1.9 Current debates and reforms
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The PEACE PLUS programme will run from 2021-2027. The overall objective of the PEACE PLUS Programme will be to build prosperity and peace within the region, to ensure that this Programme will leave a lasting and tangible legacy. The programme will achieve this by funding activities that promote peace and reconciliation and contribute to the cross-border economic and territorial development of the region. The framework developed for PEACE PLUS includes six themes:
- Building Peaceful and Thriving Communities
- Delivering Economic Regeneration and Transformation
- Empowering and Investing in Young People
- Healthy and Inclusive Communities
- Supporting a Sustainable Future
- Building and Embedding Partnership and Collaboration
For more information on the PEACE programmes see Chapter 1.8 Cross-border cooperation.
National Youth Policy Updates
In the DCEDIY’s Statement of Strategy (2021-2023), the Department has plans for the development, launch and successor strategy to the National Youth Strategy and to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.
Young people and Covid-19
A new report from DCEDIY has found that the Covid-19 pandemic has had negative effects on young people’s health and wellbeing, especially amongst marginalized groups.
The report, based on the findings of research undertaken by SpunOut and the Department’s Youth Advisory Group, shows how young people struggled with being separated from their friends, and faced significant mental health impacts because of Covid-19 and the restrictions.
The report found that:
- Missing friends was most cited as a challenge faced during Covid-19 (cited by 35% of respondents), followed by impact on health (20%), school/college problems (18%), and cabin fever (16%)
- Young people’s feelings towards the future were mixed. Over one third of respondents reporting optimism for the future. However, negative feelings such as anxiety, uncertainty, pessimism, and fear were also common.
- Young people mentioned a range of positives that they wished to take forward, including maintaining a healthy lifestyle, self-care, quality family time and relief from pressure of commutes and school or college. However, almost one in ten respondents were unable to name any positives.
The Department’s Youth Advisory Group was invited to respond to the consultation findings, expressed the need for more empathy and compassion towards young people, and felt that young people overall have been unfairly blamed for spikes in COVID-19 cases.
The Advisory Group said that, now more than ever, mental health services, educational institutions, and youth services need to work together, so that each is aware of the challenges young people have been facing and can help ease them back into everyday life in the next stage of the pandemic and beyond.
Young people living in Direct Provision
Direct provision is a means of meeting the basic needs of food and shelter for asylum seekers directly while their claims for refugee status, subsidiary protection or appeals for leave to remain are being processed in Ireland. Direct Provision and Emergency Accommodation Centres tend to be isolated, and residents must share rooms with most not having the facilities to cook for themselves or their families. In many Direct Provision centres, meals are only served at set times. The Royal College of Psychists’ report on Children in Direct Provision found that a lack of funds, transport, strict mealtimes, and a ban on visitors to Direct Provision centres can exclude Asylum seekers. For example, this can exclude children from afterschool activities and youths from further or third level educational opportunities.
The most recent statistics published by the Irish Refugee Council state that in August 2019 there were 1,647 children living in Direct Provision.
The Government committed, in the Programme for Government, to end Direct Provision and to replace it with ‘a new International Protection accommodation policy centred on a not-for-profit approach.’
In February 2021 the Irish Government published A White Paper on Ending Direct Provision and to Establish a New International Protection Support Service. The Government plans to replace the Direct Provision system with an international protection system. Their two-phased approach intends to close all Direct Provision centres by the end of 2024.
Phase one is expected to take four months. In this phase, accommodation will be provided in reception and integration centres. Six reception and integration centres will be established, and these will be owned by the State and run by not-for-profit organisations.
According to the plan, people including children who are applying for protection will be helped to integrate into Ireland from day one, with health, housing, education, and employment supports at the core of the system. The necessary supports will be in place depending on the relevant needs of the person.
A health assessment will be provided for all new international protection applicants in phase one and there will be a focus on the needs of children who come to Ireland with their families.
Following phase one, applicants will be offered accommodation through several strands in phase two. The plan says after their first four months in Ireland, people whose protection claims are still being processed will move to accommodation in the community. All accommodation will be own-door, self-contained houses, or apartments for families to provide privacy, agency, and independence. Houses will be situated within the community, with supports to encourage interconnections especially for children and young people.
Young people experiencing homelessness
There is a debate on the number of young people experiencing homelessness and living in emergency accommodation because of the current ‘housing crisis’ in Ireland. This includes young people under 18 years of age living with their parents in emergency accommodation and young people aged 18-24 years living in homeless accommodation. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government Homelessness Report for May 2021 show that 780 or 13% of young people aged 18-24 years are homeless in Ireland. The main topics debated are the negative impact of homelessness on young people, e.g., lack of space, mental health, education, and lack of social housing.
The Ombudsman for Children published a report on consultations with children and young people under 18 years of age living in homeless accommodation in 2019, outlining their views and experiences of living in Family Hubs.
The main actors involved in the debate are the Irish Government, the Department of the Environment, Housing and Local Government, the Ombudsman for Children, homeless charities, and the media.
