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.”

………………..

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.

Motion: Children and young people in Direct Provision

The following motion will be taken from 4pm to 6pm on Wednesday 27 January 2016.

“That Seanad Éireann:

– welcomes the final Report of the ‘Working Group to Report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers’, published in June 2015;

– notes, according to the latest available statistics from the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), in its Monthly Report September 2015, there are 4,814 RIA residents ‘live on the system’ of which 1,225 are children;

– welcomes Ireland’s ratification of the Third Optional Protocol on a communications procedure of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which allows individual children, including those in Direct Provision, to submit complaints concerning specific violations of their Convention rights;

Asks the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline the exact progress of the recommendations, in relation to children and young people, drawing specific attention to the following recommendations:

– child-friendly materials containing relevant legal information should be made available and widely distributed, including through special information services for children such as specialised websites (Recommendation 3.262);

– the remit of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the Ombudsman for Children should be extended to include complaints relating to services provided to residents of Direct Provision accommodation centres, and transfer decisions following a breach of the House Rules (Recommendation 4.135);

– Tusla – Child and Family Agency should liaise with the RIA to develop a welfare strategy within the RIA, to advise on policy and practice matters and to liaise on individual cases as required (Recommendation 4.199);

– Tusla and the HSE should identify a named social worker on their respective child protection, mental health and primary care teams to be the identified lead social worker for a Direct Provision centre in their area (Recommendation 4.199);

– the Minister for Justice and Equality should establish an inspectorate (or identify an existing body), independent of the RIA, to carry out inspections in Direct Provision centres against the newly approved standards (Recommendation 4.226);

– all families should have access to cooking facilities (whether in a self-contained unit or through use of a communal kitchen) and their own private living space in so far as practicable (Recommendation 4.75); and

– the Direct Provision weekly allowance for adults should be increased from €19.10 to €38.74 for adults and from €9.60 to €29.80 for children (Recommendation 5.30).”

– Senators Jillian van Turnhout, Fiach MacConghail, Mary Ann O’Brien, Averil Power and Katherine Zappone.

Statements on Direct Provision 22 January 2015

I hope the Minister of State has a little bit of latitude given the lack of Members in the House. We are approaching the 15th anniversary of the system of direct provision, a system that places asylum seekers apart and away from the community in conditions described by some as warehousing and others, who have made their way out, as open prisons. Therefore, it is not an anniversary that any of us here are celebrating. I welcome the Minister of State’s willingness to come to the House and debate the issue and his statements on the issue.

 

The significant length of time that asylum seekers and their children may have to stay in direct provision centres is something that I have raised consistently in this House along with many of my colleagues, most recently in the context of the Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill, initiated by my colleague, Senator David Norris, and I in October 2014. While we were not successful in our endeavour since our efforts on that date, I note that the Irish Refugee Council and Doras Luimní have published a joint proposal for a one-off scheme to clear the existing and significant asylum backlog, and I am happy to support that initiative.

 

There have been some welcome developments in recent months such as the assurances from the Minister for Justice and Equality that the International Protection Bill will be published by the end of January. I am sure the Minister of State is confident of the input and expertise he can expect from this House in shaping the most robust, fair, accountable and transparent system for protection status determination as possible.

 

I also very much welcome the appointment of the working group to examine improvements in the protection process and direct provision system, and it is on its work that I will focus. I noted with concern when reading the terms of the working group that the first proviso for the recommendations for improvements to be brought forward by the group states that “in light of the budgetary realities, the overall cost of the protection system to the taxpayer is reduced or the remains within or close to current levels”. The current system of direct provision is rampant with human rights breaches. While I do not need to remind the Minister of State, I would remind the Government of the position maintained by the international human rights fora that a state’s obligation towards the promotion and protection of human rights is not diminished by economic and financial crisis.

 

Like many, I eagerly await the recommendations of each of the three thematic groups, but I would be particularly interested to see the outcome from the theme two Group, which will deal with improved supports. There are a number of issues which I have raised repeatedly. One is access to education opportunities. I have long decried the fact that with no current prospects for post-secondary education, we are effectively hitting the pause button on young asylum seekers’ lives. I meet them all too often and see that the light has gone out because there is no hope for them within that system. Another issue is access to the labour market. Ireland is the only country in Europe not to have signed up to the Recast Receptions Conditions Directive. I have yet to be presented with convincing evidence of the pull factor so desperately feared with respect to allowing asylum seekers access the labour market, but I have spoken to enough individuals trapped in the asylum system who have spoken of the devastating impact of enforced and prolonged idleness on their family dynamics, self-esteem and mental health to know that the human price paid is far higher than the cost of this so-called pull factor. There is scope to increase the weekly allowance paid to residents and children, which has not increased in 15 years, and with no entitlement to discretionary social protection supports, in effect we see many living in poverty and not being able to have the same, or even near the same, opportunities as other children. We hear it from teachers in primary schools that are accommodating children from the direct provision system.

 

A feature of the issues that will be dealt with by the theme one group, and I still cannot understand why we cannot do something about this within a matter of days or weeks, is the putting in place of a complaints process available to residents. I am baffled and utterly disappointed there is still no independent complaints mechanism in place. The Minister of State mentioned the judgment from Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh where he found that the Reception and Integration Agency’s complaints procedure was not sufficiently independent due to the fact that the RIA is the final arbitrator in the process. I have tried to put myself in their position, and I trust the system, but bearing in mind that there is nobody independent in place, I would find it very difficult if I was put in their position to trust that system without the willingness to have an independent complaints mechanism. For example, the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, includes a provision in section 69 for referral of complaints to the Ombudsman for Children’s office. We all trust in the State but Child and Family Agency still has an independent complaints mechanism. In 2012, the Minister for Justice and Equality was able, by way of ministerial order or statutory instrument, to give effect to a decision to extend the remit of complaints for children in prisons. That was done literally overnight. I know there was a lot of preparation work beforehand, but it was able to be done to ensure that the Ombudsman for Children could take complaints from children in St. Patrick’s Institution. Since then, complaints have been made, but it is nowhere near opening the floodgates, which was the argument used. It has not happened in the case of St. Patrick’s. It is the final arbiter, so I ask why it is not in place. I find it unacceptable that the RIA says it will be the final arbiter of its own work.

 

Another matter under theme one about which I have a concern is catering facilities in direct provision centres. In so far as I understand, direct provision centres were originally self-catering – or at least, self-catering step-down facilities were provided in order to prepare successful asylum seekers for independent living. These facilities have effectively been closed over the years. Is self-catering regarded as a pull factor? Is it a deliberate policy of the RIA to close these self-catering units? The official line from RIA is that the policy is supported by the value-for-money report carried out in 2010 and that it was done purely based on economic considerations. I do not accept this, because the value-for-money report did not consider the health and social inclusion costs for asylum seekers – their physical, mental and psychological health. I refer to Dr. Bernard Ruane, who spoke to colleagues at the Irish Medical Organisation conference in 2008. Dr. Ruane said there was a 90% rate of depression among asylum seekers who have been here for six months. He identified their cramped living conditions and the prohibition on working as factors contributing to their depression. We must be mindful of this point.

 

The Minister of State will know that I could say so much more on this topic. With regard to child protection concerns, I implore the Minister of State to be cognisant of the findings of Dr. Carol Coulter and team’s second interim report on the child care law reporting project. She found that social exclusion, poverty, isolation and disability were common features among the mothers and fathers facing court proceedings, and there is an acknowledgement that minority groups, including asylum seekers, are thus particularly vulnerable. This concern is supported because in one in four cases she examined at least one parent was either a member of an ethnic minority, an asylum seeker or a member of the Traveller community. This prevalence is evident. I ask the Minister of State why we are not seeing more action from the National Action Plan Against Racism. It seems as though the plan has been shelved.

I would like to say a lot more, but those are my points for now. I ask why we cannot do something now about the complaints mechanism.

Newsletter November 2014

I hope you had a wonderful Halloween. I bring you this Newsletter as a mid-term round-up of my work over the last few months:

 

Adoption (Information and Identity) Bill 2014

Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014

Budget 2015

Valuation (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2012

Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2014

Ireland’s Biggest Coffee Morning

Oireachtas Childline Coffee Morning

2014 EESC Civil Society Prize Ceremony, Brussels

 

I hope there is something that will spark your interest and as ever I encourage you to get in touch if you would like to discuss or contribute to any of my work.

 

This week I will have the pleasure to meet a great range of volunteers, firstly I am speaking at the Volunteering Ireland Conference in Dublin Castle and then on Saturday and Sunday respectively I will be speaking the ISPCC Volunteer Conference in Athlone and the Scouting Ireland Conference in Dublin.  Volunteers do such outstanding work both locally and nationally and I always find their commitment so energising and motivating.  A huge thank you to all who volunteer.

Best wishes,

 

Jillian


 

Adoption (Information and Identity) Bill 2014:

On Monday 3 November, myself, Senator Averil Power and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames launched our new Adoption (Information and Identity) Bill 2014. The purpose of the Bill is to allow adopted people over the age of 18 years to access information relating to their birth and adoption, and in particular to obtain their original birth certificate. The natural parent of an adopted person is also permitted to request certain information. The overall aim of the Bill is to vindicate the adopted person’s right to know his or her identity. Due weight is given to the privacy rights of all relevant persons. The Bill is also designed to make it easier for adopted people and their natural parents to make contact with each other.

 

We need to fundamentally reconsider how we approach adoption in Ireland. Our current system of closed adoptions means there are more than 50,000 adopted people who have no automatic legal right to their birth certificate or early care records, no legal right to relevant medial information, or any legal right to trace information about their identity and genealogy. The impact of this State supported vacuum can only truly be known by the adopted people affected and we cannot ignore their voices or their needs any longer. Surely there is nothing more basic, more necessary, than the right to know who you are?

 

This right is afforded to all persons from the outset, for example the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland has both signed (1990) and ratified (1992) expressly recognises the right of the child to preserve (Article 8.1) and know (Article 8.2) his or her identity.

 

We believe the Bill strikes a careful balance between the child’s right to their identity and their birth mother’s right to privacy

 

We look forward to wide consultation on the Bill to make it as robust and supportive to adopted people in Ireland.

 


Bill Photo

Caption Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, Senator Averil Power and Senator Jillian van Turnhout.

