Staff ‘racist and abusive’

Staff at the Department of Social Protection (DSP) have been rude, racist and used abusive language when dealing with migrants, a new report shows.

A number of poor practices in the department, particularly in the community welfare service (CWS), meant immigrants were “thwarted from accessing their social protection rights by the very government department that is entrusted with providing for these rights”, the report said.

Examples of inappropriate behaviour included migrants being told to “go back home to **** or wherever”, and “too many people from **** are coming here to take benefits for free”.

The report describes the situation as “wholly unacceptable” and calls for commitment from the highest level in the department to tackle it.

The report, Person or Number?, produced by a coalition of human rights organisations, including NASC, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre and FLAC, the free legal aid service, calls for mandatory anti-racism training for all department staff.

The report makes 19 recommendations, key among them the establishment of a Performance Monitoring, Evaluation and Implementation Unit in the department to raise the quality of practice and decision-making at the frontline.

It also calls for the introduction of name badges for frontline staff to improve customer service. While a Migrant Consultative Forum (MCF) — set up after a previous report in 2012 — had made “significant headway in bringing about positive reforms”, there were still serious failings, including five months to process an appeal for a supplementary welfare allowance, a payment described as “crucial” in protecting the vulnerable and preventing homelessness. There was also a high level of incorrect refusals during the initial adjudication on applications for payment, while many decision makers were at civil service entry-grade level.

In addition, interpreters were are not always provided when there was a “clear need” and omission of key information by officials dealing with the public “continues to be an issue”.

Fiona Hurley of Nasc said the report made it clear the system “is failing some service users”. She said they hoped to continue to work with the department to make improvements.

The report is based on a random 35-case sample of migrants who access DSP’s service and an online survey with 37 managers of Citizen Information services.

It will be launched in Dublin today by Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.


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