DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald)by Deputy Darragh O'Brienfor WRITTEN on Tuesday, 12th July, 2016. ly 13th, 2016
* To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the action she and her European Union counterparts are taking, to ensure that unaccompanied minors who are universally acknowledged to have a right to re-unification, are receiving due process and do not remain separated for an inhumane length of time; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
The Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established by Government decision on 10 September 2015 as a direct response to the humanitarian crisis that developed in Southern Europe as a consequence of mass migration from areas of conflict in the Middle East and Africa. In announcing the Programme, the Government recognised the importance of addressing the position of unaccompanied children. However, as indicated in previous responses to parliamentary questions, the pace of the relocation programme in Ireland and across the European Union has been hampered by significant operational delays and technical issues due to the sheer numbers involved and other logistical difficulties that have arisen at the 'hotspot' locations in Italy and Greece.
A team of officials from my Department, including the Director of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, travelled to Greece last month to meet with Irish embassy officials and relevant Greek authorities both to signal Ireland's tangible willingness to assist and to identify ways of addressing the obstacles that have arisen. The outcome of that visit has been very positive and the Greek authorities have now confirmed that, within the coming months, they will be able to increase significantly the overall numbers available to Ireland.
I recently chaired a meeting of the high level Task Force established to oversee the implementation of the IRPP during which an approach to taking unaccompanied minors (most likely from Greece) was discussed. This issue is now under further consideration by the relevant agencies and Departments, including Tusla, the Child and Family Agency under the auspices of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and officials from my own Department.
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has statutory responsibility for the care of unaccompanied minors in the State. As part of its multi-disciplinary assessment of the needs of separated children in its care, the possibility of family reunification is also examined.
I continue to work proactively with my colleagues in Europe to ensure that Ireland and the European Union responds comprehensively to all aspects of the ongoing migration and refugee crisis. I share the concerns of the Deputy in relation to unaccompanied minors as an especially vulnerable group and I expect this issue to remain high on the agenda at EU level.