I thank the witnesses for their responses to the questions posed. On at least three occasions, Ms Buckley referred to one direct provision centre by name. We understand why. While it has its issues, Mosney is by far the best representation of the current direct provision system. It is not representative of what is out there, which is part of the problem we see. We would have an even greater problem, if not even a crisis, were it not for some of the decisions that have been taken which have significantly relived the stress within the system. I refer to the increase in the weekly stipend which has helped. However, the much more important decision was the right to access work, to afford people the dignity and self-worth of work.
I say that because I know from my own community and knowledge of the situation that it has made an enormous difference, underscoring the fact that these are human beings just like ourselves who have the right to face a day's work and to come home in the evening, be he or she a single individual or, arguably more importantly, someone who has a family, as many of them do. These are important decisions. I would think that the current arrangement post nine months could be looked at. It would be important to bring that back considerably. It does not in any way impede the processing.
The processing issue is a big issue. Little of Ms Buckley's opening statement and the focus of the questions related to what can be done. I understand and appreciate the complexities and the legal elements within the appeals system et al. All of that builds up, but how do we compare in terms of international comparators? "I do not know," is my honest answer. We certainly need to explore the processing of applications with a mind to reaching real and fair decisions at the earliest possible time. That is essential.
I will make a couple of points and invite Ms Buckley to respond in a general way at the end. It strikes me that it is the Department of Justice and Equality and yet there is this ever present reality presenting here today that it is now, whether one likes it or not, almost a housing authority. The Department has a cohort of people to provide housing for. In the health services, people holding up beds have been wrongly described. Here we are looking at people holding up beds within the direct provision system that might equate with the number in emergency accommodation if one were able to secure them housing accommodation within the wider society. Are there steps being taken to explore what some of my colleague members have raised, namely, in terms of engagement with the housing associations? I would echo some of the views of my colleague members in relation to looking seriously at the construction of temporary housing. What stands out about Mosney as against some of these older buildings, be they whatever in past use, is that many of the latter are not suitable for what they are currently undertaking. Mosney is quite unique because of its construct and the thought behind it. Is there the prospect of replicating clusters of such standard? If it is to be temporary direct provision, the greater number of us in any conversation would think that six months is more than adequate for the processing procedure and accommodation if there were housing provision of that standard that allowed people to cater to their own needs, to cook the food that they are used to, to have access to purchase through local stores, and to be able to perform and operate as a family in many of the instances that they are families.
On the concentration of effort on searching out and identifying former hotel properties, etc., the number of such properties is finite. There is not an endless supply of these anymore than there is an endless supply of former agricultural colleges in my own backyard. We need to be looking much more seriously because the numbers that present will not end tomorrow or next year. The situations that have given rise to the growth in numbers are conflict situations that are continuing. People are genuinely, in the greater number of cases, fleeing very fearful situations. We need to step up to the plate in a real and serious way. A serious exploration of that housing provision is the only way that we will move away from emergency accommodation. I welcome the statement by Ms Buckley here today that we want to get out of emergency accommodation but we need to look seriously. We cannot be hoping and praying that the numbers will drop and we will cope better then. It will not happen that way. We need to be looking at new and imaginative ways of dealing with it. I underscore once more the need to examine speedier processing. I would welcome any comment that Ms Buckley might have to make on that before we conclude. Independent catering and the purchasing of food for meal preparation is such an important need for people and it is not universally the case.
It is sad to meet young school-going boys and girls and, as I have in the very recent past, to say to them knowing their school uniform, "Are you looking forward to the holidays?" I can honestly say to Ms Buckley that not one in the little group that I spoke with was looking forward to the holidays. For them, the great joy was getting to school every day rather than being in what they viewed as an isolated and limited scope location. School enthused. It gave them all sorts of opportunities, and mixing with the school population. From the very first day of the school summer break, they are looking forward to getting back to school in September. That is unique. I guarantee Ms Buckley that was not my children's story or any of their neighbours'. We need to be cognisant of that.
Ms Buckley spoke about health screening in advance of placement. While RIA has not direct responsibility for health and education provision, nevertheless it states in its outline of responsibilities working with the other services to ensure this. What of health issues presenting subsequently? I am aware of situations, not in my own immediate backyard but elsewhere, where accessing a GP is now almost an impossible project. Ms Buckley spoke of chickenpox. Perhaps Mr. Sinclair would take a note of the following. I wrote to RIA on Monday of this week, addressing it without a named official, instancing what I believe to be the case of an unaccompanied child within the direct provision system who is not accessing education and who in the course of the year so far has had chickenpox and could only access calamine. The child had no access to a GP. Because the young person is relatively tall for someone of that age, sometimes that child can be viewed as a young adult, which is not the case. I have seen the birth certificate and I can confirm that the child is not. The child is unaccompanied and in great distress.
I documented all of that this week and would appreciate it if the particular case was addressed. It is absolutely imperative that the child and their needs be catered for.
I support the views expressed by Deputies Jack Chambers, O'Callaghan and others on the importance of having an independent audit of the accommodation centres and the needs of residents. It is not only a case of presenting. People may say those who are inclined to crib and cry would be the first ones to be heard; that in itself is not a non-Irish thing. There is an element of fear and distrust among the population in the centres. They are mindful that they are applicants for asylum and loath to give voice to matters, some of which could be quite simple and easily resolved, but they are fearful and the fear factor must be taken on board. The people who engage and who would be trusted to carry out an independent audit, as opposed to the visit by the Reception and Integration Agency, vwhether announced or unannounced, need to have the people skills and necessary understanding of those whom they meet and deal with. That is very important if the truth is to be got to. It is very important to know the truth.
I have covered several matters in that outline. People in my home county of Monaghan, a host community not only of direct provision but also emergency accommodation, are horrified by the approach to emergency accommodation. We are cognisant of the references to moving people with very little notice to accommodate other events. It offers no understanding whatever of people's dignity and their needs and there is great offence among the overwhelming number of the population of my home county at this. There is a very strong view that we need to do much better than we are in direct provision centres. I have indicated some of the issues for the delegates and invite them to make whatever closing comments they wish to make.