 

 

Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014:

The Civil Registration Bill recently completed its passage through the Seanad. It will make it compulsory to register the name of the father on all birth certificates. In an attempt to reverse a change made in the Adoption Act 2010, I requested an amendment to the Adoption Act to ensure that the document used by adopted people as a birth certificate must refer to the fact that they are adopted. I was not successful but will continue to pursue this issue.

 

Budget 2015:

Senators were only afforded a short few minutes to respond to Budget 2015, on 14 October, and so my statement was brief to say the least. I do intend to raise some of my concerns when the Social Welfare Bill is debated in December. The main issue I raised in October was the failure to invest in services, such as childcare along the lines of the Scandinavian model we have been promised. You can read my statement here.

 

 

Valuation (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2012:

In the Seanad I raised how the Rates can vary greatly for providers of Early Child Care and Education around Ireland. I am working with Minister Simon Harris TD to see if we can find a workable solution to support this essential service. Check out what I said here

 

Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2014:

Thank you to all who supported Senator David Norris and I in our Bill that hoped to provide a pathway to residency for asylum seekers who have been awaiting a decision on their protection application for 4 years or more. This Bill was not drafted in the belief that it was a panacea for all the shortcomings of the current status determination system and we had hoped to strengthen it further along the legislative journey. Sadly we did not get the support of Sinn Fein or the Government – the Minister was “opposed to the Bill even at a conceptual level”. And so we just missed out on getting the Bill to next stage. I am very disappointed, particularly at the lost opportunity to keep the asylum system and Direct Provision on the legislative agenda of the Seanad, but I will keep fighting for a radically reformed and fair system. See press release from NASC Ireland showing their support.

 


 

Ireland’s Biggest Coffee Morning:

It was such a pleasure to attend The Irish Hospice Foundation’s Ireland’s Biggest Coffee Morning, the main annual fundraising event to provide much needed support for local hospice services, which was held in Bewley’s on Grafton Street on 18 September.

 

Insert Photo

Caption Senator Jillian van Turnhout, Deputy Olivia Mitchell and Miriam Donohoe, Head of Communications with the Irish Hospice Foundation

 

Oireachtas ISPCC Childline Coffee Morning:

I was delighted to co-host with Deputy Jerry Buttimer the second annual Oireachtas coffee morning in support of ISPCC Childline on 9 October. Childline has issued an emergency appeal for funds to help save its night-time call service. Thanks to a great turnout and generous contributions from Members and staff we raised an impressive €860, which will go toward Childline answering more calls and messages from vulnerable children and young people day and night. I want to say a massive thank you to all involved: those who donated raffle prizes; the Oireachtas Restaurant for sponsoring the teas and coffees; my assistant Amy for organising the event; and the ISPCC and Childline Volunteers who attended on the morning. I want to specially thank Childline Volunteer Monica Rowe whose short presentation to attendees gave a unique and moving insight into the importance of Childline’s work. I was particularly moved by her description of the three typical calls Volunteers in Childline receive:

 

  1. The silent Call – We don’t know what’s up, but whatever it is, these children stay on the line as we reassure them, telling them that whatever’s bothering them we will not judge them, and they are safe to talk about it or not – the decision is theirs – and that we are always there.

 

  1. The Crying Call – This is where the child on the end of the line cannot talk, they simply cry and cry, and often, after a length of time, simply hang up. These calls are upsetting, they would be for anybody – but we can be reassured that when a child is at their lowest and feeling like there is no other shoulder in the world. We can tell them that whenever they are ready to talk we are there for them 24/7.

 

  1. The engaging call – this is where the child engages with the volunteer – may be for the first time, and many may even be children who have been in one of the other categories and have finally plucked up the courage to disclose what has been happening. Engaging calls can vary from the little 4 year old rang because his babysitter was on the phone and he was packed off to bed his mum had given him the Childline number in case he had no one to talk to. This little fella wasn’t in trouble, but if he or a friend ever is he will know that we are safe to ring and that we are there all the time – The little lassie under the bed, in the middle of the night distraught and shaking – whispering in case her abuser comes back and hears her on the phone. These kids know that whenever they need us we are there for them.

 

2014 EESC Civil Society Prize Ceremony, Brussels:

On 16 October, as a member of the assessment panel, I had the honour of attending the EESC (European Economic and Social Committee) 2014 Civil Society Prize Ceremony in Brussels. This year’s prize was aimed at organisations or individuals who have undertaken outstanding projects to improve the economic and social inclusion of Roma people and communities. ETP Slovakia-Centre for Sustainable Development received first prize for their project A bridge of hope in Slovakia, through which they teach Roma communities in Slovakia how to construct their own houses. In accepting their prize, ETP director Slávka Mačáková said, “We hope that our self-empowering initiative will be a role model for European policy-makers”. IQ Roma servis from the Czech Republic and Reverend Archimandrite Athinagoras Loukataris from Greece shared the 2nd prize.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Catherine McGuinness on Children’s Rights in Ireland

Thursday, 19th June 2014

“I welcome Judge Catherine McGuinness. It was a joy to listen to her, but her words have provided us with a stark reminder and challenged us in this House for work ahead. I note her work on the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card, and she rightly pointed to the work of Tanya Ward, Maria Corbett and all the team at the Children’s Rights Alliance. She also pointed to work of the member organisations of the Children’s Rights Alliance which come together to provide evidence and put together the Report Card. I am delighted to welcome representatives of many of them to the Gallery. In fact, we could not fit them all in, so there are people in the wings waiting and listening. I could use up all my time listing every organisation, but I want to focus on some current issues. I want also to note the work being done by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, and his annual report. His report and that of the Children’s Rights Alliance provide an invaluable tool for me as a legislator and policymaker. It is good to see that the state supports these initiatives.

The programme for Government 2011 to 2016 set out an ambitious reform agenda for children and family services. Senator Bacik has listed many of the things that have been accomplished since then. Equally, there are areas of concern that impact on the daily lives of children and we need to shine a light on those. As I am sure Ms McGuinness and my colleagues in this House will know, I am strongly committed to pursuing the gamut of children’s rights through my “senatorship”. We have had in this Senate excellent debates on children’s rights, most recently on beauty pageants and protecting childhood. In the autumn, we had a interesting debate on direct provision and valuing youth work. They were really good, informative debates and I pay tribute to my colleagues.

Other speakers have mentioned survivors. When I have met survivors over the years – we were campaigning before the children’s rights referendum became a reality – many said to me that the real testament would be to see children’s rights articulated in the Constitution of Ireland. Chief among the advancements that we have made was the passage of the children’s rights referendum on 10 November 2012. Unfortunately, the enactment of the amendment Bill, the will of Irish people, has been subject to lengthy postponement pending finalisation of the second part of a legal challenge by Mr. Justice McDermott in the High Court before a full appeal can proceed to the Supreme Court. The delay in the legal process is a source of frustration when I think of the body of legislation that has been passed since November 2011 that could have benefited from a constitutionally recognised best interests of the child principle. I also feel sadness when I think of the number of children of married parents, many of whom have spent the vast majority of their childhoods in the care system, who have now turned 18 since we voted as the people of Ireland and are eligible for adoption. Their rights have been expunged. It is my sincere hope that priority is given to the delivery of the judgment in the High Court, that the challenge will be given priority listing in the Supreme Court and that it is ruled upon as expediently as possible.

While Ms McGuinness is before us, I want to address two specific issues that are facing children today and seek her guidance. Chapter 5.4 of the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card looks at children in detention. It states that, according to a communication that the alliance received from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 103 young people were detained on remand in 2013 for 138 different periods ranging from one day to several months. We have to bear in mind that a young person may be remanded more than once pending the outcome of proceedings. The number of children detained on remand, particularly the significant percentage of them who do not go on to receive a custodial sentence, raises serious concerns about Ireland’s compliance with the international and domestic principles of detention as a last resort for children, which incorporate a presumption against detention of children accused of criminal offences. I want to ask Judge McGuinness’s opinion on the practice of the Children Court of remanding children for assessment despite section 88(13) of the Children’s Act clearly stipulating that the court should not remand a child in detention on the basis solely of care or protection concerns. I want to ask her how the absence of a formal system of bail support and services in Ireland impacts on a child’s ability to meet their bail conditions, with the consequent risk of their receiving a custodial remand for failure to comply.

The second issue that I want to raise is that of direct provision, which Ms McGuinness mentioned. Chapter 6 of the Report Card opens with a piece by Dr. Liam Thornton entitled, “Closing Our Eyes: Irish Society and Direct Provision”. Dr. Thornton has done some excellent work, as have many NGOs such as the Irish Refugee Council and Doras Luimní. I put forward a motion on direct provision in this House last October. We were all at one on this issue. Unfortunately, the Minister then was not at one with us, but we will keep pursuing it and we have a very good Seanad cross-party group working on the issue. We know the high number of children who are in the 34 direct provision accommodation centres. Can Ms McGuinness give us advice on what immediate action could provide greater protection to children who are caught in the direct provision system? What could we do in the immediate future? All Senators in this House have agreed that such centres are not places for a child to be accommodated, especially beyond three-month or six-month period. I thank Ms McGuinness again for her address. She has given us many challenges.”

Full debate transcript available here

Senator van Turnhout calls on Ireland to immediately transpose the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive into national legislation

Press Statement, 15 April 2013

 ***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

 

SENATOR VAN TURNHOUT CALLS ON IRELAND TO IMMEDIATELY TRANSPOSE THE EU ANTI-TRAFFICKING DIRECTIVE INTO NATIONAL LEGISLATION

 

I warmly welcome today’s publication of the European Commission’s Eurostat Report Trafficking in human beings.  I note with extreme concern that 62% of all those identified or presumed to be victims of human trafficking in the EU over the 2008-2010 period, were trafficked for sexual exploitation, with countries of trafficking origin identified both inside and outside the EU.

 

According to Department of Justice annual reports of trafficking in human beings in Ireland for 2009, 2010, and 2011, there were 132 detected cases of trafficking for sexual exploitation, of which 32 were children.  Despite this, there has been a negligible number of prosecutions under the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act, 2008 and the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998.  Furthermore, Ireland has failed to transpose the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive, the deadline for which expired on 6 April.

 

Following a very constructive meeting last week with Myria Vassiliadou, EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, where we shared our mutual concerns, I call on the Government to immediately transpose the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive into national legislation.  The EU Directive will have a significant impact on the lives of trafficking victims and will prevent others from falling victim to this heinous crime.

