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.