That Dáil Éireann shall consider the Report of the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions entitled 'Report on the extension of the remit of the Ombudsman to cover all aspects and bodies associated with the Direct Provision System (DPS) and the extension of the remit of Freedom of Information to cover all aspects and bodies associated with the DPS including all the suppliers of goods and services, whether from the Private or Public Sectors', copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 7th May, 2015.
I wish to express my appreciation on behalf of the committee for the opportunity to discuss the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions on the extension of the remit of the Ombudsman to cover all aspects and bodies associated with the direct provision system, DPS, and the extension of the remit of freedom of information to cover all aspects and bodies associated with the direct provision system, including all the suppliers of goods and whether from the private or public sectors.
Ireland is the only EU member state without a single refugee or asylum seekers application process, a key reason the direct provision system is not fit for purpose. In terms of European directives, Ireland did not opt in to Directive 2003/9 which laid down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers. If Ireland had agreed to opt in to that directive, then Oireachtas approval would have been required. However, the Government decision not to opt in did not require any Oireachtas approval. When Directive 2003/8 was recast under a new directive, namely, 2013/33, and the Government again took the decision not to opt in, once again no Oireachtas approval was required. That is a gap, a lacuna, that needs to be addressed for the very simple reason that the policy environment in 2003 was vastly different to the policy environment today.
Earlier this year, I met with counterparts from the Welsh Assembly, who said that petitions for a parliament or an elected assembly are often the canary in the coal mine, a metaphor for an early warning of serious danger ahead. It is a phrase that has remained with me over the course of detailed work on Ireland's direct provision system by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, which I have the privilege of chairing. In recent months, the committee has visited four direct provision centres nationwide and hosted a series of meetings in Leinster House on the topic. The resulting report on the direct provision system, which was published recently and is being debated today, is a canary in the coal mine moment. The report pulls no punches in criticising the application system for being unnecessarily complicated and lengthy. The current fractured process, which is responsible for the delays in issuing decisions, has been criticised by the European Union Court of Justice.
It was a system that was designed and resourced to be a short-term solution, but given that one in five residents are in the direct provision system for seven or more years the direct provision system is no longer a short-term solution. That, and that alone, is more than sufficient to justify the statement that the system is utterly unfit for purpose. The heightened media coverage in recent months and resulting increase in public awareness of the inadequacies of the current system are to be welcomed. Our cross-party committee report adds weight to the emerging consensus on the grave deficiencies in the current system. The report finds the delay in processing the applications of residents is inexcusable, perpetrates inequality and ill treatment at a State level and leads to a systemic problem with the provision of public services.
Another key finding is that the weekly allowances of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child, which have not changed since they were introduced 15 years ago, are insufficient, derisory and have been eroded to the point of being insulting to residents. We are calling for the allowance to be raised. Ordinary Irish citizens have access to the Ombudsman to advance concerns on public service delivery, while those in the direct provision system do not. We, therefore, have a section of Irish society being neglected and quite possibly being discriminated against because at a very basic human level they are being treated differently to other citizens in not having the system of which they are a part open to oversight. While the current system is in place, the respective jurisdictions of the Ombudsman for the public service and the Ombudsman for Children must be extended to include the direct provision system.
We also call for the Freedom of Information Acts to be extended to include the direct provision system and the Reception and Integration Agency. Given that robust independent oversight is required, the Reception and Integration Agency should also establish a pre-Ombudsman independent complaints system for residents. Our cross-party committee also has particular concerns in relation to Ireland opting out of EU rules laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers. Only two countries in Europe have opted out - Ireland and Denmark. The reason Denmark opted out is that its legislation was stronger than the directive. It wanted stronger supports than were provided for in the directive. As I said, our committee is deeply concerned that the Oireachtas never had the opportunity to express its view on Ireland's approach to opting out of both Directive 2003/9 and Directive 2013/33. The directives compel member states to ensure that applicants have access to the labour market not later than nine months, and we are calling for the restriction on applicants' right to work to be lifted as soon as possible.
Having visited four centres in Galway, Foynes, Mosney and Clondalkin, and heard first-hand the complaints of residents, the committee calls for greater access to health services and child care. Resident after resident pointed to access to appropriate health services, including mental health services, as a major issue. Therefore, we are calling on the Joint Committee on Health and Children to follow up on these concerns. We were particularly moved by the meetings with residents in the various centres. I am mindful that many of these residents have come from dreadful situations in their own countries. They have been traumatised and experienced God knows what. To have that trauma exacerbated by being stuck in what is essentially a prison, except that one can go for a walk outside every day and avail of services, for many years is unacceptable.
Ireland per capita is the biggest contributor to overseas aid, a legacy of which we are immensely proud. That is matched by the huge contributions by the Irish people directly to various charities that work overseas. Clearly, Irish people have a passion for those who are caught up in these devastating situations overseas.
I discovered earlier this year by reading a book that Ireland is the only country which today has a population that is less than in the early 1800s. All of us in these Houses know the reason for that. We have seen millions of our sons and daughters emigrate throughout the decades from the early 1800s through to today. In recent years, our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters travelled to Australia, Canada, Britain and the US. They were not asylum seekers but economic migrants. For our migrants in the US, the undocumented Irish, we seek to have their residency and status regularised. Of all the countries in Europe, I would have thought Ireland would be to the forefront not at providing an open door, because we cannot do that in the context of a European Union that does not and, therefore, we would invite to much of a demand, but at least have a system that reflects the decency of the Irish people and reflects our history of emigration.
One other statistic is from a book by Mr. Raymond Crotty in 1987. At that time, he revealed that of all the children born here since the foundation of the State through to 1987, about 65 years, half of those who survived childhood had emigrated. That is a shocking statistic. In rural communities, we are particularly aware of the devastating impact of the loss of our generations. I put that on the record as a reminder to all of us of why this failure is absolutely unacceptable and unsustainable moving forward and how it does not reflect the true character and the true values of the Irish people.
The sad reality for me is that the centres are out of sight and out of mind. I believe that if our people could meet these residents and look into the eyes of the men and women I met, which showed the despair they have about their situation, this would not be tolerated for one more day. This is a shame on our people. It does not reflect the true values of our people and it needs to stop as soon as possible.
As a parent, I am deeply disturbed when I think that one third of the 4,360 residents in the direct provision system are children. In the future, how will they regard our failure to stand up and say a wrong is being committed in the name of the people who elected us and we never said "stop".
I express my appreciation to the members of the joint committee, to the clerk, Mr. Ronan Lenihan, who put a huge amount of work into the report and attended all the visits to the centres and deserves particular mention, and to the excellent committee secretariat staff who worked so hard. I ask that this report be regarded as the canary in the mine. Action is needed. There is a big difficulty with the direct provision system but the root cause is the need to have a single asylum or refugee application process.