there.

We need clarity as to why public health advice was not followed and a clear statement about that would help. We must also address the long-term issue of direct provision, as the Minister has said, and particularly how asylum seekers can play meaningful roles in our communities.

The face mask I wear in this Chamber was made by Ms Mariam Dudashvili from Georgia. She has been, for some time, based in an emergency provision centre in Courtown. She is a tailor by trade and during the course of the pandemic, she and a friend made more than 4,000 face masks for the local community. I know the Minister has already accepted a manifesto from a number of those in direct provision centres in Wexford about how the system can be reformed and it is important that, as we reform the system, the Minister, her officials and the Minister with responsibility for children, disability, equality and integration, Deputy O'Gorman, will engage with those who have had direct experience of the system. Those who have gone through and understand the direct provision system have a contribution to make to the reform process. More than anything else, we should not look at this as dealing with a problem. We must look at the potential contribution those who come and seek refuge here can make. I am not talking just about tailors like Mariam. A diversity of cultures has always helped to build Irish society.

I hope we will see contributions from some of the asylum seekers who have been involved in politics internationally. My own party was founded and contributed to by people with names such as de Valera, Lemass and Markievicz which shows how we can be enriched by other cultures.

I also ask that in addition to addressing some of the issues which she outlined, including employment, the Minister would also address access to education. One of the difficulties for many asylum seekers is that they can go through our entire second level school system and get a place in third level education but continue to be treated as international students, they must pay fees and do not have access to Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grants. It is important that we address access to education for asylum seekers. I again thank the Minister for her commitments.


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