 

I will continue my work in the Seanad: advocating to criminalise the purchase of sex in Ireland to curb prostitution and trafficking; seeking to introduce and strengthen regulations around vulnerable work placements, such as Au-Pairing; and focusing on the distinct vulnerability of asylum seekers in Direct Provision to trafficking and exploitation in Ireland.

 

-ENDS-

Notes for the Editor:

European Commission Report: Trafficking in human beings, Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2011 on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA, and all related European Commission press releases can be view at http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/malmstrom/news/archives/2013/04/20130415_en.htm

 

For More Information, Please Contact:                                                                

Senator Jillian van Turnhout,                                                                                                                                    Leader of the Independent Group (Taoiseach’s Nominees)                                                              Phone: 01-6183375                                                                                                                                      e-mail:jillian.vanturnhout@oireachtas.ie

 

Email Newsletter March 2014


Prize Giving Ceremony for Irish Girl Guides Competition Winners

UCD Human Rights Network: Direct Provision

Model Council of the European Union Debate

Launch of “Living with a Neurological Condition in Ireland”

YouTube Safety Lab

I greatly appreciated all the support I received from civil society, parents, grandparents and concerned members of the public around my recent Seanad Motion condemning the holding of child beauty pageants in Ireland. It was extremely heartening to see the Upper House united across political divides and ideological differences in support of children and protection of childhoods from sexualisation and undue gender stereotyping. I welcome Minister Francis Fitzgerald’s response to the Motion by commissioning an international review of other countries’ responses to child pageants to help inform the Government’s response and future actions. I am hopeful that a legislative prohibition will not be necessary, but rather that the environment will be so unfavourable to child pageants that they simply won’t succeed here. Should that prove not to be the case, I am prepared to pursue a legislative route. I invite you to read the Motion, my statement and find the link to the full Seanad debate here (http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/?p=1200) on my website.

This February, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children held a series of hearings on the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2013. I am strongly in favour of plain packaging for many reasons including: 78% of smokers start before the age of 18; children in Ireland begin smoking at an earlier age than in any other country in Europe; the tobacco industry’s biggest growth area is amongst children; and attractive packaging is used to target young people so that they become addicted from an early age. I could go and on. Suffice to say the evidence is clear and I hope I can count on your support as this important Bill progresses.

 

ATTFU7ZA

 

So much of my work as a Senator is done off the Seanad floor and I would like to draw your attention to a number of wonderful events I have had the privilege of hosting, attending and contributing to over the last few months:

I have received some very interesting guest blog (http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/?page_id=218) proposals in recent months. The guest blog section of my website is designed to give an additional space for adults and children alike to share their experiences, raise issues of importance to them and voice their concerns. If you, or a young person you know, would like to contribute a piece please email my assistant Amy for further details amy.mcardle@oireachtas.ie.

Best wishes,

Jillian


Prize Giving Ceremony for Irish Girl Guides Competition Winners
As a committed Girl Guide, I was immensely proud to welcome the three category winners of the Irish Girl Guides article/photo competition: Sarah Condren; Lauren Mooney; and Charlotte Dougherty to Leinster House on Monday 17 February. Through their winning submissions these young and aspiring journalists have captured the fun, adventure, and challenge of Girl Guiding and have brought the incredible experience of being an Irish Girl Guide to life. After a tour of the Oireachtas and lunch we had a prize giving ceremony with myself, author Sarah Webb, who judged the competition and who was an IGG leader for 15 years, and Jonathan Sultan from Canon Ireland.

008

 

UCD Human Rights Network: Direct Provision

I remain deeply concerned that the administrative system of direct provision, which has been operating in Ireland since April 2000, is detrimental to the welfare and development of asylum seekers, and in particular the 1,666 children currently residing in direct provision accommodation centres throughout Ireland. I raise my concerns at every available opportunity in the Seanad, most recently here (http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/?p=1064).

While there has been very little movement on the issue politically, I am very pleased to see it appearing much more frequently in media and public discourse. I must commend Dr Liam Thornton, Lecturer in Law and member of the UCD Human Rights Network, for his unwavering commitment to ending Direct Provision and his determination in educating the public and student body about the injustice. It was my pleasure to chair and speak at the recent seminar hosted by the UCD Human Rights Network, Direct Provision in Ireland: A Challenge for Law, A Challenge for Rights. In addition to Liam’s own expertise, Sue Conlon from the Irish Refugee Council and Kirsty Linkin from the Northern Ireland Law Centre gave excellent and thought provoking presentations to the students in attendance.

On 10 April 2014, Direct Provision will be in operation for 14 years. To mark this event, the academic blog Human Rights in Ireland (www.humanrights.ie) will dedicate 14 hours to discussion on the law, politics, policy and experience of direct provision. I will be contributing a blog spot and I encourage you to visit the site and learn more about the issues.

Model Council of the European Union Debate

As a Parliamentarian and vice-chair of European Movement Ireland, I was delighted to chair the Model Council of the European Union debate in Dublin Castle on 4 March, which was organised by the European Commission Representation in Ireland. Students from 30 schools debated hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the 28 Member States of the European Union.  It was a lively and very well informed debate and I suspect I had the pleasure of seeing many of our future Parliamentarians and MEPs in action! The winning team from Loreto Secondary School in Kilkenny, their classmates and teachers will now participate in the European Parliament’s Euroscola event in Strasbourg this September. I wish them the very best of luck.


Launch of “Living with a Neurological Condition in Ireland”

On 11 March I took part in a panel event to launch the Neurological Alliance of Ireland’s national survey Living with a Neurological Condition in Ireland. The survey examines many aspects of living with a neurological condition, such as access to services and the impact of health cutbacks and the overall recession, and makes for very interesting reading (http://www.nai.ie/assets/8/ADEF89E9-0845-E6A8-C4A6FE69B3E2958C_document/NAI_Survey_A4__1_.pdf)

I will be seeking a Seanad debate to draw attention to the need for community services. I have previously noted the deficits in community rehabilitation services facing stroke survivors after their hospital treatment has been completed. The Economic and Social Research Institute has calculated that the direct annual cost of stroke is as much as €557 million, of which approximately €414 million is spent on nursing home care, while only €7 million is being spent on rehabilitation in the community.


YouTube Online Safety Lab

I was thrilled to give an opening address at YouTube’s Online Safety Lab on 6 March 2014. The event was attended by young people from a number of secondary schools and universities and online safely was the order of the day. The event was a tremendous success with YouTube personnel remarking on how impressed they were with the tech savvy students and their ability to engage responsibly with online media.

Internet safety, cyberbullying and inappropriate content for children are legitimate concerns for parents and policy makers. I will be very interested to read to the outcome of the Internet Content Advisory Group, which was established by Minister Rabbitte in November 2013 to provide expert advice on Internet Governance. As part of their open consultation process I sent the Advisory Group a copy of my report “Online Child Abuse Material: Effective Strategies to Tackle Online Child Abuse Material”, published in September 2013. My report and its findings can be read in full here (http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/?p=1025)

19 April 2013: Questions to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, for answer before the meeting of the Committee on Health and Children.

Question 17: Child and Family Support Agency

Question 16 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

Question 18 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

Question 17: Child and Family Support Agency.

To ask the Minister to share with the Joint Committee on Health and Children the Implementation Plan for the new Child and Family Support Agency; including details of the transfer arrangements from the NEWB, Family Resource Centres and HSE; and the referral pathways for children and families to the new agency.

Vision for Child and Family Agency
The Programme for Government commits to “fundamentally reform the delivery of child protection services by removing child welfare and protection from the HSE and creating a dedicated Child Welfare and Protection Agency, reforming the model of service delivery and improving accountability to the Dáil.”

I established a Task Force to advise on the establishment of this new Agency. I requested the Task Force to base its work on “best practice in child welfare, family support and the delivery of public services, and according to principles that:

• The welfare of the child is paramount;
• Children and families should be supported in their local communities to the greatest extent possible;
• The welfare of children is founded upon strong and loving families and supported by the purposeful and shared responsibility of the state and society to always protect and promote their welfare;
• The Agency will operate to the highest standards of performance and value for money;
• Children will receive the best parenting when received into the care of the state.”

The final report of the Task Force was published in July last year and made recommendations on a number of key issues. The Task Force provided a specific chapter on the vision for the Agency, amongst which included the following:

“The Child and Family Support Agency, working in collaboration with the Department, provides leadership to relevant statutory and non-statutory agencies, ensuring that the conditions needed to achieve children’s wellbeing and development are fulfilled.

The Agency is responsible for the wellbeing of children and families who require targeted supports due to family and social circumstances. These range from support to families in the community to highly specialist interventions where children are at risk of being unsafe. Such children and families are not an isolated grouping nor are they a static grouping as children and families can move in and out of needing support as their life circumstances change.

In fulfilling its statutory role, the Agency ensures that:
• The needs of such children and families are identified at the earliest sign of their emerging need;
• A coordinated set of supports that addresses all the facets of a child’s wellbeing is put in place which incorporates and utilises well-developed interagency working mechanisms;
• The effectiveness of the supports is monitored;
• For the services provided directly or funded by the Agency, service delivery systems and practice are continuously reviewed to ensure they respond successfully to changing needs, and unmet need is clearly identified as a part of ongoing planning and reporting processes to the Department and the Minister;
• It provides mechanisms to engage with children, families and communities regarding the design and quality of service provision.”

I share the view of the Task Force that in order to achieve genuine improvements for children and families, the Agency must have a broader focus than child protection. Prevention, early intervention, family support and therapeutic & care interventions are all key to the provision of integrated multi-disciplinary services for children and families based on identified need.

It is my intention that the new Agency will address the persistent and difficult issues which have been found regarding the standardisation of services, communication, professional collaboration and coordination, and sharing of risk assessment, management and treatment for many children and families with the most complex needs. At the same time, the Agency will have a role in supporting families more universally – providing less complex, less intrusive, less expensive responses which have a preventive function.

The new Child and Family Agency and the wider transformation of children’s services represent one of the largest, and most ambitious, areas of public sector reform embarked upon by this Government. The reforms are much deeper than structural or organisational change as they embrace operational, cultural and inter agency improvement. As such, they will not be delivered overnight and the organisational arrangements are intended as an enabler of the improvement in outcomes which will be the real service goal in the years to come.

