Motion: Direct Provision

The Minister of State is welcome to the House. I avail of the opportunity to welcome to the Visitors Gallery Dr. Bryan McMahon, chairman of the working group which is to report to the Government on improvements to the protection process, including direct provision accommodation and support for asylum seekers.

I am pleased that the last motion to be debated during Private Members’ business in the 24th Seanad looks at the living conditions of children and young people in the direct provision system. Our group has used its time to consider this issue and I have spoken about it at every available opportunity, including in numerous Adjournment debates and debates on legislation, in an effort to bring the plight of children to the fore. This is the critical issue of our time. In fact, Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said the test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children. I fear our failures and the treatment of children in the direct provision system will be the subject of a Ryan report in the future, but we have an opportunity to make changes now. All too often we look back in shock at what happened in the past and say how desperate it was, but what we do now with that knowledge is on what we should be judged.

My entry point to the issue of direct provision is from a children’s rights perspective. My perspective has been informed by my previous work in the Children’s Rights Alliance, the recommendations of the Government appointed special rapporteur on child protection, Professor Geoffrey Shannon, the concerns raised consistently by advocacy groups, my visits to two direct provision asylum centres as an independent Member of the Seanad and the recommendations of the working group. It has taken me a long time to wade through the mire that is the political discourse on the direct provision system. I have struggled to understand the distinction drawn – I still do not agree with it – between children cared for by the State, as children in the direct provision system are described, and children in the care of the State as those in foster care and other care systems are described. I have argued strenuously that children are children, irrespective of their status, and that it is stretching credulity to claim that children in the direct provision system are in the care of their parents in circumstances where their autonomy to make even basic decisions about their children’s care, for example, on what and when to eat, is so limited as to render it absent.

The direct provision system is detrimental to the welfare and development of asylum seekers and, in particular, the 1,225 children residing in direct provision accommodation throughout Ireland. There is a plethora of difficulties, including the dubious legality of the direct provision system, the lack of an independent complaints mechanism for residents, the absence of independent inspection of centres in which children reside, the decision by Ireland to opt out of the EU directive to allow asylum seekers to enter the workforce if their applications have not been processed after one year and the fact that there are no prospects post-secondary education for young asylum seekers. It is like hitting the pause button for an uncertain and, doubtless, lengthy period.

I appreciate that we have made some moves, but for most of the children, there is this cliff, the fettering and erosion of normal family dynamics and functioning, the lack of autonomous decision-making and the negative impact on the mental health of adults and children in the direct provision system. The ultimate failure lies in the length of time people remain in the system waiting to have their claims processed. I note the efforts the Government has made to reduce the length of time involved through the International Protection Act 2015 by introducing a single procedure to deal with international protection applications, but the reality is that the average length of stay is four years. However, a significant number have remained within the system for five to ten years. Some 55% have been on the waiting list for more than five years. I ask the Minister of State to think of all the things we have achieved in the past five years when he is on the election trail. There are people who have been in the direct provision system for that period of time. What a substantial loss of time it has been for the individuals, families and, particularly, children who have spent their entire childhood in direct provision centres. They are waiting for their lives to resume.

I was saddened to read in the final report on the child care law reporting project by Dr. Carol Coulter and her team, presented in November 2015, that children born in 2007 were still in the direct provision system. The only time they spent outside it was when they were placed in foster care while their mother received treatment for a mental illness.

There are more than 17 recommendations in the report of the working group which are specific to children and young people. I take the opportunity to thank the Children’s Rights Alliance and its member organisations for ensuring the unique vulnerability of children in the direct provision system was not lost in the process. I will cover briefly the first of those recommendations that we have cited in the motion. My colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, will speak to the others.

There is a need for child-friendly materials containing relevant legal information. The reality for all of us in full health is that the system is very legalistic; as it can be intimidating, people need support, particularly children who are unaccompanied and seeking guidance on how to pass through the system and for what they need to apply. We need to ensure the material is in a language they can understand in order that they can appreciate the ramifications of the decisions they will take.

The remit of the Office of the Ombudsman for Children should be extended to include complaints about services provided, transfer decisions and so on. Ireland ratified the third optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which involves a communication procedure. It allows individual children, groups of children and their representatives, including those in the direct provision system, to submit a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child about specific violations of their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I had the privilege of attending the hearing on Ireland before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The question was rightly asked how Ireland had in place a system that allowed children in the direct provision system to make a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child but yet they had no right to make it to the Ombudsman for Children. How can this be the case? Technically, the recommendation that the remit of the Ombudsman for Children be extended is supported in the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 which in section 69 includes a provision on the referral of complaints to the Office of the Ombudsman for Children. Technically, it requires nothing more than a ministerial order or a statutory instrument similar to the one made in 2012 when the decision was made to extend the remit of the Ombudsman for Children to receive complaints from children in prison. It is a question of political will. It is absurd that one can report to a UN body based in Geneva but not to the Ombudsman for Children. I know that the Ombudsman for Children is ready and willing to receive these complaints and wants to be there for all children in Ireland.

The lack of an independent complaints mechanism is completely out of step with the jurisdiction conferred on the office of ombudsman across the Continent. In November 2014, in CA and TA – a minor – v.the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Minister for Social Protection, the Attorney General and Ireland, Mr. Justice Colm Mac Eochaigh found that the RIA’s complaint procedure was deficient, not sufficiently independent, owing to the fact that it was the final arbiter in the process and that some elements of its house rules were unlawful. I do not care what anybody says, I trust the system, yet I would not be comfortable in making a complaint to those who I perceive as being part of the asylum system. We need to develop a welfare strategy and ensure all children have a named social worker based within the Child and Family Agency, not within the system in which a decision will be made on an application. I have argued for the application of the HIQA national standard for the protection and welfare of children, for the involvement of the Health Service Executive’s child and family services, particularly where a referral is made by the child and family services unit in the RIA to the HSE of a child. It is shocking that there is still no independent inspection regime or national standards for direct provision centres, given that we know that there is a significantly higher referral rate for child protection and welfare cases from direct provision centre than among the general population. In one in four cases at least one parent is from an ethnic minority or an asylum seeker or Traveller. I implore the Minister of State to be cognisant of the consistent findings in child care law reporting projects that social exclusion, poverty, isolation, mental health issues and disability are common features of mothers and fathers facing court proceedings and the acknowledgement that minority groups, including asylum seekers, are particularly vulnerable.

My colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, will speak in greater detail about the issues related to the weekly allowance. There is also the issue of those seeking jobs.Ireland and Lithuania are the only two EU member states that apply a blanket prohibition on asylum seekers entering employment or setting up a business in the state. In conclusion, I wish to quote the words of Bill Frelick, the refugee programme director at Human Rights Watch. He said: “Ireland should recognise work not only as a source of dignity, but as providing a livelihood that is integral to sustaining asylum seekers in the pursuit of their right to seek asylum.”

