The Minister was not brief and I am entitled to respond. It is most regrettable that he not only continues to defend the indefensible but has attempted to misrepresent what occurred and use it as a political weapon. It is only a weapon in his own head because anyone who looks at what occurred in this case will be justifiably critical. What concerns me in particular is that the Minister appears to be under the illusion that nothing went wrong, that all of this was dealt with appropriately and that we should do the same again. The manner in which it was dealt with classically illustrates the reason that an amendment of the nature proposed by Deputy Rabbitte which he has withdrawn - we are probably breaching the committee's procedures in referring to it at this stage - should be included in the legislation. We should return to the issue on Report Stage.
I wish to be very clear about the nature of my complaint which the Minister has ably illustrated. He has said that when the woman in question was properly detained because she was acting in defiance of a deportation order, she was given two choices - to hand over her child voluntarily and the State would place him temporarily in care, even though there was nothing to say she was a bad mother or that the child was not attached to her, or alternatively the Garda would take the child and obtain a care order. Any reasonable mother, regardless of how badly she had behaved with regard to our deportation laws, who had properly brought up her child, whose child was attached to her and who was a single mother would wish, if she was being detained by the State in a centre or prison and about to be deported, that she would retain custody of her child. This woman's crime, in the Minister's eyes, was that she did not voluntarily hand over her child to strangers, so that the child would be in the care of strangers and taken away from her in circumstances in which the child could not possibly understand and which had to do serious emotional damage to that child. The Minister is defending that. My criticism is that the Minister and the State are obliged to have regard to the independent decisions of our Judiciary. If they fail to do so they are acting in contempt of our Judiciary. Following an application made to the courts on behalf of the State, a District Court judge made a ruling that he could not, at that time, sanction the deportation of the child. That was known to the State. The Minister's office, the HSE and the Garda Síochána are all arms of the State. The District Court judge did not rule out the possibility of the child being deported with the mother at a later stage. The District Court judge refused to agree to the immediate deportation of the child, which meant the child remained in care. Nevertheless, the State proceeded to deport the mother. If the State had focused on the child's welfare at that point it would have provided, if needs be, a secure facility in which mother and child would be detained while the problem was addressed. The child would not have been separated from its mother.
According to my understanding, and I am open to correction, the child travelled through at least two if not three fosterage places during the period, before it was recently returned to Nigeria. My criticism is that we need joined-up thinking and we need State agencies to interact with each other. We also need something the Minister himself seeks occasionally to rely upon, which is respect for the courts. In this instance there was no joined-up thinking.
At the last meeting of this committee I said that we need joined-up thinking and to ensure that when dealing with children we do not exact revenge on them for the bad behaviour of parents. This is the case regardless of whether the mother had a valid reason to be in Ireland. The Minister suggests that she did not have a valid reason to be in Ireland and I have no reason to know differently. It may well have been appropriate that ultimately she be deported, but effectively what has occurred in this situation is that the State has taken its revenge on the child. The child's attachment to the mother was broken and it was placed in care. At the last meeting, I went on to complain - as I have mentioned this morning - that substantial expense has been incurred by the State on that issue. I am delighted that expense has resulted in mother and child being reunited. A different, more considered approach, involving respect for the District Court's order and proper communication between the Department of Justice and Law Reform, the HSE and the Garda Síochána, would have prevented this situation from arising in the first place.
We know that people are deliberating breaking our emigration deportation laws. On occasion they are families with children and on occasion they are single parents with children. To uphold the law's integrity it may well be necessary to detain them temporarily before deportation. If they are being detained, we must understand that young children have no understanding of these events. They should not be prised away from their parents' arms in circumstances they do not understand. There should be proper facilities to accommodate mothers and children, or parents and children, in the period immediately preceding deportation, so if families are required to leave the State they can do so together.