Homelessness and Covid-19
Focus Ireland published their third volume of ‘Focus on Homelessness’ in October 2020. This report represented data that covered the first Covid ‘lockdown’ period of homelessness. In March 2020 government measures were introduced to prevent people becoming homeless during the pandemic including a block of all evictions and a rent-freeze. In March 2020 when the stay-at-home order came into effect, there was a 12% decrease of individuals in emergency accommodation including young people.
The Homelessness Taskforce met with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD in April 2021 to discuss the proposal of the Youth Homelessness Strategy because of the effects of Covid-19. The meeting also addressed the ongoing work that happens to protect homeless people at risk of Covid-19 as the vaccine strategy is rolled out.
The High-Level Homelessness Taskforce is made up of representatives from the Peter McVerry Trust, Dublin Simon Community, Focus Ireland, Threshold, DePaul, Cross Care, and the Dublin Region Homelessness Executive and meet regularly by videoconference.
Members of the Taskforce were asked to consider their current role in supporting young people experiencing homelessness, what services they are currently providing to young people in homeless services and what are the key challenges to address youth homelessness from a service provision viewpoint. This Taskforce want to reach realizable solutions and meet the specific needs of young people who end up experiencing homelessness but prevent young people from becoming homeless in the first place.
LGBTQI+ Youth Homelessness
LGBTQI+ youth homelessness has been highlighted as an issue by homeless services. According to Focus Ireland, ‘youth services staff have reported high numbers of LGBTQI+ young people are becoming homeless as a direct consequence of their sexual orientation or gender identity.’
A Qualitative Study of LGBTQI+ Youth Homelessness in Ireland published by Focus Ireland in September 2020 sought for the first time to make visible and give a voice to the specificities of LGBTIQ+ youth homelessness in Ireland.
The broad aim of this research included gathering information about:
- the scale and triggers of LGBTQI+ youth homelessness in Ireland
- first-hand qualitative experiences of young LGBTQI+ people who found themselves homeless
- measures that might be adopted to combat LGBTQI+ youth homelessness in Ireland.
To achieve these aims the research aimed to:
- Explore the processes and ‘triggers’ that contribute to LGBTQI+ young people’s homelessness or housing instability in Ireland
- Understand LGBTQI+ young people’s experiences of frontline homeless and related support services in Ireland
- Examine the potential obstacles to housing of LGBTQI+ young people in Ireland
- Compare the experiences of LGBTQI+ homeless young people in Ireland with the findings of the international research evidence on this group
- Make recommendations on the development of policies and services to meet the needs of young, homeless LGBTQI+ young people in Ireland, including recommendations on measuring sexuality and/or sexual identity in homelessness statistics.
Some recommendations made include:
- The ‘Youth Homelessness Strategy’, committed to in the Programme for Government 2020, should include a ‘homelessness prevention’ pillar with specific reference to the risks and pathways into homelessness which LGBTQI+ youth are likely to experience. The Strategy should put in place educational, family and youth service support to help prevent homelessness among LGBTQI+ youth.
- Tusla should increase funding to extend the lifetime of the existing Youth Homeless Prevention Mediations Service.
- The Strategy should also address the specific challenges which may face LGBTQI children in foster care and residential and review and build on the valuable work already conducted by Tusla to ensure that these challenges are addressed.
- The strategy should ensure that specialist support, information and training is available to teachers and youth workers to enhance their interaction with and support for LGBTQI+ youth.
- Focus Ireland should work with the Homeless Network and LGBTQI+ organisations to develop an awareness raising programme that highlights the presence and specific needs of young LGBTQI+ people including appropriate language and gender pronouns.
LGBTQI+ Young People
The National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy is running from 2019 until 2021. This Strategy was the world’s first National LGBTI+ Youth Strategy and is essential in identifying and addressing issues that may prevent LGBTQI+ young people from enjoying full equality in practice in Irish society.
The 2019 School Climate Survey conducted by BeLong to Youth Services identified several issues affecting LGBTQI+ young people. These included anti-LGBTQI+ bullying, homophobic remarks, discrimination, harassment, and assault. Impacts on LGBTQI+ young people included absenteeism, lack of sense of belonging, isolation, and stigmatisation.
Solutions proposed to address these issues included
- Safe and supportive schools with inclusive staff.
- Representation of LGBTQI+ identities in the curriculum
- Explicit anti-bullying policies to reduce levels of anti-LGBTQI+ bullying
- A student body with a higher sense of belonging and better educational outcomes.
LGBTQI+ Young People, Mental Health and Covid-19
The mental health of LGBTQI+ young people in Ireland has plummeted over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey conducted by BeLonG to Youth Services of more than 3000 young people found that 97% of LGBTQI+ young people are struggling with anxiety, stress, or depression.
The original findings in 2020 found that LGBTI+ youths were two times as likely to self-harm, three times as likely to experience suicidal ideation, and four times as likely to experience suicide and depression, compared to their non-LGBTI+ friends.
In 2021, follow-up research showed that these figures worsened. The study found that 63% of LGBTI+ young people are struggling with suicide ideation compared to 2020’s 55%. Meanwhile, the number of LGBTI+ young people struggling with self-harm increased from 45% to 50% in one year.
Overall, 56% of LGBTI+ young people surveyed in 2021 said they experienced feelings of unacceptance in their home environment, including family rejection, feeling unaccepted, and a denial of identity.