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I thank, in particular, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail who worked with me on this issue, on which we have been at one. I also thank Senators Brian Ó Domhnaill, Martin Conway, David Norris, Marie Moloney, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Ivana Bacik. It is great that the House is united on the issue.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh is correct to ask what we have achieved. For me, what is most depressing is that we can unite on an issue, but the question is whether we can really bring things forward. Senator Fiach Mac Conghail is correct – as we have the working group’s report, we do not need to have long discussions; we need to move to its implementation. I would like to see the progress reports of high level groups published in order that the process is transparent.
I have listened to the debate on the importance of cooking facilities for families. There is the issue of costs because people need materials in order to be able to cook. We can have that debate, but I will go home tonight and decide the time at which I want to eat and what I will eat. I do not have to depend on a service that provides for me to eat at a specific time. How many of us eat at the same time every day? That alone is institutionalisation. Friends have told me how difficult they find it when they are in hospital for one week. I cannot imagine what it is like to be in a direct provision system.
On the issue of tenders, why are we allowing people to profit from the misery of others? I have a fundamental problem with this. Why is the State not providing the service? Why do we not ask an NGO to do it? There are some really excellent NGOs working in this area. I am thinking of Crosscare, but I am sure there are others. I have seen first-hand the work they do.
On the remit of the Ombudsman for Children, I believe it could be done by statutory instrument or ministerial order. It is, therefore, an issue of political will. If one goes back to the debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas on the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002, this issue was raised. Would we leave an especially vulnerable group of children and young people outside the scope of the Ombudsman for Children’s investigatory remit? In response the former Minister Mary Hanafin said, “The children of asylum seekers and refugees will have access to the Ombudsman for Children in the same way as every other child in Ireland.” That is what the Houses were told. The only thing excluded is the administration of the law, that is, the procedures for defining and determining whether a person is entitled to a particular status. She also explained:
If, however, there are problems in relation to delays, the provision of accommodation, nutrition, housing, etc, those issues are covered. This provision is only to ensure there is not a duplication of the actual process of the administration of the law.
Why does the Ombudsman for Children not have a remit to look at the application? We live on an island, but we really are an island as far as the rest of Europe is concerned because children in other countries can go to their ombudsman for children. It is enshrined in the Constitution that all children are equal, yet now we say we will interpret it slightly differently and that children in direct provision centres do not have the same rights. The Ombudsman for Children and Mr. Peter Tyndall made a joint submission to the working group which clearly explained the benefits, from their involvement in the direct provision system, that their experience could bring and the ease with which they could move into that space if allowed to do so.
The Minister of State has talked about the additional resources that would be needed. It makes me more fearful because it means that he believes there would be lots of complaints and resources needed. What is happening if we know that we will need all of these additional resources? We would need some resources. He goes on to say it is also important to recall that the working group looked specifically at the possibility of setting up a separate complaints procedure but rejected the idea in favour of extending the remit in order that the established offices could take on this role. It is welcome that the Minister for Justice and Equality will meet the Ombudsman for Children next Wednesday. I hope we will move on this issue because it is about giving people hope.
I explain that my job is about nudging. When one is in a direct provision system, it is difficult to understand the nuances in things moving forward and progressing. People need hope and we need to see some big changes. We need to see an increase in the amount of money given to those in direct provision centres in line with the working group’s report. Although a figure of 60% makes for a good news day, it has not risen in 15 years. The people concerned cannot afford to do the normal things children do. I want to be happy that we are moving forward and have a great report, but we are not doing enough. I hope that when the House comes back, Senators will again unite and push firmly for change.
I thank the cross-party group and all Senators who have united on this issue. In particular, I thank the working group’s members, the secretariat, the different Departments that have come together on the issue and, in particular, Dr. Bryan McMahon. We now need to stop the discussion and begin implementation. We need to ensure hope for all citizens and that children are children first and foremost.

Role of drinks industry in Schools – Commencement Matters

I thank the Cathaoirleach and welcome to the Visitors’ Gallery Ms Siobhán Creaton from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and Ms Suzanne Costello from Alcohol Action Ireland. The issue I have raised with the Minister for Education and Skills pertains to the role the drinks industry is trying to develop with regard to the education of children in Ireland. I will begin by applauding the Government on the public health (alcohol) Bill. As a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I have been very much involved in the consultations and the process. If anything, I would like it to go further, but I certainly will do everything I can to ensure that it comes into law.

However, as part of those consultations, the first red flag went up for me when I saw, for example, the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland saying how the industry decided in 2014 to refocus its initiatives in the education space and to concentrate activity on drinkaware.ie. It currently is establishing Drinkaware as an organisation whose work will be modelled upon the influential UK Drinkaware Trust. Unfortunately, if one looks at independent evaluations of Drinkaware in the United Kingdom, one concludes that it is not a model we wish to see in our schools. It has not come out well from an evaluation. Not surprisingly, the drinks industry believes it is excellent, which makes me even more worried about it. The second flag for me was the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign, rolemodels.ie, which is due to produce its report shortly. I can nearly see what this report will say. It will state that we need to educate children, because this is the constant mantra of the drinks industry – namely, that education is needed and that, were everyone educated, it would reduce our risk regarding alcohol-related harm. All the evidence shows that education informs our behaviour but that it does not change or influence it. That is why we introduce laws in respect of, for example, speeding. We all know what is good or bad for us, but legislation is often necessary in order to ensure that we do what is right. A recent Drink Aware advertisement relating to the post of education programme manager refers to the successful applicant working directly with schools. This is despite the fact that a spokesperson for Drink Aware indicated that this is not intended to be the case. If that is so, then the advertisement to which I refer misrepresents the position, because it refers to working with teachers, unions, principals, the Professional Development Service for Teachers, the Department of Education and Skills and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. It is obvious that those responsible for Drink Aware want it to become embedded within the education system. I know someone who applied for the position of education programme manager but whose application was unsuccessful. The person in question was informed about the rolemodels.ie campaign, which is going to lead to what I have just outlined. There are no surprises here.

The HSE is not often applauded, but I want to take this opportunity to applaud it most heartily. On 23 April the executive issued a statement to the effect that it is no longer prepared to take any money from the drinks industry and that it will not be associated with said industry, particularly in the context of public health advice or any form of partnership. The statement in question was quite unequivocal in terms of public health advocacy. In my opinion, it reflects what the World Health Organization has said, namely, that public health policies concerning alcohol need to be formulated by public health interests without interference from commercial interests. I am seeking an assurance from the Minister of State that the drinks industry will play no role in our schools. The HSE has worked on the SPHE model with schools. I am concerned by the fact that the National Parents’ Council Primary has put its name to the rolemodels.ie campaign, and I really hope it will withdraw its support. The National Parents’ Council Post-Primary has distanced itself from the campaign and indicated that it would question the motive behind any campaign funded by the drinks industry and aimed at educating our children.

I tabled this matter because I believed the time was right to do so. What I have stated reflects Government policy. We cannot just leave matters stand and wait to discover what people think. The majority of people do not know that Drink Aware equals the drinks industry. The idea of representatives from the tobacco industry going into schools and telling children about anti-cessation measures relating to smoking is abhorrent. We should also abhor the fact that those in the drinks industry even think it is acceptable for their representatives to go into our schools. It will be reprehensible if the Department of Education and Skills says that it is sorry but there is nothing it can do about this matter. It is not acceptable for those in the drinks industry – regardless of whatever costume they may choose to wear – to have any hand, act or part in the education of the children of Ireland.

Minister Kevin Humphreys (response):

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, who sends her apologies.

The Department of Education and Skills is working very closely with the Department of Health in respect of the overall Healthy Ireland agenda. This encompasses co-operation in a range of areas including physical activity, healthy eating and student well-being, as well as substance misuse. At national level, the Department of Education and Skills is represented on key Government structures that provide a co-ordinated approach to addressing substance misuse. These include the national co-ordinating committee for drug and alcohol task forces. The Minister does not believe it appropriate for her to write to schools to prohibit particular materials or resources that may be developed by certain organisations, including the drinks industry. This could form a dangerous precedent for the future. However, officials at the Department of Education and Skills will continue to co-operate with the HSE and the Department of Health to ensure a co-ordinated and partnership approach to alcohol misuse and the range of other areas that are encompassed by the Healthy Ireland agenda. One recent example of such co-operation is the development of healthy lifestyle guidance that is currently being finalised. This guidance is intended to encourage schools to promote physical activity and healthy eating. It is also designed to encourage their participation in the health-promoting schools initiative, which is supported by the Department of Health and the HSE.

