I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The great Middle English poem, "The Owl and the Nightingale", contains a section in which the owl is impugned for her untidy nest, bad behaviour and disgusting manners. The owl replies majestically by saying that whatever about this, it is nailed to the barn door of the crucifixion to warn off the other birds. That is, and has traditionally been, the attitude of the Government - to nail the asylum seekers to the door of the barn to frighten off any presumed inflow of asylum seekers.
I thank David McCarthy and Dr. Liam Thornton of University College Dublin and NASC, National Immigrant Support Centre, which is issuing a statement in support of this Bill.
The Bill seeks to draw a line under applications for refugee status, subsidiary protection and-or leave to remain where there has been no ultimate determination of these claims within four years. Systems and processes in place for determining what status an individual should be entitled to, if any, have not been fit for purpose. I can offer an example, a court case in January 2014 dealt with by the distinguished former High Court judge, Ms Justice Maureen Harding Clark. This decision from the High Court in A.A.M.O (Sudan) v. Refugee Appeals Tribunal involved a Sudanese national, Mr. A. A., who had applied for asylum in Ireland in 2009. This was refused by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner. Mr. A. A. appealed the decision to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, RAT, but the Refugee Appeals Tribunal refused to recognise Mr. A. A. as a refugee. He then had to go to the High Court.
In opening her decision, Ms Justice Harding Clark stated: "Sometimes the court is called upon to review a decision which is so unfair and irrational and contains so many errors that judicial review seems an inadequate remedy to redress the wrong perpetrated on an applicant. This is such a case." She noted, in significant detail, the poor decision of the RAT member. At paragraph 22, Ms Justice Harding Clark stated the nature of the errors with the RAT's decision infected the legality, fairness and constitutionality of the decision. Her astonishing assessment of the behaviour of the RAT member occurs in paragraph 23 where she stated that the sole reason for the RAT rejecting the asylum claim is that the tribunal member simply did not like the applicant. The decision was sent back to the RAT, which again refused Mr. A. A. refugee status in the face of clear evidence that Mr. A. A. fell squarely into the limited definition of what is a refugee. Only on a third hearing of the RAT did Mr. A. A. gain refugee status in this country.
The Bill also seeks to deal with people who have had a deportation order issued against them but it has not been effected, leaving them in a type of limbo. The Government's stated position is quite reasonable, but action is non-existent. The statement of Government's priorities for 2014 to 2016 states: "While ensuring continued rigorous control of our borders and immigration procedures, we will treat asylum seekers with the humanity and respect they deserve. We are committed to addressing the current system of Direct Provision for asylum seekers to make it more respectful to the applicant and less costly to the taxpayer." Let us see the colour of the Government's money. Nothing has happened.
In late July, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, stated the direct provision system required radical reform. He said as much a couple of weeks ago in this House when my colleague, Senator Rónán Mullen, raised this issue. The Roman Catholic Church, in the person of the Bishop of Elphin, Dr. Kevin Doran, speaking at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Sligo, said that when people applied for asylum it is reasonable for the State to make a fair judgment as to whether they should be given refugee status, but it is not reasonable that the process should go on for years, nor is it fair that men, women and children should be required to live in conditions which prevent them from living a normal family life, developing their skills or earning their own bread. The bishop went on to say: "Living such a half-life would suck the music out of the soul of any human being." What a wonderful phrase from a Roman Catholic bishop speaking in Sligo.
How can we stand over it? Consider the time line. In 1999, on International Human Rights Day, the then Government proposed the system of direct provision. In 2001, the Reception and Integration Agency was established, taking over from the director of asylum seeker support. In 2002, to show how Irish public attitudes are formed, the Irish Mirror carried a headline stating, "Free Cars for Refugees" and "Cash grants to buy BMWs". One hears everywhere that they are given free cigarette money, free cars and so forth. In 2003, community welfare officers were legislatively prohibited from providing rent supplement to asylum seekers and, in 2004, the habitual residence condition was introduced and asylum seekers were further prohibited from this system. In 2007, there was an attempt by the Department of Social Protection to place the direct provision payment on a legislative footing, but this was scuppered by the Department of Justice and Equality. One Government Department was fighting against another.
In 2008, there was the first attempted legal challenge. A gentleman who was sleeping in a factory took a case to the High Court and won it, but s it did not go to a conclusion, it had no general application. His case was sorted out.
In 2009, FLAC successfully challenged the blanket exclusion that appeared to operate denying asylum seekers any social system payments. That was a legally binding decision but it was overturned by the Government introducing legislation, not to address the wrong but to the copperfasten the wrong that was being done.
There were 4,360 asylum seekers at the end of 2013: 86% of all asylum seekers have been in direct provision accommodation for 12 months or longer; over 15% of all individuals in direct provision have been there for over seven years; 43% of individuals in direct provision accommodation have been condemned to such accommodation for five years; 1,666 people, or 38% of all those in direct provision, are children; there are more people in direct provision now than people detained in prison; and €850 million of taxpayers' money has been paid out to the people who administer this scheme for profit.
Despite recommendations by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, the Free Legal Advice Centres, the Irish Refugee Council, NASC and the Irish Immigrant Support Centre that is based in Cork, that HIQA be responsible for independent inspections and complaints mechanisms, the Government has completely ignored their call. We had the recent case where the commercial manager of one of these places excluded members of NGOs who were going to visit. The payment of €19.20 - how niggardly - per adult per week and €9.60 per child per week has been the same for the past 13 or 14 years ever since the system was introduced.
Ireland does not participate in either Council Directive 2003/9/EC laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers or Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and Council of 26 June 2013 laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection. There is no legislative basis for the system of direct provision in Ireland. Ireland does not currently operate a single procedure for the processing of applications for international protection.
I would like to refer to another court case in the North of Ireland where Mr. Justice Stevens quashed an order to return a Sudanese family because he noted:
....the significant hardship asylum seekers in Ireland face, including their inability to work on pain of criminal sanction, the low rate of subsistence allowance, communal accommodation, meals, a hostile environment towards family life, isolation and health problems.
He continued by saying:
The well-being both emotionally and financially of the primary carer and the importance of that to the well-being of the children in her care would point significantly to the best interests of the children being to remain in Northern Ireland.
I mentioned "The Owl and the Nightingale" and the idea that good conditions for asylum seekers would effectively act as a draw. This is scuppered by a report carried out in 2002 for Oxfam and the Refugee Council in the United Kingdom entitled Poverty and Asylum in the United Kingdom. The definitive conclusion reached was that the prospect of receiving benefits was not a significant factor influencing their decision to come to Britain and most wanted to work and support themselves rather than be dependent on the state.
Let me come to the issue of food - a very basic thing. People coming from different traditions, different religions and different family traditions want-----