Progress on Planning and Implementation
On 13th July 2012, Government approved the drafting of Heads of a Bill to provide for the establishment of the Agency. The detailed policy decisions to inform the drafting of legislation were set out in these Heads of Bill and approved by Government in November last. Such policy includes:

• The functions and legal remit of the Agency;
• The constituent services that are to make up the new Agency;
• The governance arrangements between the Minister and the Agency and between the Board and the Executive;
• The funding relationship between the Minister and the Agency;
• The arrangements for the Agency to contract others to provide services on its behalf;
• The arrangements for dissolving the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board; and
• Provisions for the transfer of staff, assets, liabilities and contracts.

The Government decided that the constituent elements of the Child and Family Agency on establishment day will be made up of:

● Child welfare and protection services currently operated by the HSE including family support and alternative care services.
● Other child and family related services for which the HSE currently has responsibility including pre-school inspections and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services.
● Psychologists working in the community setting in relation to children and families
● The Family Support Agency.
● The National Educational Welfare Board.

The scope of these services is sufficiently broad to capture an enhanced range of both universal and targeted services operating to a unified management structure. These will constitute the immediate service responsibilities of the new Agency. Further consideration will be given to the subsequent transfer of additional services to the new Agency after the initial set-up phase and following further consideration of relevant recommendations of the Task Force in consultation with relevant departments.

The Agency will function as a separate statutory body with strong governance and a framework of public accountability underpinning its operations. The Agency will have a board appointed by the Minister based upon expertise and competency. Therefore, accountability and transparency will be a key feature of the governance and performance management frameworks to be introduced in the legislation.

The legislation must provide for the reassigning, under law, of the sensitive and complex legal responsibilities which arise in relation to the care and protection of children and the promotion of their welfare. Particular care is also being taken in respect of the disaggregation of the functions from the HSE to ensure that there are no unintended consequences (for either the Agency or the services remaining within the HSE) in the separation of functions, either in legal terms or in terms of the practical operation of day-do-day services for children and their families or other HSE clients.

Work on the drafting of the legislation has been progressing in conjunction with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. The legislation is at an advanced stage and once it is finalised it will be brought to Government for the purposes of approving its introduction to the Oireachtas. The legislation is on the A list of the Government’s legislative programme and I intend to bring it before the House in this current term.

While the legislative process is under way, all necessary organisational preparations are continuing in parallel. These preparations are being led by the Programme Director/CEO Designate of the Child and Family Agency, Mr Gordon Jeyes. The preparations are being supported by an oversight group chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. In addition to the CEO Designate, its membership includes officials of the departments of Children and Youth Affairs, Health and Public Expenditure and Reform; HSE Children and Families and a representative of the CEO of the HSE.

The oversight group is supported by a joint Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Child and Family Agency project team (led by the CEO Designate) which is driving day to day delivery of the overall project. Its responsibilities include the full range of activities required to bring the project to completion. Representatives of the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board are also members of the team and are actively involved in leading the requisite change management programmes within those agencies. The project team undertakes integrated project planning, risk management and reporting. It reports to the Oversight Group and relevant matters are escalated to the Oversight Group if necessary.
Progress achieved to date in preparation for the Agency includes:
• the separation of children and family services within the HSE from other health and personal social services, with discrete management responsibilities and budgets;
• recruitment of a senior management team to lead the agency. All positions with the exception of the Chief Operations Officer and Head of Education Welfare are currently filled. These two positions are currently being re-advertised/advertised;
• the establishment of a dedicated sub-head for children and family services within the HSE Vote to bring transparency to the current budget of HSE children and family services;
• the undertaking of an external due diligence process, under the auspices of the two Departments, to inform the reassignment of budgets from the HSE to the Child and Family Agency;
• the establishment of an industrial relations process to communicate with staff representatives and resolve issues to facilitate the transition to the new Agency;
• the issuing in January 2013 of personal letters to almost 4,000 staff across the HSE, NEWB and FSA informing them of the plans to establish the new Agency and that it is intended that upon establishment their employment will transfer;
• commencement of external inspection by HIQA of the child welfare and protection services, in line with the goal of promoting enhanced transparency;
• the continued implementation of a comprehensive national change programme for the operational improvement of children and family services. This includes detailed design of referral pathways and assessment frameworks in order to ensure national consistency;
• continued implementation of the integration of education services within the NEWB and the development of the Family Resource Centre network in advance of the relocation of responsibilities to the new Agency;
• the appointment from January 2013 of Mr Gordon Jeyes as fulltime Programme Director for the establishment of the Child and Family Agency; and
• the recent approval of the Government that name of the new Agency will be the ‘Child & Family Agency’.

In line with the public service reform programme the replication and duplication of transactional or support functions such as payroll, financial transactions and property management will be avoided. These can be more effectively provided on a shared service basis in order to ensure that costs associated with disaggregation are entirely minimised. Accordingly, preparations are in place for the HSE to provide significant levels of such shared services to the new Agency. This will involve process and technical development within the HSE. HSE has recently received approval to contract for IT system enhancements necessary to facilitate this service which will be implemented this year.

In addition to these organisational preparations the decision has been taken to commence governance preparations on a shadow basis pending the enactment of legislation including its provisions for a Board. The Government has approved the appointment of Ms. Norah Gibbons as first Chairperson of the board of the new Child & Family Agency. Ms Gibbon’s expertise and experience in the area speaks for itself. It is intended that Ms. Gibbons will initially be appointed as Chairperson of the existing Family Support Agency which is one of the agencies being incorporated into the new Child & Family Agency. The appointment process will include appearance before the Oireachtas Health & Children Committee in line with procedures for the appointment of the chairpersons of state bodies. My Department will also be seeking expressions of interest for other board members by means of advertisement on the publicjobs and Department websites.
These appointments will reflect the intention, pending the legal establishment of the Child and Family Agency, to have the FSA Board prepare in advance for the governance task associated with the new Agency and provide oversight and direction to the preparations at an organisational level which are underway for the new Agency. The newly appointed board of the Family Support Agency will play this role on an administrative basis in addition to its existing statutory functions. Day to day statutory responsibility for child welfare and protection services and education welfare services will remain with the HSE and the NEWB respectively until these are transferred on the enactment of the necessary legislation. This approach reflects the overall strategy to undertake as much preparation as possible in advance of legislative enactment and the consequential transfer of onerous operational responsibilities.

It is important not to underestimate the scale of change involved and the absolute necessity for a carefully planned approach to be adopted while embarking upon such large-scale change within this crucial area of the public service. The approach to the project is informed by learning from the establishment of other major agencies, particularly where preparatory time was inadequate. Such preparations include allowance for sufficient consultation and consideration of the legislation by the Oireachtas and stakeholders in the period immediately ahead. A precise date for the establishment of the Agency will be set when consideration of the legislation by the Oireachtas has advanced.

Conclusion
In conclusion, it is considered that the intensive preparations underway and summarised here will provide for the effective establishment of the Child and Family Agency and will bring a dedicated focus to child protection, family support and other key children’s services for the first time in the history of the State, contributing in time to the transformation of what are essential services for families and communities.

Question 16 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to set out and provide details on the process for the selection of the sites; programmes; interventions; and supports to be provided under the new Area Based Approach to Child Poverty Initiative in 2013.

Written Response
The Area-Based Approach to Child Poverty Initiative was allocated €2.5m in Budget 2013. The amount allocated will rise to €4.75 in 2015. It is hoped that this Initiative will be co-funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and discussions are ongoing to this end. This Initiative will build on and continue the work of the Prevention and Early Intervention Programme (PEIP) which supported projects in Tallaght, Ballymun and Darndale/Belcamp/Moatview.

The new Initiative reflects the Programme for Government commitment to adopt an area-based approach to child poverty in co-operation with philanthropic partners, drawing upon best international practice and existing services, to break the cycle of child poverty where it is most deeply entrenched.

I can confirm that the focus will be, very firmly, on outcomes, rather than inputs and outputs, and these will be referenced in (a) the selection of areas where children are most disadvantaged, and (b) in measurement of the success of interventions.

It has been proposed that the Initiative will consist of the following components:

• Continuation of interventions, where appropriate, in the 3 existing PEIP sites, subject to those programmes being supported by positive evaluations and evidence regarding impact and cost effectiveness
• Selection of 6 sites (including as appropriate proven programmes in existing PEIP sites), where multi-faceted approaches to addressing Child Outcomes via evidence based programmes will be implemented. The impact of these interventions will be monitored in a cost-effective manner, to ensure they have the intended outcomes on child well-being
• In time, the mainstreaming of proven, cost-effective evidence-based programmes into service delivery in a wider context than the areas specifically participating in the Area-Based initiative.

The Initiative is being overseen by a Project Team, chaired by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs with participation of the Departments of An Taoiseach, An Tánaiste, Public Expenditure & Reform, Environment Community & Local Government, Education & Science, Health, Social Protection, HSE, and including Atlantic Philanthropies. The Project Team is supported by the Centre for Effective Services (CES) and Pobal, which has been asked to act as the fiscal agent for the Initiative.

A Working Group to Support the Project Team has been established. At present it consists of DCYA, CES, Pobal and Atlantic Philanthropy.

My Department published details on its website on 12th April last outlining the overall selection process. Details of a seminar arranged for 25th April where the Initiative will be explained to potential applicants have also been published. It is intended that Applications will close by the end of May, and Stage 1 of the selection process is expected to be completed at the end of June. It is inspected that the finalisation of proposals may be effected more quickly in the case of some successful applicants than with others, depending on their readiness. Shortly and in advance of the seminar my Department will publish detailed guidance for applicants and an application form. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs will be happy to supply the committee with copies of these documents as soon as they are published.

The criteria for selection of proposals to attract support under the programme are as follows:

• Evidence of need – The level of poor outcomes for children in the target area
• The quality of the proposal
• Additionality & Sustainability – The degree to which the proposal leverages other resources
• Understanding & ability of the applicants to capture outcomes

The Working Group and Project Team will conduct assessments of the proposals and recommend projects for selection.

Who should apply?
Applications are invited from area-based groups of not-for-profit organisations, with a proven track record of working with statutory and non-statutory service providers and local community groups with a capacity to form consortia. These consortia must be in a position to propose and deliver an area based initiative that delivers on the programme’s objectives of:
Breaking the cycle of child poverty within areas where it is most deeply entrenched and where children are most disadvantaged, through integrated and effective services and interventions that address:
1. Child development, and/or
2. Child wellbeing and parenting, and/or
3. Educational disadvantage,
From pre-natal to 18 years of age.