It is important to recognise that while education has a role to play in addressing the problem of alcohol misuse, behavioural change will not happen without the support and co-operation of parents, industry and society as a whole. Parents have a responsibility to help children and young people to adopt sensible and responsible attitudes and behaviours regarding alcohol and drug abuse. At present, the education sector is supporting national policy on substance misuse. In particular, schools are equipping students with the key skills and knowledge to enable them to make informed choices when faced with a range of difficult situations.This includes providing students with age appropriate information on the issue of alcohol abuse through aspects of the curriculum such as the social, personal and health education, SPHE, programme. This programme is mandatory in all primary schools. It will also form part of the new mandatory Wellbeing component of junior cycle, along with physical education and civic, social and political education, CSPE. Schools are also encouraged to deliver the SPHE programme in senior cycle. The substance use module of the SPHE curriculum focuses on the issues relating to the use and misuse of a range of substances. It actively seeks to promote healthy and responsible choices by students in a range of areas, including alcohol.

The latest data taken from Department of Education and Skills’ Lifeskills survey 2012 indicate that 90% of primary and 100% of post-primary schools provide their students with information on alcohol abuse through SPHE and other means. These results were almost identical to the position reported by schools through the 2009 Lifeskills survey. The 2015 Lifeskills survey is currently being completed by schools and the Minister hopes to publish the results before the end of the year. This will allow for the measurement of schools’ progress in this area since 2012.

Schools have access to a number of programmes and resources that support the delivery of SPHE and increase students’ awareness of well-being, including drug and alcohol issues. Examples include the Walk Tall programme for primary pupils and a post-primary resource available from the Professional Development Service for Teachers, called On My Own Two Feet. It is a matter for schools and teachers in the first instance to determine what resources and supports they will use to support their implementation of the curriculum. Teachers are equipped to make such decisions as a result of their initial teacher education and the ongoing support provided by the Professional Development Service for Teachers. I am confident that teachers are best placed to identify the most suitable resources to assist them in delivering the SPHE curriculum in their classrooms.

I listened carefully to the Senator’s contribution. She has raised red flags in respect of alcohol awareness and the industry in regard to that. She has been strong and logical about this. The Senator also referred to education, behaviour and role models and expressed concern about the involvement of the drinks industry in both primary and post-primary schools. She made some good points and I will ensure they are highlighted to the Minister. I will ask her to consider the important issues the Senator has raised.

Jillian van Turnhout:

I thank the Minister of State and appreciate that he was not in a position to answer my questions but perhaps he will also relay these questions to the Minister. The drinkaware.iejob advertisement for education programme manager states: “To manage relationships with relevant stakeholders, including the Department of Education, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the Professional Development Service for Teachers”. These are all within the Minister’s remit. I cannot see any reason for the drinks industry to have a relationship with the Department or the NCCA. I seek the Minister’s assurance that they will not have a relationship with the industry.

I appreciate the Minister cannot write to schools to say they cannot do this but, at the very least, could she write to them to advise them that drinkaware.ie equals the drinks industry. It is nothing else. drinkaware.ie is the costume the industry chooses to wear today. It will come up with something else when drinkaware.ieis exposed to people. Schools need to be warned and a warning bell is needed in this regard.

Minister Kevin Humphreys:

I thank the Senator. I will raise those points. I have a meeting with the Minister later this afternoon at which I will ask her to look at the Senator’s contribution and reply to her directly.

Jillian van Turnhout:

I thank the Minister of State.

Adjournment Motion – Revised EU data protection Legislation and the rights of citizens

Tuesday, 9th July 2013

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I welcome the Minister of State to the House.

I am aware that an informal meeting of Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs will be taking place at the end of next week in Vilnius and understand that the general data protection regulation is the agenda of that meeting.

I have been contacted by a number of people in the genealogical community who are concerned that the European Commission plans to unify data protection within the European Union with a single law, the general data protection regulation, which may have unintended consequences. I have specifically been contacted by Michael Merrigan, general secretary of the Genealogical Society of Ireland who, in turn, has been contacted by the Genealogical Society of Finland. I thank them for the information with which they have provided me.
I have a keen interest in researching my family history and have first-hand experience of accessing resources through my research. I realise the sensitivity of some data and so understand that we need to protect privacy. We have all welcomed the renewed focus on genealogy due to events surrounding The Gathering. In addition, the Government has proactively engaged in the provision of online access to genealogical resources through the national repositories and its genealogy web portal . I am also aware of the sheer dedication and work by genealogists such as Stuart Rosenblatt who has provided the State with an invaluable 16 volume archive spanning more than four centuries. He is a guiding example to us all.

The recent report published by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform with regard to its hearings in relation to the draft general scheme of the Freedom of Information Bill highlighted the need to seek the inclusion in the proposed legislation of the following as a guiding principle by which record holders, the State and State agencies, would give public access to records with a genealogical potential by the inclusion of a section that states that the legislation endorses and fully supports the principle of public ownership and right of access to our genealogical heritage. Doing it in this way will allow statutory instruments and departmental guidelines to take cognisance of the principle when assessing public accessibility to records with a genealogical potential.

I am cognisant that an EU regulation must be observed by all member states. The impact of the inclusion of civil registration records in the scope of the data protection directive, if that is what is proposed, would have a very detrimental impact on genealogical, biographical and historical research. While such a measure would have no impact on existing public access to genealogical resources held by the National Library and the National Archives, it could create an atmosphere of fear of litigation on the part of custodians of records of genealogical potential.

Can the Minister ensure that the revised EU data protection directive-regulation does not impair the right of the citizen to engage in bona fide genealogical, biographical or historical research and that the principle of public ownership and right of access to our genealogical heritage will be enshrined as a guiding principle? I believe genealogy should be expressly mentioned in the regulation and hope that the Minister of State can give us assurances today.

On a specific point, Article 6, paragraph 2, of the regulation should be rewritten so that it makes an exception from the general principle for processing of personal data, namely, the data subject has given consent to the processing. As a result, it would not be necessary to request consent to processing of personal data when the purpose is historical research or genealogy.

I hope we can obtain assurances from the Minister of State that the access to genealogical, biographical or historical records will not be impaired and that we will be able to ensure public access for generations to come.

Minister John Perry:

I am here on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, who is unable to be present. I thank Senator van Turnhout for raising this important subject.

In the first instance, I will briefly set out the background to the European Commission’s proposals for reform of data protection law. The centrepiece of existing EU legislation on personal data protection is Directive 95/46/EC which seeks to reconcile the protection of personal data with the free flow of such data within the Internal Market and to countries outside the EU. It is widely recognised that the 1995 directive needs to be updated to take account of more recent developments such as increased use of the Internet, blogs and social networking sites and increasing globalisation of data transfers. In 2010, the Lisbon treaty introduced a new legal basis for strengthened data protection standards in the European Union, and Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU enshrines protection of personal data as a fundamental right.

In January 2012, following completion of an extensive consultation process, the European Commission tabled proposals for a radical shake-up of the current regulatory framework. These proposals are being discussed separately by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament at present. Adoption of the reform package is subject to co-decision between both institutions. Article 5 of the Commission proposal for a general data protection regulation, which sets out the principles relating to personal data processing, recognises that it may be necessary to retain personal data for historical, statistical or scientific purposes. Article 83 sets out specific provisions for the processing of personal data for historic, statistical and scientific research purposes. While the Minister has until now not been made aware of the specific concerns of the genealogical sector, he is aware that concerns have been raised that the provisions in the Commission proposal are not sufficient to accommodate the processing of personal data for historical, statistical, scientific or archival purposes. The Minister shares these concerns.

