The Government has defended its decision to ask asylum seekers not to travel to Ireland due to acute accommodation shortages in the face of questioning from the UN Child Rights Committee in Geneva on Wednesday.
On the final day of the State’s appearance before the committee, the Government was asked why the Department of Children had tweeted a statement this week asking people seeking refuge to defer travels plans and whether “desperate” families would be turned away at the border.
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman, leading a State delegation of Government officials, told the committee that despite accommodation challenges, families with children seeking asylum were being provided with accommodation.
However, he said the numbers accommodated in the international protection process have climbed from about 8,000 in late 2021 to 19,000 today, along with a further 54,000 Ukrainians.
“In doing so, we’re meeting our international legal obligations and we’re also meeting our moral obligations, but at this current time we are suffering real shortages of accommodation for people arriving into the country,” he said.
“In that context, those tweets are provided to, in a fair way, make people aware that there are these challenges in terms of providing State-provided accommodation, and indicating that if they are safe that they should remain where they are.”
Mr O’Gorman said the Government hoped to resolve the situation in the short-term. “We are being as upfront as we can about the very significant accommodation challenges posed by the ongoing increase in migration that we’re seeing in Ireland and across the EU at the moment.”
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Ireland, as a party to the Child Rights Convention, is required to undergo regular reviews by the UN committee of 18 independent international experts. It is the first such review since 2016.
The session was attended by officials from Government departments as well as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Ombudsman for Children and civil society representatives.
The State delegation also responded to questions across a range of topics ranging from measures to protect children online, mental health services, special education and access to multi-denominational schools.
State officials told the committee that new role of online safety commissioner will be appointed shortly who will be responsible for developing and enforcing online codes to protect children from harmful content. This will include cyberbullying, content promoting suicide and eating disorders.
On the question of access to assessments and therapy for children with disabilities, committee members noted in some cases that children were waiting years for proper services. Mr O’Gorman told the committee that the State recognised it needed to do more to improve this area.
He said investment in the area was being increased, while recruitment and retention of staff remained a key priority. A new roadmap on progressing disability services with short, medium and long-term goals is due soon, while work is also due on booting positive engagement between parents and the HSE.
On the question of religion, committee members asked about measures to allow children to opt out of faith formation in denominational schools.
Officials said schools must offer opt-out arrangements or alternative subjects for those who do not want religious instruction.
The responsibility for providing religious education rested with the patron bodies of individual schools, not the State, officials added. The committee heard that a new primary curriculum is being drafted as “Ireland seeks to move into a new educational era”.
At post-primary level, officials said the religion syllabus was for students of all faith backgrounds and none and did not provide religious instruction.
Instead, it aimed to expose students to a broad range of religious traditions and to the non-religious interpretation of life.