Over 600 children under age of four living in Ireland's asylum seeker system

Over 600 children under age of four living in Ireland's asylum seeker system

More than 600 children under the age of four are living in Ireland's asylum seeker system.

The Department of Justice confirmed the new figures as officials revealed that 142 people have been in the asylum system since 2012 and that the system will cost up to €100m this year alone.

Speaking during the latest Dáil's public accounts committee meeting, Department secretary general, Aidan O'Driscoll, said a total of 1,630 children of all ages are currently living in direct provision.

The figure includes 673 children under the age of four.

Responding to questions from unaligned Independent TD Catherine Connolly, the Department secretary general said a total of 6,093 people in total are living in direct provision and emergency asylum accommodation across Ireland.

He said this includes:

  • 289 people waiting in the system up to four years
  • 146 waiting between four and five years
  • 65 waiting between five and six years
  • and 142 waiting for more than seven years

And, asked about the total costs relating to the system, he told Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells that the price is likely to spiral from €67m in 2017 to "up and around €95-100m" this year.

Mr O'Driscoll told Ms Connolly that the State pays for 38 asylum centres across the country, including 31 that are "commercially" operated and seven owned by the State.

He said of the total number of people affected, 729 have already been given "received status" to leave the system but are unable to do so for various reasons, including the possibility that some of their family members remain in the system.

The Department secretary general told Mr Cassells that 16 hotels are currently being used for the asylum system, saying this is in part due to the lack of other adequate properties around the country due to the unrelated housing crisis.

However, when Mr Cassells said the situation risks causing "a perfect storm" similar to the wider housing assistance payment difficulties in the wider housing market, Mr O'Driscoll acknowledged there are difficulties in the existing service.

Fianna Fáil TD and PAC chairman, Sean Fleming.
Fianna Fáil TD and PAC chairman, Sean Fleming.

During the same PAC meeting, Department officials were repeatedly asked by committee members about how they plan out where they will place direct provision centres and hotels used for asylum seeker emergency accommodation.

Responding to Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry, who suggested that facilities should be focused in larger towns and cities so as to lessen the risk of local communities mistakenly becoming concerned about a sudden influx of people, Mr O'Driscoll said the decisions are based on what properties are available.

Fianna Fáil TD and PAC chairman, Sean Fleming, sparked controversy among PAC members by suggesting the committee asks for a comparison between financial supports given to asylum seekers and elderly people in nursing homes.

Mr Fleming said he is not seeking to draw any conclusions from the suggestion, saying it is important that people are aware of all details.

However, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, unaligned Independent TD Catherine Connolly and Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O'Brien all said they oppose the implication of this request.

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