As the Senator may be aware, achieving progress on the European Commission’s proposals to update the Union’s data protection standards was a priority of the Irish Presidency and I am pleased to say that substantial progress was achieved on key aspects of the reform package. In June, the Minister submitted a progress report to the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which identified key aspects of Chapters I to IV of the draft regulation. In addition, a draft revised text of Chapters I to IV, which reflects the view of the Minister, as the then President of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, of the state of play of negotiations at that stage, has been prepared. The Minister has arranged to have these documents laid before the Houses for the information of Deputies and Senators. The draft revised text includes a number of proposals, which have yet to be discussed in detail at expert level, to address concerns in respect of the implications of the draft regulation for the processing of personal data for historical, statistical or scientific purposes. I understand it is intended to discuss this issue at expert level shortly. The detailed discussions relating to these proposals will provide an opportunity to consider whether proposals to deal with the processing of personal data for historical, statistical or scientific research purposes are sufficient to cover archival purposes as well as bona fide genealogical and biographical research or whether specific provisions in this regard will be necessary.

The Minister believes that the concerns relating to the implications of the draft regulation for historical, statistical, scientific or archival purposes, including for bona fide genealogical and biographical purposes, must be examined further at expert level by the Council working party on data protection and exchange of information, DAPIX, and addressed, where necessary, by means of appropriate amendments to the regulation.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I would appreciate it if copies of the Minister of State’s script could be made available. Traditionally, such scripts are provided to Members. It would be useful if we were able to examine its contents.
I thank the Minister of State for the assurances he provided. I reiterate the importance of including a specific reference to genealogy to ensure there will be public access to these records when such access is for bona fide purposes. I will correspond with the Minister for Justice and Equality on this issue because it is important that it be viewed in conjunction with the general data protection regulation.

Minister John Perry:

I will be happy to supply the Senator with a copy of my script. The European Commission tabled proposals for a radical shake-up of the existing data protection framework. Those proposals undoubtedly comprise one of the most important reform packages being discussed at EU level at present. Data protection affects all of us, whether in a private capacity as individuals, in a business or professional capacity or as users of personal data. It is for this reason that the Minister for Justice and Equality launched a public consultation process in March 2012 to seek the view and inputs of interested bodies and individuals in order to inform the negotiations on the proposal. The Minister continues to welcome such views and inputs on the implications of the draft regulation, particularly as discussions on this detailed and complex proposal are ongoing at European level. He would welcome the views and inputs of the Senator and others on the specific concerns which may exist in respect of the implications of the draft regulation for bona fide genealogical, biographical or historical research.

As stated, the protection of personal data is a fundamental right. However, the right to this protection coexists with other rights and this is recognised in the draft regulation. For example, Article 83 of the draft regulation sets out specific provisions for the processing of personal data for historic, statistical and scientific research purposes. The Minister is of the view that the draft regulation must be examined further to assess the implications of the proposals relating to the processing of personal data for historical, statistical, scientific or archival purposes. He would, therefore, welcome any specific amendments to the draft regulation which are considered necessary to accommodate bona fide genealogical, biographical or historical research or which take account of the need to provide high levels of data protection to individuals.

On behalf of the Minister, I again thank Senator van Turnhout for raising this important issue.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I thank the Minister of State and I will communicate the information he has provided to the Genealogical Society of Ireland and the wider genealogical community.

Adjournment Motion – National Stroke Awareness Week: Act FAST Campaign

Wednesday, 13th June 2013

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I thank the Minister for facilitating me and coming into the House. It is an extremely busy day but we both know stroke awareness is very important to both of us. This is national stroke awareness week, with this year’s focus on the Irish Heart Foundation’s Act FAST campaign, which was launched in 2010 to increase public awareness about the early signs of stroke and encourage speedy medical intervention. I welcome Mr. Chris Macey from the Irish Heart Foundation to the Gallery. Under an Adjournment motion in January last year I raised the issue of stroke rehabilitation services and the Minister knows I have raised it several times at the health committee before him.

An estimated 10,000 people suffered a stroke in Ireland in 2012 and the same number are estimated to suffer a stroke this year. Approximately 2,000 die as a result of stroke, making it Ireland’s third biggest killer. Stroke is the single most significant cause of severe disability and up to 50,000 people are living in our communities with disabilities as a result of strokes. In addition to the devastating impact stroke has on the sufferer and their families, the financial costs are huge. The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, estimated that in 2010 the direct annual cost of stroke was €557 million of which as much as €414 million is spent on nursing home care and there is nothing to indicate that this cost has fallen in the past three years.

In the face of these stark figures, the Irish Heart Foundation’s Act FAST campaign is a commendable initiative which warrants State support. The campaign, while still in its infancy, has been a resounding success, particularly in raising public awareness of stroke warning signs through the first three letters of the acronym FAST, as follows: face, has the person’s face fallen on one side?; arms: can the person raise both arms and keep them elevated?; and speech, is the person’s speech slurred?

The most recent Irish Heart Foundation’s Attitudes and Behaviour study found that there had been a 190% increase in awareness of these warning signs. This increased awareness, along with the rapid development of the 24-7 thrombolysis services nationally by the HSE’s national stroke programme, has contributed to a 400% increase in the numbers receiving life-changing, clot-busting treatment and it has helped cut death and disability rates from strokes significantly against demographic and international trends.

However, the last letter of the acronym, arguably the most important one since it is the call to action, namely, “T”, time to call 999 if one sees any of the signs, has not had the desired impact. Just over half of the respondents surveyed said they would call an ambulance. Speedy medical intervention is imperative if we are to limit the detrimental impact of stroke. The average stroke destroys 2 million brain cells every minute, which means the quicker one gets emergency treatment, the more of one’s brain can be saved. The knock-on effect is reduced risk of death or severe disability and a considerable financial saving to the State.

The Irish Heart Foundation is entering a new stage of the campaign where there is clearly room to improve on awareness of the timely medical intervention, and it needs State support. In addition to financial assistance, there are other supports at the disposal of the State, such as providing advertising sites in high footfall areas of Government buildings and properties and maybe examining a way of reimbursing the 23% they have to pay in non-returnable VAT for the campaign, which is proving to save not only lives and quality of life, but is also saving the State money. I would like the Minister’s reassurance that both financial and alternative means of supporting the new phase of the Act FAST campaign are being positively considered.

Minister James Reilly:

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue and raising awareness in the week that is in it. She is right about the figures; they are staggering. Some 10,000 strokes a year is very serious. We should acknowledge the growth in public awareness of stroke warning signs, as the Senator has outlined, and the improvements noted and confirmed recently by the HSE. The FAST campaign coincided with a major development of stroke services nationally, including an increase in the number of stroke units around the country from six to 27 and the expansion of 24-7 thrombolysis treatment from a small number of hospitals mainly in urban areas to all hospitals that treat stroke patients. The FAST campaign has assisted health services to maximise the impact of the stroke service improvements. The HSE has advised my Department that it provided €268,000 last year and €308,000 this year to the Irish Heart Foundation to help with its various health promotion activities. Like the Senator I welcome the foundation’s presence here.

Such improvements in stroke services were envisioned in the policy document Changing Cardiovascular Health: Cardiovascular Health Policy 2010 – 2019 which was launched in 2010. This established a framework for the prevention, detection and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, which seeks to ensure an integrated and quality assured approach in their management, so as to reduce the burden of these conditions.
I could go through the rest of this but I would much prefer to talk about prevention. In this country we have a long history politically of engaging in expensive developments. They are necessary, and politicians are always very pleased to open a new wing of a hospital or an MRI scanner but have been reluctant in the past to invest in public health initiatives that can save many more lives. When we look at the causes of stroke we see our old enemies again: tobacco is a major cause of stroke and if we could keep our children and the next generation from starting on this habit it would be a lot easier than trying to get them to quit and would prevent a huge number of strokes per year.

Obesity is another issue which leads to diabetes and hypertension, which is well known to be associated with stroke. The issue of alcohol must be mentioned also because it has peculiar properties with regard to blood pressure. It is known to cause vasodilation peripherally so one would imagine it would drop one’s blood pressure, but it causes vasoconstriction which causes one’s blood pressure to go up. It is a risk factor also.