Proposals are invited across all elements but particular consideration will be given to proposals that focus on the quality and effectiveness of services and interventions from birth to 6 years of age.

What will the programme provide?
Successful applicants will receive funding to implement proven and cost-effective early intervention and/or prevention programmes and practices. The level of funding which will be available to individual projects for the duration of the programme will vary depending on the scale and impact of each initiative and the level of existing resources allocated to the area concerned. It will be a requirement of funding that the programmes and practices are implemented collaboratively by all relevant service providers in the area, both statutory and non-statutory, using existing resources. Applicants should have regard to the fact that, while the initiative is expected to provide additional levels of funding until 2016, the objective is to work towards withdrawal or reduction of additional funding from then on.

Research and evaluation
Research and evaluation were key elements of the PEIP and will continue to be important components of the new initiative to ensure that the outcomes from the interventions are evaluated and measured. Given that the new initiative will build on trialled and proven leaning from the PEIP, and other prevention and early intervention projects funded by the State and/or Atlantic Philanthropies, the research and evaluation component is expected to be less onerous and will be centrally directed.

Successful applicants will be subject to on-going research and evaluation requirements, overseen at central level by an Expert Advisory Committee. This process will be assisted by the Centre for Effective Services, acting on behalf of the Department.

Mentoring
With the exception of applicants who demonstrate an acceptable record in the delivery of prevention and early intervention programmes (e.g. the existing PEIP sites), successful applicants will be expected to avail of mentoring assistance over the course of the new initiative.

Systemic Change
It is anticipated that the initiative will expand over time, both in terms of the number and type of area based interventions and the degree of systemic change and mainstreaming of evidence based programmes and practices which is taking place. In tandem with this, it is anticipated that the range of area based projects which will be included in the initiative, will broaden.

Applications will also be required to demonstrate an approach which is based on additionality to existing levels of service provision and resources both statutory and non-statutory i.e. the proposal should demonstrate how existing services, practices and resources will be made more efficient and more effective as a result of the proposal. In effect, the initiative is expected to promote improved inter-agency collaboration at local level leading to systemic change which is capable of being replicated on a broader or national scale.

Question 18 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

In light of the Fifth Report (July 2012) of the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, to ask the Minister to confirm the status of:
• The examination he called for to establish whether the system of Direct Provision itself is detrimental to the welfare and development of children and whether, if appropriate, an alternative form of support and accommodation could be adopted which is more suitable for families and particularly children.

• The establishment in the interim of an independent complaints mechanism and independent inspections of Direct Provision centres and the recommendation that consideration to these being undertaken through either HIQA (inspections) or the Ombudsman for Children (complaints).

Written Response

No answer provided.

Email Newsletter – November 2013

We are now midway through the new Oireachtas term and already so much has happened. On the future of the Seanad, the people have spoken and decided it is an institution of democracy they wish to retain. Their decision adds to my sense of purpose and I feel encouraged and revitalised in my efforts to secure positive change.

 

My newsletter is just a snapshot of the work I am doing and for those of you who wish to follow my work more closely, and input more directly, I invite you to view my website http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/. In particular, I am interested in hearing from people who wish to contribute a written piece to my guest blog spot. The idea behind the guest blog is to give space to civil society, NGOs and interested members of the public to raise the issues that concern them, many of which I share. I am eager to ensure that I remain plugged in and connected with people’s realities and the challenges they face. I do not necessarily stand behind each and every position expressed in the blog pieces. Rather they are intended to provide food for thought and discussion

www.jillianvanturnhout.ie

 

I am providing links to some selected activities for you to view at your leisure:

 

Childline Breakfast Morning

Budget 2014

Direct Provision

Non Seanad Contributions

 

There are a number of important Bills that I will be working on in the coming weeks and months, including the Child and Family Agency Bill 2013, revised Heads of Children First Bill, Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013, Family Relationships and Children Bill 2013, Freedom of Information Bill 2013 and the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2013. I will also continue to pursue health and children related issues through my membership of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children and I hope to have a dedicated section on my website in place in the coming weeks where progress can be monitored.

 

Best wishes,

 

Jillian.

Childline Breakfast Morning

Childline, which celebrates its 25 year anniversary this year, provides an invaluable service for children and young people in Ireland. Childline receives over 2,350 calls and messages daily. Sadly, 38% of these calls and messages go unanswered. This represents the unheard voices of 800 vulnerable children and young people each day. Childline doesn’t only listen to and support young people. It saves lives. Childline needs more funds to answer more calls from children. And so, to mark Cheerios Childline Breakfast Together Week, 7-13 October 2013, myself and Deputy Jerry Buttimer co-hosted a fundraising coffee morning for all Members and staff in the Oireachtas. We were delighted to be joined on the morning by Ashley Balbirnie, CEO of ISPCC, staff from ISPCC as well as Childline volunteers.

 

[Please insert photo already send to you]

 

It was a lively morning and very well attended. Thanks to generous donations from friends, colleagues and supporters to ensure much sought after raffle prizes we managed to raise €1250. This means an extra 250 calls from children and young people will be answered!

 

 

Budget 2014

As a Senator, this was my third Budget and Social Welfare and Pensions Bill respectively. In setting out my stall at Second Stage of the latter Seanad Debate, I made it clear to the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, that I accepted the need to find savings in public spending. I also emphasised the importance of addressing budgetary measures, fiscal adjustments, and social welfare cuts and changes against the backdrop of six extremely difficult budgets since 2008 and in the context of their cumulative impact-since this is the reality of how they are being experienced by people.

 

Upon careful consideration, I focused my interventions on three Sections of the Bill: Section 5 Maternity Benefit; Section 6 Adoptive Benefit; and Section 9 Jobseekers Allowance. I tabled three amendments opposing the Sections and endeavoured to be constructive in my opposition. Ultimately, my amendments were defeated when pushed to the vote and I in turn voted against the Sections at Final Stage of the Bill.

 

It can be easy to feel disillusioned and powerless in the face of debates on policies and decisions that have been made long before they reach the Seanad, which is often the case with Budget, Finance and Social Welfare Bills. However, these debates provide scope to secure commitments around important issues. My probing on the Youth Guarantee yielded important information and clarity and I was delighted that my initiative ultimately secured the commitment from Minister Burton to have a debate on the Youth Guarantee in the Seanad before it is finalised. I was also very pleased by the commitment I got around the Government’s intention to address surrogacy in the forthcoming Family Relationships and Children Bill 2013and its intention to consider surrogacy leave. When the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013 is debated in the Seanad on 11 and 12 December I will be raising my serious concern over the decision to replace the One Parent Family Tax Credit (OPFTC) with the Single Person Child Carer Tax Credit (SPCCTC), which will only be available to the primary carer of the child and will negatively impact children.

 

 

Direct Provision

I am continuing to explore every avenue available to highlight my concerns over the welfare and development of asylum seekers, particularly the children of asylum seekers, who are spending on average 4 years and in many cases between 5-10 years in State sponsored Direct Provision Accommodation Centres. Most recently I used out Group’s Private Members Business in the Seanad to table a Motion calling on the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD, to:

 

  • Outline his response to the recommendations of the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, in the Fifth Report (July 2012) for:

i.            An examination to establish whether the system of Direct Provision itself is detrimental to the welfare and development of children and whether, if appropriate, an alternative form of support and accommodation could be adopted which is more suitable for families and particularly children; and

 

ii.            The establishment in the interim of an independent complaints mechanism and independent inspections of Direct Provision centres and give consideration to these being undertaken through either HIQA (inspections) or the Ombudsman for Children (complaints).

 

  • Outline the legislative basis for payments to asylum seekers in direct provision accommodation; the effect on these payments, if any, of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No.2) Act 2009 which precludes asylum seekers from being granted habitual residency status; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
  • Further to the Minister’s announcement in January 2013 that “[r]eform of the immigration system will be sustained in 2013 and I will be focussing on major legislative and procedural measures such as the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill”, to debate with Members of Seanad Éireann how best to reform Ireland’s reception and asylum system.””

 

Minister Shatter’s response to the Motion was very disappointing. Ultimately his message was that Direct Provision in its current manifestation is here to stay. I am not willing to accept this and was bolstered by the Seanad debate, which saw full cross party agreement that the current Direct Provision system is in need of urgent reform.

 

Furthermore, by raising the issue regularly as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, I am very pleased that on my initiative the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, has agreed to meet with members of the Seanad Cross Party Group on Direct Provision, where I hope to secure her commitment to commission the examination into the impact of the system on children.

 

Non Seanad Contributions

I am delighted when I am asked to speak at conferences and events outside the Seanad.  I think these forums are a wonderful opportunity to share our collective knowledge and expertise, so much of which I take back into my work as a legislator. Over recent weeks I have participated and spoken at a number of diverse and exciting events including: delivering the Carmichael Centre’s Kate O’Sullivan memorial lecture; giving the key note address at the Youth Work Ireland’s National Conference: chairing a panel at Dublin City Council’s seminar on Participation and Intergenerational Dialogue: presenting to young professionals about leadership and wrath at the National College of Ireland’s Seven Deadly Skills event and interviewing Gordon Jeyes, Chief Executive-Designate of the Child and Family Agency, at a Social Work Conference in Cork.

 

 

 

 

Independent Group Motion: Asylum Seekers and Direct Provision

Wednesday 23 October 2013

For full debate please see http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2013-10-23a.178#g180

Senator Jillian van Turnhout

“That Seanad Éireann –

notes the calls from civil society organisations, legal practitioners, academics, human rights activists and Members of the Oireachtas for reform of Direct Provision, the administrative system for accommodating asylum seekers;
notes that, according to the latest available statistics from the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) Monthly Report June, 2013, there are 4,624 RIA residents ‘live on the system’ of whom 1,732 are children;
welcomes the commitment by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to meet with the Seanad Cross Party Group on Direct Provision, made at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children on 10 October, 2013; and
calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality to –
– outline his response to the recommendations of the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, in the Fifth Report (July 2012) for
– an examination to establish whether the system of Direct Provision itself is detrimental to the welfare and development of children and whether, if appropriate, an alternative form of support and accommodation could be adopted which is more suitable for families and particularly children; and
– the establishment in the interim of an independent complaints mechanism and independent inspections of Direct Provision centres and give consideration to these being undertaken through either HIQA (inspections) or the Ombudsman for Children (complaints);
– outline the legislative basis for payments to asylum seekers in direct provision accommodation and the effect on these payments, if any, of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Act 2009 which precludes asylum seekers from being granted habitual residency status; and
– further to the Minister’s announcement in January, 2013 that ‘[r]eform of the immigration system will be sustained in 2013 and I will be focusing on major
legislative and procedural measures such as the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill’, to debate with Members of Seanad Éireann how best to reform Ireland’s reception and asylum system.”.

