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Senators seeking reform of asylum system

By Ann Marie Foley - 16 September, 2014

Vicar General of Kildare & Leighlin warns that children at Montague centre are growing up in an institution which is like an open prison.

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Senators Rónán Mullen and Paul Bradford have called on the Government to address major problems within the asylum system.

The two Independent Senators want female-only and family-only reception centres established.

They have also demanded that asylum seekers be granted the right to get jobs and that those in the system for four years or more be allowed to stay in the State.

“The operation of the direct provision system for asylum seekers is of major public concern. Managing an immigration and asylum policy is never easy for any country, but Ireland has a situation where some people are in a living limbo for years on end,” Senator Mullen said.

He met some of the residents of Montague reception centre near Portlaoise on Sunday.

One spoke of losing friends because, he says, there is a stigma attached to being in a reception centre.

Another told how a third of her entire weekly allowance of €19.70 went on a prescription. Another young woman spoke about a lack of privacy when sleeping.

“There were many other stories. Children can’t go on to college. Able-bodied people aren’t allowed to try and find work. Relatively modest fees for occasional courses are simply unaffordable. Simple things you and I might take for granted are never a possibility for people in direct provision. It’s a pressing human dignity issue,” Senator Mullen said.

He and his colleague Senator Paul Bradford of the Reform Alliance are proposing a Private Members Motion on Direct Provision in the Seanad this Wednesday, 17 September.

“My motion attempts to address some of the bigger problems in the system. It calls on the Government to consider Ireland’s legal and international obligations,” he said.

“Ireland and Lithuania are the only two countries in the EU which don’t allow access to the labour market at some point during the asylum process.”

He urged people to contact their local senators to encourage them to support the motion.

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His action comes at a time when asylum seekers at direct provision centres are staging protests over many of these issues. Those in the reception centre near Portlaoise refused food for a time in protest.

Local parish priest, Msgr John Byrne, who is Vicar General in the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin, has first-hand experience in his parish providing educational and pastoral support to those living in ‘direct provision’ at the Montague centre which is a former hotel.

He has spoken out especially on behalf of the children and young people who he said were growing up in an institution which is like an open prison.

“I see young people who aren’t able to be involved in any recreation or activity outside school. People are isolated and they’re caught in a limbo. It’s inhumane to treat people this way for years on end,” he said.

Mgr Byrne has been highlighting the problems in the parish and nationally in interviews with RTE.

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