Many of our figures relating to stroke are preventable if these areas are tackled. Earlier I mentioned the Government’s commitment to healthy Ireland. I am the Minister for Health but I often feel as though I am the Minister for ill-health because all we speak about is disease and illness when what we need is to keep people well. The Department of Health cannot do this alone. It needs the Department of Justice and Equality to keep our streets safe so people can exercise. It needs the Department of Finance and the manner in which it taxes and incentivises certain types of behaviour. It needs the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to give us safe well-lit places at night to exercise. We also very badly need the Department of Education and Skills on board and I know the Minister, Deputy Quinn, is very committed to this area.

This is about developing healthy lifestyles early in life which will stay with people. Early habits are the hardest to break. This has also been proven with regard to tobacco. If one does not start smoking before the age of 21 one is unlikely to take it up. We know this industry goes after our children. It wants to replace with new recruits those who have died, including the 5,200 who died from tobacco related illnesses this year, and those who give it up, and these new recruits are children. According to a survey 78% of smokers stated they started smoking before the age of 18. It is wonderful we have a new stroke programme and we are saving a life a week, and I am told the new initiatives we have undertaken save a life per day. While all this must be done to help those who fall ill now, we must look down the road and realise the actions we take now could save the next generation from much hardship and grief. If we do not tackle the obesity epidemic among young people and the rising epidemic of diabetes we may very well be the first generation to bury the generation behind us which is an appalling thought. No parent wants to be at his or her child’s graveside.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I support the Minister on the preventive measures on tobacco, alcohol and obesity. Strokes are Ireland’s third biggest killer and I ask the Minister to give consideration to the financial assistance I have suggested and perhaps consider other measures such as using public buildings for billboard spaces or reimbursing the 23% VAT. This is a public health awareness campaign and one could argue the State should be running it. Perhaps there is a way the Government could support it such as refunding the 23% VAT to the Irish Heart Foundation.

Minister James Reilly:

I am very happy to state we have cross-Government support for these initiatives, particularly the healthy Ireland initiative. I will have to engage with my colleague, the Minister for Finance, to achieve the VAT reimbursement the Senator seeks. This is not the only area where I feel VAT needs to be examined, as we also have VAT on condoms and vaccines. There is no VAT on tablets or liquid medicine but because vaccines are in injectable form they are subject to VAT. I would like to discuss a range of areas with the Minister. We are in very constrained financial times and it is difficult to seek to reduce the Exchequer return in any real sense.

We must get the people of Ireland and Europe off their addiction to nicotine but we also need to get the governments of Europe off the addiction of the income which tobacco products bring.

Adjournment Motion – Voluntary Sector Funding

Tuesday, 28th May 2013

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan. I am delighted that he is taking this matter. I also welcome to the Visitors Gallery Ms Mary O’Connor from Children in Hospital Ireland and Mr. Des McKiernan from Aspire. I will start by making a declaration of interest. I am a former chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, but it is not on its behalf that I am raising this matter, about which other organisations have contacted me.

As it stands, the current scheme to support national organisations which provides 30 months of core funding for 64 national community and voluntary organisations and some others is due to expire on 31 December this year. There is not a single name on the list of organisations in receipt of funding which will be unfamiliar to Members. I have often heard Members commend many of the groups which benefit from the scheme such as the Simon Communities of Ireland, the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, Barnardos, the Carmicheal Centre and The Wheel. It is evident from this handful of names that the range of services they provide and the issues on which they provide advocacy services are diverse, but the outstanding contribution they make to the lives of those they represent, thanks, in part, to the funding they derive from the scheme, is not.

During my time as chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance and president of the National Youth Council of Ireland, I have seen this money put to good use. I know how crucial it is to such organisations that they have clarity on the future of this essential funding. By denying them this clarity, we are not only placing vital services in danger, but we are also risking the very survival of some federations and networks which play a vital national co-ordinating role. I understand that, to date, there has been no official communication from the Department on the future of the scheme. Understandably, this is causing significant concern among the recipient organisations.

The 2011 iteration of the scheme talked about multi-annual funding for such national organisations towards the core costs associated with the provision of services. Originally, the scheme was designed for federations and network programmes, but several schemes were folded into the 2011 scheme. I have some concerns about the principles behind the 2011 scheme because they lack a clear aim and purpose of what they are about. Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to look at the scheme.

I also have concerns that some organisations receive significant funds from other arms of the State. In each iteration of the scheme these organisations seemed to be added on and I believe the scheme has lost its way. For example, I was surprised to see the Football Association of Ireland had received €45,000 under the scheme. According to the 2011 annual review of the FAI, it had received €3.4 million in grants from the Irish Sports Council and had €5.7 million in sponsorship revenue. Its chief executive earns €400,000; therefore, this scheme is paying a small percentage of the chief executive’s salary. To an organisation of this size, operating at a surplus, the €45,000 per annum it receives under the current scheme is a paltry amount, yet to many other organisations in receipt of money under the scheme, it is absolutely transformative.

Will the Minister clarify his plans for the future of the 2014-16 scheme to support national organisations? Will he outline if, or when, a new scheme will be announced? What consultation process will take place with current and potential recipients? Will the Minister clarify the purpose of the scheme because there is a need for a scheme to support national federations and networks of charitable voluntary organisations which play a critical role in co-ordination? Funding does not come from other arms of the State. As in previous years, will the Minister put in place interim funds if he does not have a new successive scheme to put in place? How does he see the transition to the new scheme taking place?

 

Minister Phil Hogan TD:

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Seanad on the funding scheme to support national organisations and thank the Senator for raising the issue. It was interesting to hear her speak about groups which need money seven months in advance of any decision being made and in advance of the budget and ask me to clarify issues which have not even been considered in the context of any review to be carried out.

I inherited from my predecessor a three-year programme and the Senator has explained some of the problems with it. This scheme amalgamated and replaced schemes previously operating under the White Paper on supporting voluntary activity. The scheme’s objective was to provide multi-annual funding to national organisations towards core costs associated with the provision of services. The scheme will end at the end of the year.

A review at the time made a series of recommendations for a future funding scheme including recommendations relating to: core funding; a focus on disadvantage and coalface services; the impact of the funding on the ground; an emphasis on adding value and avoiding duplication; and a focus on governance and cost controls. These recommendations were reflected in the current funding scheme which commenced on 1 July 2011.

Under the current scheme, 64 organisations are supported and some €3.588 million is allocated to the scheme this year. My Department will be carrying out a review of the scheme over the coming months. The terms of reference for the review will include an examination of the extent to which the objectives, rationale and approach of the scheme remain valid and will entail making recommendations regarding its future role and scope. The review of the scheme will be based on an examination of relevant documentation and consultation within the sector. It will take into account a number of policy considerations in formulating recommendations for the future. The policy considerations include economic conditions, principles contained within the White Paper and the role of the community and voluntary sector. I expect to receive the review by the autumn and on the basis of its findings, I will consider the options available to me.

 

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

Obviously the unique part of the scheme is its multi-annual funding. There will be an application process. While seven months is a long time, most organisations have statutory responsibility with regard to staff employment and would need to give staff notice. As an application process will take some months, seven months is a short time. I am happy to help in any way. I believe the scheme has lost its way and is a mixed bag considering the organisations. I have serious concerns about organisations such as the FAI receiving from this scheme which originally was to fund national organisations.

Adjournment Motion – Direct Provision by the Department of Justice and Equality

Thursday, 18th April 2013

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Although I am disappointed that none of the Adjournment matters I have raised in regard to direct provision has been taken by the Minister for Justice and Equality, who has direct responsibility for the matter, I welcome the presence of the Minister for Health.

