Child poverty

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Poverty, abuse and accommodation for asylum seekers

The Seanad discussed, on an adjournment motion from Jillian van Turnhout (ind, Taoiseach nominee), the accommodation situation of asylum seekers  (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 2nd October 2012, 74-7).  The report State-sanctioned child poverty and exclusion – the case of children in accommodation for asylum-seekers painted, she said, a bleak  and worrying picture, documenting poverty, malnutrition and dietary-related illnesses, very much in keeping with the earlier report of the government’s rapporteur on child protection which had also drawn attention to the risks of child abuse.  She was surprised by the way in which the minister concerned, Alan Shatter, had dismissed its findings and concerns as unlikely.    She was interested to hear the outcomes of his subsequent investigation.  She was genuinely concerned that the treatment of children in direct provision would become a shameful report.  Were the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) national standards for the protection and welfare of children applicable to children in direct provision?  She had contacted both HIQA and the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) and neither seemed to know.

 

Replying for the government, John Perry, the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation with responsibility for small businesses,  told her that children living in direct provision were not in the care of the state, but they lived in a family context where their parents were responsible for their care and welfare.  The RIA did have a child protection policy, which was being updated in the line with the Children first guidelines published in July 2011.  

 

Jillian van Turnhout said she would pursue the issue.  The standards should apply, since the RIA was a statutory agency.  She did not agree with the interpretation of their status.  She encouraged colleagues to visit the direct provision centres.  ‘We talk about the Ryan report and about what society knew about what was happening in the past.  It is happening in direct provision centres, on which a report in 20 years time will be shocking and damning if we do not do something now’, she concluded.

 

Separately, Senator Trevor O Clochartaigh (SF, agricultural), speaking on the Ombudsman (amendment) Bill, 2008, asked for confirmation that the extension of the Ombudsman’s authority would include the Reception and Integration Agency (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 4th October 2012, 30).  She quoted Justice Catherine McGuinness who described the report as painting a convincing picture of the damage done to children by years of living in institutional accommodation far removed from the atmosphere of a normal family home, made even more damaging by the income poverty of their parents.  Ireland was in breach of its family rights obligations under §8 of the European convention on human rights.