Direct provision is one of the greatest shames of our time. There are currently thousands of people in the prison-like conditions of direct provision, powerless to change their circumstances. There is a public outcry about this, yet the Minister and his Department continue to line the pockets of private interests while people suffer.
As of this year, the position of those seeking international protection has gotten even worse. The Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, is now accommodating 872 people in 28 emergency accommodation centres, two of which are in my constituency in Wicklow. The website thejournal.ie reported last week that, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Equality, a cultural liaison service is now required to help people living in emergency accommodation and it is has issued a tender for non-governmental organisation, NGO, services to provide social services such as access to medical cards. The Department has stated it needs this service in place as soon as possible. I have heard from many constituents and have had contact with community groups such as Bray Refugee Solidarity and the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, who argue that these temporary centres are falling completely below any acceptable standards. The lack of social welfare support is glaring and totally unacceptable.
With respect to healthcare, in response to a parliamentary question I tabled, the Minister's Department indicated that the RIA is liaising closely with the Health Service Executive, HSE, to facilitate appropriate service provision to these people while in emergency accommodation. However, I have heard reports that residents in Wicklow were given insufficient information on medical card entitlements and how to access same. Some of the residents in temporary accommodation received medical cards only after members of community groups sourced forms, approached GP clinics, received refusal letters and found GPs willing to take on some residents. What has the Minister's Department done to ensure medical care is provided as soon as these asylum seekers landed in temporary accommodation in County Wicklow?
There is also the question of looking after the most vulnerable children in temporary accommodation centres. In response to another parliamentary question I tabled, the Department indicated that children of international protection applicants residing in emergency accommodation can access school places in local primary and post-primary schools in the same manner as the general population. It was indicated that they can avail of the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance, which is administered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. However, many reports indicate that this has not happened in the temporary centre in Bray. What steps did the Minister's Department take for the temporary accommodation in Ashford and Bray to ensure children in these centres were registered and supported in getting into local schools? What contact did the Minister's Department or the Department of Education and Skills have with the local schools to ensure school places were available? Every day a child is out of school in a community is a disgraceful failure. I would appreciate the Minister answering some of those questions.