The system of direct provision has been in operation since April 2000. However, concerns have been expressed about the lack of a legislative basis for the operation of direct provision. In light of the Ombudsman’s concern about the operation of the former mobility allowance scheme, it is essential that the rule of law operates in all aspects of our social welfare code. When direct provision was initially introduced 13 years ago, it was viewed as a limited system that would operate for a maximum of six months. However, the legal basis for the system is now unclear. When it was initially introduced it was argued that the direct provision for asylum seekers was permitted by providing supplementary welfare allowance in kind rather than in cash. Asylum seekers were offered bed and board by the Reception and Integration Agency and were provided with a weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.06 per child, amounts that have not changed since 2000.

Since the introduction of the Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, asylum seekers cannot be considered as habitually resident in the State. Given that access to most welfare payments, including supplementary welfare allowance, is restricted to those who are habitually residents, what is the legislative basis for the continued accommodation of and payments to asylum seekers?

Dr. Liam Thornton, a researcher on the law and policy of direct provision in UCD’s school of law, recently published an article on the dubious legality of the direct provision system. The article notes that in 2006 the then Secretary General of what is now the Department of Social Protection, Mr. John Hynes, raised his concern with the then Secretary General of what is now the Department of Justice and Equality, Mr. Seán Aylward, that the regular direct provision payments to asylum seekers were outside the powers, or ultra vires, of the Department of Social Protection. According to documents received by Dr. Thornton after a freedom of information request, an attempt was made in 2006 or 2007 to place the direct provision payment on a legislative footing. However, the attempt was subsequently abandoned. I can provide the Minister with a copy of Dr. Thornton’s article, the correspondence between the Secretaries General and the draft legislation if he so desires.

It is necessary for the Minister for Justice and Equality to provide an assurance that the direct provision system has a clear legislative basis in Irish law. It is of serious concern that the system leaves individuals and, in particular, families to languish for several years without any definitive decision on their entitlement to remain in the State. I welcomed the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 but it has been on Committee Stage in the Dáil since 2010. We have now been waiting for that Bill for eight years and counting. What is the legislative basis for the continued operation of the direct provision system?

An Cathaoirleach, Senator Paddy Burke: Before I call the Minister to reply, I ask Members to join me in welcoming the Right Honourable Ivan Rombouts, the honorary consul in Antwerp.

Minister James Reilly: He is very welcome. I recognise the tie. I am responding on this topic on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality. The question asked by the Senator presupposes that there must be a specific legislative underpinning for the provision of State services to persons who otherwise would not be entitled to such services. Legislating for legislation’s sake is unwise. If a case is being made for a change in how asylum seekers are accommodated, which is a view that the Senator has expressed on a number of occasions, that is an issue for policy in the first instance rather than legislation.

The direct provision system ensures the delivery of services alongside legislative provisions which would otherwise specifically prohibit asylum seekers from being provided with the basic necessities of life. For example, asylum seekers cannot work under section 9(4)(b) of the Refugee Act 1996, cannot access rent allowance under section 13 of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2003 and are not entitled to a range of benefits, including child benefit, as they are deemed to be not habitually resident under section 246(7) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.

As an administrative system, direct provision is unique in this State but as a result of it no asylum seeker has ever been left homeless. Clearly the system is not without its faults but in the 13 years of its existence over 51,000 asylum seekers have been accommodated under it. Asylum seekers receive nourishment on a par with, and in some cases superior to, that available to the general population. They receive a health service on the same basis as Irish citizens and in many cases the service is far superior to what is available in their countries of origin. Children of asylum seekers are provided with primary and secondary education in the local community on the same basis as the children of Irish citizens. The system of direct provision is not unique to Ireland. Many other countries operate similar systems for meeting the reception needs of asylum seekers and all face challenges which are broadly similar to the issues arising here.

There are no cheaper alternatives to the direct provision system. If we were operating a system which facilitated asylum seekers in living independent lives in individual housing with social welfare support and payments, the cost to the Exchequer would be double what is currently paid under the direct provision system, even discounting the additional pull factor this would entail.

This was a key finding in the value for money report in 2010.

Allowing asylum seekers access to the full array of welfare and housing benefits would run a real risk of resulting in a large upsurge in economic migrants masquerading as asylum seekers coming here in the expectation of accessing these services. Furthermore, in respect of any major change of policy, we have to take account of the common travel area between Ireland and the United Kingdom which facilitates free movement between the jurisdictions.

It must be borne in mind that the persons residing in direct provision accommodation are here for a specific reason, namely, to claim international protection from the State. This entitlement is protected by international obligations which the State has entered into and by a comprehensive national and EU legal framework and accompanying administrative processes which govern the processing of protection applications.

The Minister acknowledges that there is an issue with the length of time applicants spend in direct provision accommodation. While not suggesting applicants are not entitled to the protection of the courts and due process, a consequence of frequent recourse to the courts to challenge decisions in these legislative processes is an extension of the length of time spent in direct provision accommodation. This underlying problem does not arise from a lack of legislation – quite the opposite. There are many reasons applicants spend lengthy periods in direct provision accommodation. I have referred to legal challenges as one reason. Undoubtedly, another significant issue is the cumbersome and multi-layered legal protection process in the State. There is a clear imperative to change and radically reform that process and the Minister is committed to introducing it.

As the Minister has stated, he intends to republish a revised immigration, residence and protection Bill which will substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements for asylum, subsidiary protection and leave to remain applications. It will do this by making provision for the establishment of a single application procedure in order that applicants can be provided with a final decision on all aspects of their protection applications in a more straightforward and timely fashion, thus reducing the length of time they spend in the direct provision system.

Pending the enactment and commencement of the new legislation and with a view to improving processing, the Minister proposes to introduce new arrangements for the processing of subsidiary protection applications in the light of recent judgments in the superior courts. His Department, in consultation with the Attorney General’s office, is developing a new legislative and administrative framework for the processing of current and future subsidiary protection applications. This work is being given high priority and applicants will be advised of the new arrangements as soon as possible. In the meantime, the system is overseen by the Reception and Integration Agency of the Department of Justice and Equality. The RIA is subject to the same Civil Service obligations of fairness in the implementation of policy as any other area of government in implementing a scheme, statutory or non-statutory. It is worth noting that since the Minister took office, the number of persons being accommodated in direct provision accommodation has fallen significantly, by approximately 1,000 or 25% in the period in question.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Perhaps my question was not clear enough. I will take it up again with the Minister for Social Protection. The correspondence between the then Secretary General of the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Justice and Equality in 2006 states payments made to asylum seekers were ultra vires the Department of Social Protection. The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2009 clearly states asylum seekers cannot ever be considered habitually resident in the State. My question is: how is the State making these payments? I advise the Cathaoirleach that I propose to submit a request to raise this matter on the Adjournment with the Minister for Social Protection. While I appreciate the response given by the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, it does not answer my question.

Minister James Reilly: The Minister would like to be here, but that is not possible. On his behalf, I acknowledge the points made by the Senator. However, this is essentially about policy rather than legislation, as emphasised by the Senator in her follow-up remarks. The reasons behind that policy remain unchanged. The direct provision system was not put in place by accident; it was a necessary response to the increasing number of asylum seekers arriving in the State. Before 1999, asylum seekers were treated as homeless persons under the structures in place. These structures were unsuited to the situation facing Ireland; the homeless persons service of the then Eastern Health Board could not cope and there was a serious prospect of widespread homelessness among asylum seekers. The direct provision system is only one element of the State’s response to its international obligations on the asylum issue. As well as educational, health and welfare costs, there are asylum determination system and downstream judicial and policing costs. Meeting our international obligations in this respect consumes considerable public moneys. However, Ireland is not unique in this respect. All countries which take this issue seriously are faced with similar calls on their financial resources. The role of the Reception and Integration Agency is to adapt to circumstances in ways which specific legislative provisions might not anticipate. In recent years it has introduced child protection measures, including Garda vetting, and will in the coming months begin to publish on its website completed inspection reports on each of the centres under contract to it. It has also to adapt to the decline in the number of persons seeking accommodation. In the four year period 2009 to 2012, inclusive, it closed 25 centres and accommodated 2,161 fewer persons. This flexibility and adaptability of the direct provision system would not be assisted but, possibly, hindered by specific legislation underpinning it.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: My question is about the legal status of the payments being made. It is not about the legal status of the policy in place. I appreciate the Minister’s response, but it does not address my question.

