Thursday, 30 July 2020
Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre and the Future of Direct Provision: Statements
I thank the Cathaoirleach. As I was saying, we were all facing an unknown and fearful enemy in the virus but most of us at least had the comfort of our own hall door to close and to feel secure behind. I can only imagine that the pandemic and the sudden, albeit necessary, relocation to emergency accommodation in the hotel has been difficult for the residents of the Skellig Star, given that they have already experienced trauma in their lives. That relocation, the experience of the pandemic, the outbreak of the virus within the hotel and the horrible unknowns within that, undoubtedly exacerbated their feelings of helplessness, resulting in their current actions.
I welcome the news that officials from the Minister's Department and the international protection accommodation service visited the site and carried out an inspection. It is a relief that the objective evaluation confirmed that residents do indeed have access to clean, safe drinking water and meals. It is also reassuring to know that officials have ensured that supports are available to the residents. I heard the Minister say that some matters remain outstanding and are being followed up by her Department, that officials have written letters and have things in hand. I acknowledge that.
The pandemic circumstances of recent months have been unprecedented in the history of the State and the circumstances in Cahirsiveen cannot be viewed apart from that context. However, it is important that the requests of residents for transfers are considered and facilitated now that restrictions have been relaxed. I welcome the statement that the Minister made in that regard.
In light of all of this, it is a matter of regret that the residents have taken, and continue to take, the action they have. I appeal to them to cease. It is a statement of their sheer desperation to be heard that they would take such serious action.
Direct provision as a means of catering for the process of asylum seekers is a challenging structure, juxtaposed as it is to a general housing shortage. The trajectory for some time now has been to replace it with more suitable arrangements. As the Minister has stated, an expert group was formed last year under Ms Catherine Day, a former Secretary General of the European Commission, who has chaired a cross-section of stakeholders including formal civil servants, refugee and migrant rights organisations. The group needs to hear from residents and perhaps the particular group of residents about which we are speaking would make a valuable contribution to the wealth of knowledge. The objective of the expert group is to recommend set time limits for the different stages of the asylum seeking process and report on best practice in the European Union that we could adopt. The group has worked to accelerate an outcome and, as recently as 5 June, Ms Day confirmed that the report should be available in September. This is commensurate with what is stated in the programme for Government and the work to end the current system with all of its inherent, definitely expressed and agreed hardships has already begun.
It is also of note that the overall goal of reforming direct provision is hoped to be achieved in the lifetime of this Government and that the interim policy is to ensure that accommodation centres meet the Government's policy objective of having independent, self-contained living arrangements for residents so they may cater for and look after themselves. It is important that a right to work is available to them. In January of this year, I made a speech in the context of recruitment and the recruitment industry in which I noted a sheer lack of talent. We are running out of talent and I suggested we look to direct provision because there is a wealth of people with skills, talents and knowledge there that we could harness for the betterment of the nation. It is important that those people have a right to work.
It would be terribly disingenuous of anyone, especially the members of the expert group, to believe that the direct provision system can be changed overnight. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has reported that there are more than 7,700 people seeking asylum in the system and the figure in emergency accommodation, as of 5 June, was 1,647. With those numbers in mind, we must acknowledge that the dismantling of direct provision will take time.
I welcome that these residents are being listened to and their concerns addressed. I look forward to a speedy end to their current actions and resolution of the situation.