Child poverty

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Poverty among children of asylum seekers

Derek Nolan (Lab, Galway W) raised the findings of the Irish Refugee Council report State-stanctioned child poverty and exclusion by Samantha Arnold  (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th September 2012, 61-5).  A third of the 5,098 residents in direct provision were children and the report gave shocking details of poor accommodation, overcrowding, malnutrition, poverty and educational exclusion, amounting to a breach of those children’s human rights.  There was a real risk of child abuse in situations where single parents were required to share with strangers and where families of teenage children of the opposite gender were required to share the same room.    The recommendations of the report were practical and achievable, such as good conditions, heating, water, cleanliness, private toilet facilities, space, separate rooms, play and homework space and recognition of cultural and religious needs.  He spoke of the move of direct provision families out of Lisbrook House in Galway at short notice and its effects on the schooling of children.  Direct provision treated non-Irish people as different and as a country we had a very poor record.

 

Speaking for the government, the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Dinny McGinley told the Dail that €63.5m was being spent on direct provision.  Asylum seekers had all their costs covered, no costs charged, while they qualified for medical cards, free education, public health nurses, community welfare services and English language supports.  Asylum seekers and their children were very well supported by the state, at least on a par with any other country.  The Refugee Integration Agency (RIA) was working through the report, but the suggestion that there was widespread state-sponsored neglect of the needs of the children of asylum-seekers was completely wide of the mark.  Any suggestions of malnourishment would be regarded with the utmost seriousness and contracts would be terminated.  It was unlikely that such instances would escape external assessors who had expertise in food preparation and conducted unannounced inspections at least once a year.  In the event, the report would be comprehensively examined and issues addressed.

 

The RIA, he said, set down standards of service in its contracts, engaged internal and external experts and all its accommodation units were measured to ensure conformity with legislative requirements.  Any diminution in standards were immediately followed up and contracts could be terminated.  As for the recommendation of the report that asylum seekers should be permitted to work after 12 months, this had been permitted in 1999 and application numbers trebled, so it was not proposed to change the policy.

 

Derek Nolan said he would not be happy if he thought that the government was completely satisfied with the direct provision system.  He did not see it as a complete failure and it was not the case that the examples cited were widespread, but there were specific examples of occurrences: one was too many and two were unforgivable.  Many people had been in these centres for six or seven years.  The minister told him that meeting our international obligations to asylum seekers did not come cheaply and cost €150m inclusive of the RIA.  There were no cheaper alternatives to direct provision.  If we operated a system which facilitated asylum seekers to live independent lives in individual housing with social welfare support and payments, then the cost would double.