I thank everyone who has signed and supported this motion, particularly my Independent group colleagues for allowing group time to be used. I wish to acknowledge the years the Minister spent as the Opposition spokesperson for children. He demonstrated a real understanding and commitment to the promotion and protection of children’s rights in Ireland and I am confident it has been continued under his remit as Minister for Justice and Equality.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to re-publish in revised form the Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill, which is currently stalled on Committee Stage in the other House and which has been eight years in production.

I welcome this opportunity to have an open and frank discussion about the direct provision and dispersal system and to make suggestions for its reform process. This is a sensitive societal issue and I appreciate that the Government has decided not to table a counter-motion, thus allowing the debate to continue in a constructive and inclusive manner. All too often we perpetuate a political environment where Government concedes little for fear of exposing itself to liability. I wish this were not the case but I understand that it is. My hope is that the Minister and the relevant Departments are listening to what we are saying in a spirit of constructive engagement. We are all striving to make the society in which we live a better place for all who live in it. I also note that a root and branch challenge of the direct provision system taken by three families, has been given leave to proceed by Mr. Justice Colm MacEochaidh in the High Court yesterday.

It is very important that we as parliamentarians and legislators take ownership of the need to reform the currentdirect provision system rather than waiting and being forced into it by judicial imperative.

My entry point into the issue of direct provision is from a children’s rights perspective. This perspective has been informed by my work on related issues as the former chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance; the recommendations of the Government-appointed special rapporteur on child protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon; and the concerns raised by advocacy groups. On that note I welcome to the Gallery for this debate Sharon Waters from the Irish Refugee Council and Lassane Ouedraogo and Reuben Hamakachere who have personal experience of the direct provision system and actively campaign to bring about its end. I also welcome the media coverage of the issue and in this regard I would like to commend the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund, set up to advance ethical investigative media coverage of three key issues – mental health; immigrant rights and integration; and children and young people’s rights. It has recently funded Tom Mooney, editor of the Wexford Echo, and his series “The Children of Operation Hyphen”, which included an article on the state of mental health of people in direct provision. The Minister facilitated my own recent visits to two direct provision asylum accommodation centres, with my colleagues Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Katherine Zappone.

It has taken me a long time to wade through the mire that is the political discourse on direct provision. It has been difficult to establish which features of the system belong to the Minister’s remit, the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs or that of the Department of Social Protection. I have struggled to understand the distinction drawn between children “cared for by the State”, as is used to describe children in direct provision, and children “in the care of the State”. I have argued strenuously that children are children, irrespective of status, and that it is a stretch in credulity to claim that children in direct provision are in the care of their parents in circumstances where the parents’ autonomy to make even basic decisions about their children’s care – for example what and when to eat – is so limited as to render it absent. This is a concern shared by the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, which I will refer to again later.

My overwhelming concern is that the administrative system of direct provision, which has been operating in Ireland since April 2000, is detrimental to the welfare and development of asylum seekers, and in particular the 1,732 children currently residing in direct provision accommodation centres throughout Ireland. I am also very concerned that between 2000 and 2010, the direct provision and dispersal system has cost the State an estimated €655 million in contracts to private companies which are operating the centres on a for-profit basis.

In a recent letter to me as part of ongoing correspondences between our offices on direct provision, the Minister stated that the current system allows the State to provide a roof over the head of those seeking asylum in a manner that facilitates resources being used economically in circumstances where the State is in financial difficulty. I am not convinced the current system is the most economical and my colleagues, Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Martin Conway, will elaborate on alternative models and cheaper options. Furthermore, the best interests of persons seeking asylum should outweigh financial considerations in the discharge of our international, regional and humanitarian obligations.

In my time as a Senator, I have identified and spoken on the Adjournment about 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 inspections of direct provision centres where children reside, the decision by Ireland to opt out of the EU directive to allow asylum seekers to enter the work force if their application has not been processed after one year, the fact that there are no prospects for post-secondary education for young asylum seekers, which is like hitting a pause button for an uncertain and doubtlessly lengthy period of time, the fettering arid erosion of normal family dynamics and functioning and the lack of autonomous decision making. I do not intend to elaborate on each of these concerns but I will say a few words about the lack of specific legislation underpinning the provision of direct provision.

I know the Minister is aware of this specific concern as we have corresponded in its regard. I note in the same letter I mentioned previously what I took to be a suggestion that since existing laws – and although it is unspecified in the letter I presume social welfare law would be a good example – would “otherwise specifically prohibit asylum seekers from being able to be provided with the basic necessities of life”, we should simply ignore said provisions and carry on regardless. I fully accept and welcome that Ireland has an obligation under international and European human rights law to meet the needs of asylum seekers while their application for refugee, subsidiary protection or leave to remain is being considered. However, this must be done in a manner that complies with our own domestic legislation.

Direct provision was introduced in a haphazard manner in 1999 and 2000, with little concern for its relationship with Irish social welfare law. For several years, direct provision was viewed as part of the supplementary welfare allowance system, and this is evidenced from extensive documentation obtained by Dr. Liam Thornton under freedom of information and which I have furnished to the Minister in previous correspondence. Concerns were expressed by officials in the Department of Social Protection that the payment of €19.10 per week per adult and €9.60 per week per child was ultra vires, and the payment advice slips to asylum seekers continue to view the entirety of the direct provision system as being closely aligned with the system of supplementary welfare allowance, with deductions for accommodation, as administered by the Reception and Integration Agency, RIA. As the Minister is aware, supplementary welfare allowance can be provided in cash or in kind, and it appears that RIA, the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Justice and Equality had until recently considered supplementary welfare allowance as the legal basis for direct provision. To state that this scheme is wholly administrative, or that the Departments of Justice and Equality or Social Protection can act since the introduction of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Act in 2009 contrary to legislation that debars asylum seekers from receiving supplementary welfare allowance displays a worrying approach of both Departments, which seem to consider that law does not apply to them.

Ultimate the failing of direct provision is the length of time asylum seekers remain in the system waiting for their claims to be processed. It is important to remember that when first introduced 13 years ago, direct provision was viewed as a time-limited system that would be for a maximum of six months. If this was the case, I would not be standing here today and I could tolerate the inadequacies that would present in that time period rather than the outright failings that present in this system, where the average length of stay is four years and a significant number have remained in the system for between five and ten years. This is far too long and leaves asylum seekers de-skilled, institutionalised, vulnerable to mental health issues and socially excluded.

The impact on children is particularly worrying. According to the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, “the specific vulnerability of children accommodated in the system of direct provision [is] 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 and the damage that may be done by living for a lengthy period of time in an institutionalised setting which was not designed for long term residence”. The long-term solution has got to be a streamlined status determination system where decisions are taken fairly and speedily, with quick recognition of those identified as in need of refugee or subsidiary protection or leave to remain, or a speedy human rights compliant removal or deportation process. I hope this will be delivered through the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. I will make some recommendations when summing up the debate.

Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD

I thank the Senators who proposed the motion and all of those who have spoken on an issue of great importance in which I have had great personal interest for a considerable time. This important debate coincides with some events which have taken place over the past 48 hours in the State, which are not directly related to the direct provision issue but are related to the welfare of children.

I want to say to the House, and it is important I have an opportunity to say this, two children were removed from two families in the State in the past 48 hours in circumstances in which An Garda Síochána had serious concerns about the welfare of the children. Normally I would not address any specific cases which arise, and up to now when asked I have stated these are matters to be dealt with by the courts, but I want to report to the House the concerns which arose relating to the children have been proved to be groundless. I understand the two children concerned are children of the parents concerned and there is no reason for any doubts in this regard.

I am conscious An Garda Síochána has a very important role in dealing with child protection issues, particularly under the child care legislation of 1991 as amended, and circumstances do arise where for the protection of children it is necessary that An Garda Síochána intervenes and takes them to a safe place. I have no doubt the gardaí in this instance acted in good faith in the intervention which took place. However I have concerns with regard to each of these matters and I will ask the Garda Commissioner for a report on the background to each of these instances with a view to reviewing the procedures which applied in a manner which ensures An Garda Síochána continues to perform the very important role it must play for the protection of our children while also ensuring the type of situation which has arisen in each of these cases, which impacts on family members, mothers, fathers and children, can be avoided in so far as it is possible

I am conscious these events took place in a background or backdrop of events which have taken place outside the State, but it is very important in ensuring the welfare of all children is safeguarded and that every child in the State is afforded, where necessary, the protection of the State, that no group or minority community is singled out for unwarranted attention or suspicion with regard to child protection issues.

 

It is important that events which take place off this island in other states are not automatically assumed to be replicated in this State or in other states throughout Europe to the detriment of any particular group or minority being singled out. I am not suggesting this in any way was a motivation of the members of An Garda Síochána who in good faith acted in a manner they deemed appropriate in the interests of children, but it is important we do not get caught up in some of the concerns and the media spotlight which have arisen in the context of cases in other states about which there are genuine causes for concern. One case elsewhere, which is very high profile, is still a matter of investigation and a matter to be dealt with in the courts of another jurisdiction. I hope Senators will forgive me if I have taken this opportunity.

As I sat here, Members may have wondered why, on occasion, I was accessing my phone. It was not out of a discourtesy to anyone but because the results of certain tests were coming through to me and I was anxious to ensure I knew as soon as possible. The families concerned are being informed and, indeed, the court and the HSE are being informed. I believe these matters are sufficiently serious to warrant being mentioned in this House. I am conscious there is a very substantial interest in these matters outside this House, across the country and, indeed, elsewhere across Europe. It is important that the record on these matters be addressed.

I now want to return to the issue we are dealing with this evening and perhaps the House will give me some latitude by way of time to address these very important issues.

As I said earlier, I welcome this debate and the opportunity to respond to the points raised by Senators, and to speak, if I can, more generally about the subject in order to assist Members gain a fuller understanding of all the issues involved. At the outset, as Members will be aware, I have on several occasions in this House and in the other House responded to many, if not all, of the points referred to in this motion, and one of the earlier speakers referred to the number of times I have addressed this issue in this House. I am, of course, happy to address these issues again in the course of my contribution to this debate.