Minister James Reilly: I will make the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, aware of the position.

Adjournment Motion – Rehabilitation Services

11th January 2012

I raise the issue of stroke rehabilitation services. An estimated 10,000 people will suffer a stroke in Ireland in 2012 and approximately 2,000 will die as a result, making strokes Ireland’s third biggest killer.

Stroke is the single biggest cause of severe disability and up to 50,000 people are living in communities with disabilities as a result of a stroke. In September 2010, the Irish Heart Foundation published the “Cost of Stroke in Ireland” report, which was compiled by the ESRI, which showed that the wider availability of stroke units and clot-busting treatment countrywide would reduce the number of deaths and cases of permanent severe disability from stroke by at least 750 a year. It would save the State approximately €230 million in the next decade, mainly due to the reduced need for nursing home places. These findings were accepted by the HSE and the Government and specific funding was provided by the HSE’s 2011 service plan to pay for extra consultant, nursing and therapist posts to deliver significant improvements to acute services.

The report also painted a stark picture of the deficits in community rehabilitation facing stroke survivors after their hospital treatment has been completed. No action has been taken to rectify these deficiencies.

The ERSI calculated that the direct annual cost of stroke is up to €557 million, of which as much as €414 million is spent directly on nursing home care. However, only €7 million is being spent on community rehabilitation services that could keep more of Ireland’s 50,000 stroke survivors living in their own homes and, thereby, improving their quality of life and also reducing costs. In effect, the vast majority of money for stroke is spent after the point at which it could help people the most. An average of less than €140 is spent on the rehabilitation of each stroke survivor which is only sufficient to pay for a couple of physio sessions each year for people with often very complex physical, communication and psychological needs.

As no doubt the Minister will be aware, the National Audit of Stroke Care, which was also carried out by the Irish Heart Foundation, looked at the extent of effects of stroke on people. It showed that almost half had a weakness on one side of their body, 22% were unable to walk, more than half needed assistance with activities in their daily life, 32% have depression and a further one third have cognitive impairment. That clearly shows that, more than any other disease, stroke can strip away people’s dignity and make them dependent on others, often to carry out basic personal tasks.

The improvements to acute services are saving lives but we cannot ignore the quality of life of survivors when their hospital stay has come to an end. In addition to the human implications, it does not make economic sense. That is what surprised me when I looked at this issue. This is not about increasing funding. This is about where we are placing the funding.

Those who have had a stroke and their carers need to be able to access a range of services after they have left hospital. Many stroke survivors will need further community based rehabilitation such as physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, clinical psychology, and nutrition advice and input. Currently, few stroke survivors have access to this type of care and, therefore, their lives are dramatically affected.

My questions for the Minister are whether he accepts that there is a clear case for the provision of rehabilitation services for stroke survivors and others with neurological conditions and that the provision of such services would be cost effective. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, announced that there will be shortly publication of a neuro-rehabilitation policy, but will funding be provided for the implementation of this policy to accompany it? If the funding is not provided, how will the policy be introduced and how will the suffering of stroke survivors and others in desperate need of rehabilitation be alleviated in the years to come? Does the Minister intend to support the carrying out of research into the cost benefit of rehabilitation to follow up on the Irish Heart Foundation’s Cost of Stroke in Ireland report?

Adjournment Motion – Children in Direct Provision

2nd October 2012

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, to the House.

The Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, of the Department of Justice and Equality is responsible for the accommodation of asylum seekers in accordance with the Government policy of direct provision. According to RIA’s latest monthly report, that of June 2012, there were 4,900 people its live system, that is, living in direct provision accommodation centres throughout Ireland. Of this number, 1,723 were children. Of this number, 907 were children between the ages of 17 and five, and 816 were aged four years and younger.

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, is very aware of the Irish Refugee Council’s report entitled “State Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion: The case of children in accommodation for asylum-seekers”, published on 18 of September last. The report paints a bleak and, indeed, worrying picture about the treatment and care of children in direct provision. It documents frequent instances of poverty, malnutrition and dietary related illnesses among young children in Ireland.

The findings of the IRC report are very much in keeping with the concerns raised by the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, in his 2011 report, in which he highlighting “the specific vulnerability of children accommodated in the … Direct Provision and the potential or actual harm which is being created by the particular circumstances of their residence including the inability of parents to properly care for and protect their children …”

Dr. Shannon had also expressed concern about the “real risk” of child abuse in direct provision accommodation where single parent families are required to share with strangers and where families with teenage children of opposite gender are required to share one room. He cited, in support of his concern, the case of a 14 year old girl in a centre in Mayo who became pregnant by a male resident in the same centre in September 2011.

Given the parallels between Dr Shannon and the IRC’s respective supports, I was surprised by the tenor of the response on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to my colleague Senator Ó Clochartaigh’s recent adjournment motion that the IRC’s findings and contentions simply “seems unlikely”.

That said, I welcome that the Minister has directed that the report be comprehensively examined and any issues arising be addressed. I welcome in particular his directing that issues relating to child welfare be dealt with without delay. I would be interested to hear from the Minister about the logistics for this comprehensive examination, who will carry it out and when we can expect a report.

What we cannot lose sight of when we are talking about children in direct provision accommodation is the fundamental premise that a child is a child. Irrespective of country of origin and regardless of the application status of the parent or parents, the welfare and protection of children must always be at the forefront of what we do.

It is timely to be debating this adjournment motion on the same evening as we passed Second Stage of the Thirty-First Amendment of the Constitution (Children) Bill 2012. In recent years the Oireachtas has spent significant time discussing horrific reports about the institutional abuse of children.

To get to the point of my question, what I am genuinely concerned about here is that our treatment of children in direct provision will become our shameful report of the future. Like many others, I am doing my best to ensure this does not happen.

At this juncture, I will limit my questions to the following. Can the Minister confirm the number of children living in direct provision who have been born in Ireland or born to an Irish parent? Are the HIQA National Standards for the Protection and Welfare of Children (For Health Service Executive Children and Family Services), published in July 2012, applicable to children in direct provision?

I understand that RIA’s child and family services unit is responsible for the monitoring and implementation of RIA’s child protection policy and does so in close partnership with the HSE child protection and welfare service nationally. I note, in particular, the standards stipulates that “Child protection and welfare services provided on behalf of statutory service providers are monitored for compliance with legislation, regulations, national child protection and welfare policy and standards”. Features to meet the requirements of the Standard include:

3.4.1 Formalised agreements are in place for the provision of child protection and welfare services for children and families, which are sourced externally.

3.4.2 Formalised agreements include the scope of service provided, resources required to deliver the service, monitoring and governance arrangements, including compliance with national policy, Children First and relevant standards.

3.4.3 External service providers are monitored on a regular basis to assure the service provided to children and families is compliant with legislation, regulations, these Standards and national policy.

In my opinion, the National Standards for the Protection and Welfare of Children clearly apply to direct provision. However, in preparing for this evening, I contacted HIQA and RIA and nobody could assert this for me. I would like to know what arrangements are in place for the inspection of direct provision accommodation centres in accordance with these standards.

