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 Header Item Cooke Report: Statements (Continued)
 Header Item Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item Direct Provision System

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 844 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald] It is true he concluded that one of the threats - the ring-back reaction to the alert test of the Polycom unit - remains "a technical or scientific anomaly". An anomaly is not evidence, however, and it is certainly not evidence of surveillance. It is very important for all of us to come to evidence-based conclusions about such important matters. It does a disservice to our system of policing and oversight of policing for the most profound concerns to be maintained on the basis of supposition as a substitute for evidence.

It is unhelpful that suggestions that cast wholly unwarranted doubt on the integrity of individuals and bodies have been made without any basis in evidence. Mention was made during this debate of the Department of the Taoiseach's contact with Mr. Justice Cooke in relation to technical investigation. What was put on the record of the House here today is simply not true. As the Cooke report stated, the Department of the Taoiseach received a letter "containing an unsolicited offer of assistance as an investigator from an individual". The Department acknowledged receipt of the letter and stated that it would be passed to Mr. Justice Cooke, which it was without comment or endorsement. As the report pointed out, "the offer was not taken up". Mr. Justice Cooke made it clear in the report that it was not seen as relevant to the points with which he was dealing.

I have to make it clear that another argument we heard, that the report's examination of claims of unlawful surveillance did not deal with the possibility of lawful surveillance, is a complete red herring. Telephone interceptions have to be authorised by the Minister for Justice and Equality. There would be no question of a Minister authorising interceptions in relation to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Lawful surveillance does not arise outside very specific circumstances that are governed by statute. It is judicially authorised, except in emergency circumstances. The operation of the law is subject in an ongoing way to judicial oversight.

The Government and I accept in full the findings and recommendations of Mr. Justice Cooke's report. I ask others to accept them too. As I have said, I am referring the report to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, where there will be an opportunity for further debate. I have asked the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Commissioner for their responses to the report. Some of the legislative proposals I intend to introduce were recommended by Mr. Justice Cooke in his analysis. He believes the law regarding public interest investigations undertaken by Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission needs further clarity. I look forward to engaging with Deputies again on these issues. I welcome the opportunity we have had to comment on this important report.

Topical Issue Debate

Direct Provision System

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin The issue of direct provision centres has been troubling many people for quite a while. During the recent controversy about mother and baby homes, I came to the conclusion that there has always been a view in Ireland that some children are somehow lesser children. This cannot be dismissed as something that happened in the past. It is clear from the way Irish society views Roma children, Traveller children or poor children in general that it sees some children as lesser children than others. It is very difficult not to agree with this conclusion when one examines the way the State deals with children who are in direct provision centres. As the Minister knows, these centres were designed as a six-month solution for asylum seekers on their arrival in Ireland. We have 35 of these centres in the Republic. Given that three of them were purpose built, it is clear that most of the time we are talking about hostels or other such unsuitable accommodation.

The weekly allowance received by asylum seekers in direct provision centres is €19.10. The payment in the case of children is €9.60. This amount has not changed for 14 years. Some 59% of all residents have been in direct provision for more than three years. I remind the House that the initial intention was that this would be a six-month solution. Some 31% of residents have been in direct provision for more than five years and 9% for more than seven years. The number of people we are talking about - approximately 4,300, some 1,700 of whom are children - is higher than the State's prison population. The inspection regime in these centres is managed by the Reception and Integration Agency, which I understand outsources a substantial number of health and safety inspections to the private sector. I do not think this is good enough. Responsibility for overseeing the health and mental well-being of 1,700 children should be given to an agency like the Health Information and Quality Authority.

It is inevitable that 50 years from now, people will look damningly at this Republic and this Government for the way we have treated and accommodated these children. Do we have a policy on how to move from the current direct provision scandal? Will we commit to putting in place a system that will allow families to move on, for example, by guaranteeing them a definite decision on their status within six months? Why are we overseeing a system that can cause a child to spend seven or nine years in a direct provision centre? Do we view the children who live in these centres, many of whom are Irish born, as members of society and citizens of the Republic? Are they seen as lesser children with lesser rights under this Republic, just as the children in the mother and baby homes were seen back in the day?

Obviously, the Minister has an intimate understanding of this situation due to her previous role as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Now that she has been appointed as Minister for Justice and Equality, she is ideally placed to rid this Republic of this scandal. There will come a time when we will know about the long-term damage and mental trauma caused by requiring children to live their lives in this limbo. Articles will be written about this issue and the Dáil record will be investigated. When these arrangements come back to haunt us in years to come, people will ask what this Government did about them. Regardless of what previous Governments did and irrespective of who established these centres in the first place, deep and challenging questions will be asked about what we did at this time to resolve this situation. I will conclude by repeating my fundamental questions. Are we going to commit to reverting to the six-month understanding? Will we transfer the inspection regime to a more suitable agency, such as HIQA?

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I thank Deputy Ó Ríordáin for raising this Topical Issue matter in the Dáil this afternoon. As he has said, there are 4,353 residents in 34 direct provision accommodation centres throughout the State under contract to the Reception and Integration Agency of the Department of Justice and Equality. I visited Mosney last Monday week and met the managers and residents there. I had visited other centres in Dublin previously. I assure the Deputy in the first instance of my interest in the issue he has raised today.

  An interviewee on RTE's "Morning Ireland" yesterday said that these centres are not inspected and that people who reach the age of 18 are expelled from them with nothing other than a sleeping bag. I assure the House that neither statement is true. It is surprising that despite numerous responses by previous Ministers over the years to Oireachtas queries on the matter, there remains a belief that asylum accommodation centres are not subject to proper inspection. I could see when I visited Mosney that these centres are inspected. I knew it from visiting other centres as well. All centres are subject to a minimum of three unannounced inspections a year - one by an independent company, QTS, under contract to the Reception and Integration Agency, and two by officials of the agency. Moreover, since 1 October last year, details of all completed inspections are published on the agency's website, This adds to the transparency of the system.

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