In saying this, it is important that I state that, for the avoidance of any doubt or misunderstanding and as has already been referred to, the issues under discussion here are currently being litigated through a judicial review application in the High Court, which essentially challenges the legal validity of the direct provision system. An application for leave for judicial review in that Mundeke case, so named after the applicants seeking the review, was formally heard in the High Court on Monday of this week, and the likelihood is that a full hearing of the case will take place early next year. I mention this with no purpose other than to ensure that all Members are aware of the most recent developments in this highly contested area of public policy. This can give rise to sharp differences of opinion among the wider community and, on occasion, is discussed in simplistic terms and in the colours of black and white when, unfortunately, in the complexities that arise, there are various shades of grey.

I do not know, and it may not be the case, whether this motion is being co-ordinated with developments in the case that is taking place in the courts as part of what is obviously an ongoing campaign against direct provision. Regardless, the House will understand that I cannot say anything here which will pre-empt the State’s response to the legal challenge that is taking place.

In the context of legal challenges generally, it is worth noting that a substantial number of those residing for long periods within the direct provision system are adults living with their children who have challenged in the courts, by way of the judicial review process, decisions made refusing applications for asylum and-or permission to remain in the State and whose cases await hearing or determination. There are presently approximately 1,000 such cases pending before the courts. Indeed, in many of the direct provision homes and accommodation I have visited, an overwhelming number of those being so accommodated, either themselves or their spouse, are engaged in litigation by way of judicial review, having been refused asylum. I believe that is an important statement to make. I am not challenging their right legally to bring judicial reviews but it is important to make the case clearly, as someone who comes from the perspective that, where someone is a genuine political refugee he or she should get refuge in this State, that there are many who claim to be political refugees who are not. I can say this having read the papers and seen the files.

These judicial reviews are taking place notwithstanding the existence of a detailed system of examination of asylum claims involving two bodies statutorily independent of the Minister, namely, the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. These bodies are to fulfil the State’s obligation to distinguish between genuine asylum seekers and economic migrants who have not obtained the appropriate visas for permission to remain in the State or work permits to obtain gainful employment.

I am aware that some of the strongest critics of the direct provision system outside of this House have said all that is required is “one last push” to have it brought down. They have been very slow to explain what they will replace it with. It is, of course, their right in our democratic system to take such an approach. However, in opposing the system of direct provision, which I have already freely admitted has many faults, I have yet to see any proposals, or at any rate, proposals grounded in the reality of the economic conditions we face, as to what could replace it without, in short order, recreating the crisis which led to its establishment in the first place. There is no gainsaying that truth, and anybody who believes otherwise is, at best, simply not prepared to face reality.

I listened with great interest to Senator Hayden telling me we should provide housing for practically everyone in direct provision and every future person who comes to the State seeking asylum. I do not know where I am to obtain the funding to do that. There is no reality in that. We have people born and living in this State who are currently in difficult financial circumstances but for whom the State cannot afford to provide housing because of the parlous financial circumstances of the State. We have to discuss these issues with a degree of realism. What would be the effect if we were providing a house for every applicant for asylum in the State? How many tens of thousands of people who are economic migrants would arrive in the State and say, “Hello. Could I have a house, please?”

Could we have some realism in this discussion? We must provide properly for those who are genuinely seeking political asylum, coming from some parts of this world where people are treated appallingly. However, let us not fall into the trap of believing that everyone who claims asylum is always, in all circumstances, telling the truth. Sadly, they are not.

The system of direct provision in this country is sui generis. There is no real comparator with any other form of accommodation being provided by the State. To understand the system, as well as its strengths and weaknesses, one has to take account of the circumstances which prevailed when it was first set up. The number of asylum applications in Ireland increased dramatically in the late 1990s. In 1998, some 4,426 asylum seekers applied for refugee status. In 1999, this figure rose to 7,724. On the basis of these trends, it was anticipated that between 12,000 and 15,000 would claim asylum in Ireland during 2000. At that time, the majority of asylum seekers arrived in Dublin, and still do, and the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers was handled, in the main, by the then Eastern Health Board, which treated the asylum seekers as homeless. In late 1999, the shortage of accommodation reached crisis point and the Eastern Health Board, understandably, could not cope. There were reports of asylum seeker families sleeping in parks because no accommodation was available for them. We have now forgotten that.

In November 1999, the Government decided to deal with the crisis by having the needs of asylum seekers met by a system of direct provision which also involved dispersal throughout the country. The Government’s decision was also made in the context of measures taken in other EU countries to control illegal immigration and to process large numbers of asylum applicants. The body set up under the auspices of my Department to carry out the Government policy was the Directorate of Asylum Support Services, DASS, which later became the Reception and Integration Agency, RIA. It was an important objective of the policy to ensure the availability of accommodation for all asylum applicants while their applications for asylum and leave to remain in the State were being processed and determined.

Since then, RIA policy has been to procure commercial properties such as hotels, hostels, boarding colleges and so on, from private operators through public advertisements seeking expressions of interest. This procurement policy is reflected in the current RIA portfolio. Of the 34 current centres, only seven are State-owned and, overall, only three are “system built”, that is, built specifically to accommodate asylum seekers. In terms of room capacities and facilities, RIA centres operate in compliance with relevant legislation. In regard to determining minimum room capacities, RIA relies on the Housing Act 1966, with particular reference to section 63 thereof dealing with the definition of overcrowding. In regard to shared bathroom and toilet requirements, RIA relies upon the Tourist Traffic Acts 1939 to 1998.

Where a family member, already in RIA accommodation, reaches ten years of age, RIA offers that family alternative accommodation which is deemed suitable for their needs.

In many cases, where the family profile has changed on the basis of age or a newly arrived family member, the Reception and Integration Agency can only offer alternative accommodation at another centre to keep within these rules. A family may, however, choose to refuse the offer of a transfer to an alternative centre because it prefers the current arrangement or wants to await a better offer. Where a family refuses an offer of alternative accommodation in such circumstances, the RIA keeps the family details under review and further offers are made as deemed suitable. The key point is that the Reception and Integration Agency must adapt existing premises for the purposes of accommodating asylum seekers. It is not realistic to expect bespoke accommodation for asylum seekers in accordance with what one may ideally wish to have in a centre.

In the current campaign against the system of direct provision there can be a tendency at times towards extreme claims which do little to help the residents involved. Regardless of how many times it is refuted, the canard continues to surface that asylum seekers in centres resort to suicide as a matter of course. Claims are also made that residents resort to prostitution in centres. Such claims have been investigated by the Garda in the past and found to have no basis. Any such allegation will continue to be investigated by the appropriate authorities in accordance with the law. Assertions about suicide, child abuse and prostitution among residents in asylum accommodation centres are still made by purported supporters of asylum seekers who would not dare to make such assertions in respect of any other identifiable group of persons in society.

While the direct provision system is not ideal, it facilitates the State in providing a roof over the heads of those seeking asylum or seeking to be allowed, on humanitarian grounds, to stay in the State. It allows the State to do this in a manner that facilitates resources being used economically in circumstances where it is under financial difficulty.

No Government can afford to ignore the likely consequences of a change to the system of direct provision. The system was examined in considerable detail in the 2010 value for money report which found there were no cheaper alternatives. 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. I remind Senators that Ireland has still not exited the troika programme and even when we do, the State will next year spend €10 billion more than it receives through the many ways in which it obtains funding. If the State was to allow all asylum seekers to avail of full social welfare supports, including rent supplement, the immediate impact would be for all asylum seekers, including those not currently in accommodation provided by the Reception and Integration Agency, to avail of this financial support. As matters stand, not all asylum seekers live in direct provision accommodation as they are not compelled to do so. Accommodation is provided for those who cannot provide accommodation for themselves and do not have friends, family or others in the State who are willing to provide accommodation for them. Some asylum seekers live with friends or family or provide, from their own resources, for their accommodation needs.

A further concern is what is known across Europe as the “pull factor”. While the State has an important obligation to provide refuge for those in genuine need of protection and asylum and it is crucial that we comply with our international obligations in this regard, it is also appropriate to acknowledge that a significant number of those who have during the years sought asylum here have been economic migrants evading our immigration and visa requirements whose personal narratives have ultimately proved to be both untrue and unreliable. The State at this time cannot afford to provide supports and accommodation for individuals who so behave.

The decline in the number of those applying for asylum arriving in Ireland, from 11,600 in 2002 to 1,000 in 2012, is bucking the generally upward trend in the European Union. It must be borne in mind that the common travel area between Ireland and the United Kingdom, which for many decades has delivered immeasurable economic, social and cultural benefits, would possibly be abused by those using the asylum system simply to avail of better economic advantages in a context where Ireland provided better social supports and housing than are available in the United Kingdom.

No asylum seeker has ever been left homeless in the State. Unfortunately – it gives me no pleasure to say this – the same cannot be said by the public authorities responsible for homelessness issues among the indigenous population. 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 it is, in many cases, far superior to what is available in their countries of origin, rightly so. 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 direct provision system remains a key pillar of the State’s asylum and immigration system and I have no plans to end it at this time. I accept, however, that the length of time spent in direct provision accommodation and the complexity of the asylum process are issues that need to be addressed. I have visited a number of asylum accommodation centres, most recently last Friday when I visited the Ashbourne centre in Glounthane, County Cork. I am concerned at how long people spend in the system. My resolve, therefore, is to deal with the factors which lead to delays in the processing of cases in order that asylum seekers spend as little time as is necessary in that accommodation system.

As with other states, Ireland has individuals and families who apply for asylum and have genuine grounds for seeking asylum under the relevant international provisions in place and our domestic laws. Of those granted citizenship in the ceremonies in which I was engaged on Monday last in the convention centre in Dublin, 195 were political refugees. A substantial number of people who are economic migrants present with stories seeking asylum which turn out to lack validity. There are individuals who adopt false identities and pretend to come from troubled parts of the world when they do not. There are also individuals who will claim to have been in war zones and when the matter is further investigated, it transpires they were in London, Birmingham or elsewhere when they alleged they were in Sudan, Somalia or some other troubled region. This is a real problem in dealing with the asylum system. Many also play the system by instituting one legal challenge after another to delay the inevitable, sometimes to the point of launching legal challenges as they are about to board an aircraft to be returned home. That is their right, but we should not lose sight of the fact that the right of easy access to the courts in this respect is almost without equal in the world.