Adjournment Motion – Child Protection

4th December 2012

While I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, to the House, I would have loved an opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, on the successful passage of the children’s rights referendum. We have not seen her in this House since the referendum, unfortunately. I am raising the issue of direct provision on the Adjournment tonight. Much of the public awareness and outcry about the abuse and mistreatment of children in State-run institutions followed the publication of a series of damning reports, including the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports and most recently the child death review report that was drawn up by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon and Ms Norah Gibbons. In response to the latter report, I expressed my profound sadness and a sense of the responsibility and shame I bear as a member of a society that has systematically failed to protect our most vulnerable children. As the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, remarked last year at the launch of an Amnesty International report, In Plain Sight: Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports:

At every turn, Irish people kept their mouths shut out of deference to state, system, church and community. When they should have been unified in fury and outrage they were instead silenced, afraid to even whisper a criticism against the powerful.
I am genuinely concerned that the situation for children in direct provision accommodation centres for asylum seekers will lead to a future Ryan report if we do not take immediate action. I refuse to stay silently complicit.

This is not an easy area to pursue. At this juncture, I am focusing solely on the situation for children in direct provision. I am finding it difficult to establish which ministerial remit covers which scenario. I have previously raised the applicability of standard 3.4 of the HIQA national standards for the protection and welfare of children with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, on the Adjournment. The standard in question stipulates that “child protection and welfare services provided on behalf of statutory service providers are monitored for compliance with legislation, regulations, national child protection and welfare policy and standards”. In my opinion, the HIQA national standards for the protection and welfare of children clearly apply to children in direct provision. They apply because the children in question are residing in accommodation facilities under the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality. They apply irrespective of the children’s country of origin or the status of their parents. They apply regardless of whether they are in the care of the State or cared for by the State. They apply because contrary to what the Minister, Deputy Shatter, has suggested, it is simply not true that all children living in direct provision “live in a family context and their parents or guardians have primary responsibility for their care and welfare”.

I would like to refer the House to a report drawn up by the Irish Refugee Council, State Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion: The Case of Children in State Accommodation for Asylum Seekers, which was published in September of this year. I would also like to mention the 2011 report of the special rapporteur, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, in which he highlights “the specific vulnerability of children accommodated in the system of Direct Provision and the potential or actual harm which is being created by the particular circumstances of their residence including the inability of parents to properly care for and protect their children”. The HIQA national standards apply because the State has an obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of these children. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, has conceded that the HIQA standards “apply to the HSE children and family services in the context of its role in dealing with children living in the direct provision system who are referred to it”. I assure the House that such referrals are capable of being made under the Reception and Integration Agency’s child protection policy or by GPs and teachers, etc. According to the HSE, these scenarios fall under the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I am seeking clarification on the number of referrals the HSE has received about children in direct provision accommodation centres. I want to know whether the Minister shares my position that any centre from which a child welfare and protection referral is made should be subject to immediate inspection in accordance with the HIQA national standards.

While I appreciate the Minister of State may not be able to answer this question, I have a huge difficulty in differentiating between “in the care of the State” and “cared for by the State”. These children are being directly cared for by the State. If one visits any of these direct provision centres, children are not necessarily in a normal family context and there may be two or three families in one room. I have a difficulty with this and I will continue to pursue this question. I feel the response is a fudge.

On the question I asked about standards, are we basically saying the HIQA standards do not apply and that no child protection standards apply? Must we wait for requests from the very people whose applications are being decided on by the Department of Justice and Equality and who do not want to upset that Department? It would be the equivalent of asking Irish families who are receiving social welfare payments to get the Department of Social Protection to investigate itself. These matters are separate for a reason. It should be independent. We should have learned from the past.

HIQA’s National Standards for the Protection and Welfare of Children

2nd October 2012

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, to the House.

The Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, of the Department of Justice and Equality is responsible for the accommodation of asylum seekers in accordance with the Government policy of direct provision. According to RIA’s latest monthly report, that of June 2012, there were 4,900 people its live system, that is, living in direct provision accommodation centres throughout Ireland. Of this number, 1,723 were children. Of this number, 907 were children between the ages of 17 and five, and 816 were aged four years and younger.

The Minister, Deputy Shatter, is very aware of the Irish Refugee Council’s report entitled “State Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion: The case of children in accommodation for asylum-seekers”, published on 18 of September last. The report paints a bleak and, indeed, worrying picture about the treatment and care of children in direct provision. It documents frequent instances of poverty, malnutrition and dietary related illnesses among young children in Ireland.

The findings of the IRC report are very much in keeping with the concerns raised by the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, in his 2011 report, in which he highlighting “the specific vulnerability of children accommodated in the … Direct Provision and the potential or actual harm which is being created by the particular circumstances of their residence including the inability of parents to properly care for and protect their children …”

Dr. Shannon had also expressed concern about the “real risk” of child abuse in direct provision accommodation where single parent families are required to share with strangers and where families with teenage children of opposite gender are required to share one room. He cited, in support of his concern, the case of a 14 year old girl in a centre in Mayo who became pregnant by a male resident in the same centre in September 2011.

Given the parallels between Dr Shannon and the IRC’s respective supports, I was surprised by the tenor of the response on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to my colleague Senator Ó Clochartaigh’s recent adjournment motion that the IRC’s findings and contentions simply “seems unlikely”.

That said, I welcome that the Minister has directed that the report be comprehensively examined and any issues arising be addressed. I welcome in particular his directing that issues relating to child welfare be dealt with without delay. I would be interested to hear from the Minister about the logistics for this comprehensive examination, who will carry it out and when we can expect a report.

What we cannot lose sight of when we are talking about children in direct provision accommodation is the fundamental premise that a child is a child. Irrespective of country of origin and regardless of the application status of the parent or parents, the welfare and protection of children must always be at the forefront of what we do.

It is timely to be debating this adjournment motion on the same evening as we passed Second Stage of the Thirty-First Amendment of the Constitution (Children) Bill 2012. In recent years the Oireachtas has spent significant time discussing horrific reports about the institutional abuse of children.

To get to the point of my question, what I am genuinely concerned about here is that our treatment of children in direct provision will become our shameful report of the future. Like many others, I am doing my best to ensure this does not happen.

At this juncture, I will limit my questions to the following. Can the Minister confirm the number of children living in direct provision who have been born in Ireland or born to an Irish parent? Are the HIQA National Standards for the Protection and Welfare of Children (For Health Service Executive Children and Family Services), published in July 2012, applicable to children in direct provision?

I understand that RIA’s child and family services unit is responsible for the monitoring and implementation of RIA’s child protection policy and does so in close partnership with the HSE child protection and welfare service nationally. I note, in particular, the standards stipulates that “Child protection and welfare services provided on behalf of statutory service providers are monitored for compliance with legislation, regulations, national child protection and welfare policy and standards”. Features to meet the requirements of the Standard include:

3.4.1 Formalised agreements are in place for the provision of child protection and welfare services for children and families, which are sourced externally.

3.4.2 Formalised agreements include the scope of service provided, resources required to deliver the service, monitoring and governance arrangements, including compliance with national policy, Children First and relevant standards.

3.4.3 External service providers are monitored on a regular basis to assure the service provided to children and families is compliant with legislation, regulations, these Standards and national policy.

In my opinion, the National Standards for the Protection and Welfare of Children clearly apply to direct provision. However, in preparing for this evening, I contacted HIQA and RIA and nobody could assert this for me. I would like to know what arrangements are in place for the inspection of direct provision accommodation centres in accordance with these standards.

I will pursue this issue. The standards should apply to these centres, as the RIA is a statutory agency. I do not agree with the interpretation put forward, but I will pursue it with the Minister. Equally, when he seeks the numbers of children from me – I note the date of January 2005 – I will point out that, potentially, children over the age of seven years are Irish citizen children, but because of the status of their parents are residing in the direct provision system. I encourage colleagues to visit the direct provision centres. We talk about the Ryan report and about what society knew what was happening in the past. It is happening in direct provision centres, on which the report in 20 years time will be shocking and damning if we do not do something now. The Minister is a very strong defender of children’s rights and child protection, which is why I raise the issue.

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”