Speech on Order of Business: World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre, Autism Assessment, Day Services

30 July 2020

Ivana Bacik

I join with Senator Seery Kearney in marking World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. I also second the proposal from Senator Ó Donnghaile to amend the Order of Business to call in the relevant Minister to debate with us and explain the appalling conditions in the Skellig Star direct provision centre and to explain what it is proposed to do, urgently, about those conditions. As Senator Wall said, Senator Hoey raised this issue yesterday, and all of us who have been reading the reports have been distressed and concerned these appalling conditions. Yesterday, I wrote to the Ministers concerned, Deputies McEntee and O'Gorman, asking them to address this issue urgently but I have not yet received a reply. The Labour Party supports the proposed amendment, which I formally second.

I also echo the words of Senator Craughwell on disability and join with him in commending the Enough is Enough group, which staged a very effective event outside the Convention Centre yesterday. The group has done a great deal to highlight issues facing persons with disabilities. Like Senator Craughwell, I call for a debate on this issue in the Seanad to be held urgently, particularly in light of the disturbing findings reported on the "Morning Ireland" programme today regarding 5,000 children having been waiting longer than the law permits to have their needs, such as those associated with autism, formally assessed before they can access public health services.

Anyone who has had any engagement with the assessment services will be well aware of these dreadful waiting times, but it is concerning to see it set out that the average waiting time is 19 months, despite the stipulation in the Disability Act 2005 that assessments must be completed within six months. Children's lack of access to services, and the consequent serious effect upon the conditions from which so many children suffer, are serious issues. We had some very distressing reports about this on the "Morning Ireland" programme as well.

 

Later in the day, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD came into the chamber for statements on Direct Provision and the Skellig Star Hotel Centre.

 

I thank the Minister for coming to the House at such short notice in response to our amendment to the Order of Business this morning. We appreciate it. I welcome the Minister and commend her on her appointment. It is well deserved and it has always been a pleasure to listen to her in the House, both now and when she had a previous role.

I wish to briefly express our support for the residents of the Cahersiveen centre, as outlined by my colleagues, Senator Hoey, yesterday, and Senator Wall, this morning. The news emerged about the appalling conditions in which the Cahersiveen residents were living and I wrote to both the Minister and her colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy O'Gorman, to express concern and ask that these matters be addressed urgently. I am glad to hear from the Minister that action is being taken urgently in this regard.

Direct provision was originally introduced as an ad hoc and somewhat temporary system but it has morphed into a system with which there have been really serious problems and injustice, particularly in some specific areas. Like many others, I have visited centres and spoken with residents. The system was never suitable for families, particularly those with children. It was never suitable for people who wanted to do their own cooking and there previously was no facility for people to cook. As we know, self-catering facilities were only used more recently and it is a real problem. The long wait in the system of accommodation is a serious problem as it was originally intended to work for a short term.

The State approached the right to work in a grudging way by denying it initially and then only introducing it following a court action. Ireland is an outlier in that regard when compared with other jurisdictions and how they deal with asylum seekers' right to work. We should be clear on how we measure up.

I very much welcome the commitment in the programme for Government to replace direct provision by ending it, as we in Labour have called for, and replacing it with a new international protection system based on a not-for-profit approach. It is the right way to go and I am glad that Dr. Catherine Day's expert group is looking into best practice elsewhere to see how we can learn from it. It is good her report is due at the end of September and a White Paper is due by the end of December.

We accept that this cannot be done overnight. There must be a proper and adequate system to replace direct provision but we will hold the Minister, her Department and her colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, to account in order to ensure that the system is abolished so that we can see this country return to being an Ireland of the welcomes, as it should have been and tended to be. Others have spoken very eloquently about the positive contribution made by those from other countries and we must bear that in mind. I am very heartened by the Minister's comments in that regard.