There is a need to bring balance to the discussion on asylum seekers. In the context of the wider community and those campaigning, there is an assumption that every single individual who applies to seek asylum is giving a truthful account of his or her circumstances and is a genuine asylum seeker. On the other side of the debate, there are small numbers of individuals who doubt whether any applicant for asylum ever tells the truth. We must adopt a balanced approach and ensure no individual who truthfully documents events or circumstances in respect of which asylum should be granted is refused the protection he or she seeks, while also ensuring those who deliberately abuse the asylum process to evade our immigration laws do not benefit or, by their conduct, undermine our asylum system and the basic humanity it is right to afford to those in need of protection. We must ensure the integrity of the asylum and immigration system is upheld in order that assistance is afforded to those who genuinely seek asylum, while not allowing the system to be undermined by those seeking unfair advantage.

Having made these general points about the direct provision system, let me deal with the various points raised in the motion, the first being the view of the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, in his fifth report in July 2012 that the system should be examined with a view to establishing whether it is detrimental to the welfare and development of children and, if appropriate, an alternative form of support and accommodation should be adopted which is more suitable for families, particularly children. The Reception and Integration Agency affords the highest priority to the safeguarding and protection of children through the full implementation of the Children First guidelines. It has a fully staffed child and family services unit, the head of which is seconded from the Health Service Executive. Any review of the type proposed would have to take account of the wider purpose of thedirect provision system in the overall context of the State’s response to the issue of asylum seekers and immigration control generally.

The accommodation system cannot be in place solely in its own context. It is inextricably linked with the surrounding international protection process. An amended immigration, residence and protection Bill will be published, the purpose of which will be to 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 application in a more straightforward and timely fashion. I had wished to bring forward this legislation much sooner. It has been one of my great frustrations that it has not yet proved possible to publish the legislation in its final form.

However, as Members will be aware, by necessity, troika-related legislative requirements have had to trump all other proposals, no matter how meritorious. The available pool of legislative drafting expertise is quite small and is subject to the same resource restrictions as all other areas of the public service. However, I expect that this situation will be alleviated shortly and that the Bill will definitely come before the Oireachtas next year. It was originally my hope to have seen it in 2012 but that proved impossible. Everything possible is being done on the legislative drafting side to bring about publication by 2014.

In relation to the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism through the Ombudsman for Children and independent inspections of direct provision centres undertaken through HIQA, it is not clear from the rapporteur’s report that he was aware of how these issues are actually dealt with. I see no basis for HIQA involvement. Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, centres are already subject to inspections three times a year, twice by Department of Justice and Equality staff and once by an independent company called QTS. Indeed, the media reports last week about shortcomings in some RIA centres came about from the release under FOI of inspection reports carried out by RIA which showed that the inspection system was indeed working. Where problems within direct provisionaccommodation are identified, I ensure that these are addressed. RIA will publish on its website all completed inspection reports on its centres undertaken since 1 October 2013. In future, anyone seeking these reports will not have to make any application under freedom of information legislation. I want these reports to have maximum transparency.

Although not stated explicitly in the report, the rapporteur appeared to be making an analogy with the HIQA inspections of children’s detention centres but there are several distinctions to be drawn. Senator van Turnhout had some difficulty with some of these distinctions but they are valid distinctions. First, only a small number of children are at present in detention while approximately 1,200 children are in the 34 RIA centres around the country. Second, HIQA carries out the inspections on a contract basis for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and not under the specific HIQA legislation. The inspections are based on the standards drawn up by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, not by HIQA. Third, the inspection standard of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs takes into account that these children are in the care of the State, that the State acts inloco parentis, in the context, in most cases, of proceedings having been taken in respect of child care matters. While the RIA has, of course, a duty of care to all its residents, both adults and children, in no case is it acting in loco parentisin respect of children in the centres.

On the recommendation to extend the remit of the Ombudsman for Children to direct provision centres, I see no basis for changing the law in this regard. Section 11(1)(e) of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002, provides that the ombudsman shall not investigate any action taken by a public body where the action was taken in the administration of the law relating to, inter alia, asylum. While the office currently does not have the power to investigate asylum-related matters, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INS, including RIA, has administrative arrangements in place with the office to assist and provide information and to help resolve any matters brought to its attention. The rapporteur’s report also does not make clear that the ombudsman does not serve as a first instance appellant authority for day-to-day administrative complaints mechanisms. It is a requirement that a person who wishes to appeal to the ombudsman must first try to solve the problem with the public body concerned using formal local appeals mechanism.

With regard to the legislative basis for payments to asylum-seekers in direct provision accommodation, asylum-seekers cannot work under section 9(4)(b) of the Refugee Act 1996, they cannot access rent allowance under section 13 of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2003, nor are they 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.

The Minister for Social Protection has already responded to Dáil questions on this matter, to the effect that under thedirect provision system asylum-seekers are provided with full board accommodation and other facilities such as laundry services and access to leisure areas. To take account of the services provided, a direct provision allowance of €19.10 per adult per week and €9.60 per child per week is payable in respect of any personal requisites required. Following the introduction of the statutory habitual residence condition in May 2004 and subsequent legislation, asylum-seekers are not entitled to receive most social welfare payments. The payment of the weekly direct provisionallowance is made on an administrative basis by the Department of Social Protection on behalf of my Department. It continues to be open to any asylum seeker to seek assistance for a particular once-off need by way of an exceptional needs payment under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme as contained in section 201 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. There is no automatic entitlement to an exceptional needs payment as each application is determined based on the particular circumstances of the case.

With regard to the final issue raised concerning a debate with Members of Seanad Éireann as to how to best reform Ireland’s reception and asylum system, only someone unfamiliar with parliamentary affairs would think that there has been little or no debate about the merits or otherwise of the direct provision system. I have answered over 50 parliamentary questions on the topic this year, as well as five Seanad Adjournment debates, not including this one. RIA has facilitated three visits by Members to asylum accommodation centres. Senators are welcome to visit any further centres they wish to visit. It is one of my practices as I travel around the country and without media attention to quietly visit our prisons and our courts and to meet with members of An Garda Síochána. Quietly and without any great fanfare I have visited a number of our asylum-seeker accommodation centres and met and talked to many of the people residing therein. I intend to continue this practice. In its previous iterations, the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill has been extensively debated in the Oireachtas and no doubt will be debated again when finally I can introduce the new Bill which we hope to publish.

I wish this were an issue with an easy resolution but this is not the case. It is a challenge, not just for Ireland but for the EU as a whole and the issue is discussed at practically every Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting at the various locations. The direct provision system is a necessary feature of this country’s asylum and immigration system. It is a system which ensures a roof over the head of every asylum-seeker. However, I would prefer to have a system where asylum seekers spend less time in that system. That is where my energies will be devoted. I want to see the new Bill published. I want us to get to a position, which we have not as yet achieved, where all the applications made by those seeking asylum, including all the different applications that can be made, are dealt with in one application. I want to have an appeals system which is to the satisfaction of everyone so that in the future, those seeking asylum do not feel the need to make multiple applications to the courts.

In conclusion, after we have enacted our legislation, which I hope will meet with a widespread welcome, which will ensure that we are fully meeting all our international obligations and which will address issues of concern to some, I will then revisit the possibility of our becoming parties to some of the EU measures to which Senators have referred. There is merit in looking at a system which ensures that we treat those who are genuine asylum-seekers as best we can, with the caveat that in all contributions on this issue, I urge Senators to take note of what I have said that many people are genuinely seeking asylum but, unfortunately, others are economic migrants masquerading as asylum-seekers. This is a problem right across Europe. We live in a State that does not have an open-ended fund into which we can simply dip to provide ideal accommodation and supports for everyone who arrives at our borders. We cannot provide the ideal within the current economic climate for all of our citizens. There are limits to what we can do. We need to take a reality check when debating this issue.

I am very conscious, in the context of those who are currently within the direct provision system, as well as those still involved in the process but living with friends, relations or in their own accommodation, of the welfare of children resident in this State for many years. It is an issue that will have my continuing attention, and Senators should notice that the number of people currently in direct provision is a smaller than it was on 9 March 2011.

I will first deal with the Minister’s statement on the events of the past 48 hours. I thank him for his honesty in sharing his concerns and the plans for the proposed review. I agree the Garda Síochána has an important role to play as part of the child protection system. Nevertheless, I am concerned about the amount of detail that went into the public domain with these cases, and I support the Minister’s proposal for a review.

I have plenty of food for thought arising from this evening’s debate and I thank all colleagues for the contributions. I assure the Minister I am fully aware of the separation of powers, and the motion today is a culmination of my work as a Senator and that of my colleagues. Senator Moran raised the 2010 value-for-money report, which clearly indicates that the social welfare option costs are the same as direct provision, so I am finding it quite difficult that we are being played against each other. Examining the current funding of some providers, it seems many have moved to unlimited companies to hide profits. I would happily sit down with colleagues to work on an alternative model that would be based on human rights and be economically sound, if we felt it would get a fair hearing.

I have been careful with my wording on this issue and I am disappointed at the response. I wanted to have a constructive debate; instead the Minister’s response has added bricks to the wall. I do not want to table Adjournment debates and use up departmental time going back and forth. I would like to sit down to talk about how we reform this system. I do not want to ask questions about this case or that case. That is why I worded the motion as I did. Along with my colleagues, civil society organisations, legal practitioners, academics, human rights activists, I am calling for reform. I am sure Senators would be happy to co-ordinate with a grouping to sit down to talk about the solutions if we believe they will get a fair hearing.

The Minister mentioned Dr. Geoffrey Shannon’s report. Why not ask him to conduct the examination he proposed in his special rapporteur report if he is so assured of the facts? There is merit in doing a report on the effects of direct provision on the welfare and development of children.

I worked to have a constructive debate but I feel like I have had a few wallops. The Minister said “No” to any independent mechanism and to investigating conditions for children and he refuted the economic arguments, even though the value for money report defends what we said. There has to be a better way for us to reform policy. We are here together and we want to work with the Department. I read what the Minister said when he was in opposition. His comments were much stronger than mine during this debate. Why can we not find a way to sit down to reform this system? The difficulty when it is all boiled down that is my colleagues and I can put faces to the many figures that have been provided in this debate. I realise what we are doing and I do not want in ten years’ time to stand anywhere and say, “Well, we knew that was happening but we did nothing”. We have to do something.

 

The Lancet

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