Minister’s asylum seeker comments deemed ‘offensive’

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has been accused of being “offensive” and “negatively stereotyping” asylum seekers in heated exchanges in the Seanad.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan

Fianna Fáil senator Lorraine Clifford Lee said she was “taken aback” by a speech given by Mr Flanagan on the matter of direct provision.

“I had some notes prepared prior to the debate but I am taken aback by the minister’s contribution today so I have decided instead to dissect the minister’s opening statement and to refer directly to that speech,” she said. “It was bordering on the offensive, to be honest. At the end of the minister’s statement he referred to ‘constructive solutions’ and he reminded senators to not engage in negative stereotyping of asylum seekers. I believe that the minister’s speech actually engaged in that negative stereotyping”.

“In the first half of the speech the minister said quite comprehensively that the State is doing a great job. This attitude from official Ireland towards asylum seekers actually creates this negative stereotype,” she added.

During his speech, Mr Flanagan said that adults in direct provision will soon be allowed to work.

Speaking in the Seanad yesterday, Mr Flanagan said there had been a great deal of criticism of direct provision over the years but it is changing.

While he said some of the criticism was justified, a lot of it is not.

“Adults who will soon have access to the labour market will also see their capacity for economic independence enhanced in line with the findings of the Supreme Court. Residents have been given access to the services of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children, which is an important step forward,” he said.

Mr Flanagan said that while the Irish system has failings, the Government is bound to comply with international rules on asylum.

“Some people believe that the accommodation offered constitutes a detention centre. This, of course, is not the case,” he said.

Mr Flanagan said the system was a guarantee that every person who walked into the international protection office would have a bed, food, a shower, medical care, information and access to a wide range of services.

He said the system was beset by problems as the State sought to grapple with a large volume of asylum applications, something Ireland was not used to.

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