Ombudsman wrote to Taoiseach about ‘differential treatment’ of children seeking asylum

Dr Niall Muldoon concerned that minors not from Ukraine ‘treated less favourably’

The Ombudsman for Children has told the Taoiseach he is concerned that children seeking protection in Ireland from countries other than Ukraine are being “treated less favourably” on a basis that is “not reasonably justifiable” under the aims of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Dr Niall Muldoon wrote to Micheál Martin at the end of August stating that “differential treatment” regarding entitlements and access to services were “problematic”.

The correspondence was released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

Dr Muldoon also said the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) was concerned about challenges experienced by children arriving from Ukraine “as regards access to appropriate accommodation and education”.


“While we acknowledge efforts to accommodate those fleeing Ukraine, including plans to use modular homes, we are concerned that State-provided accommodation is temporary, and that unsuitable emergency accommodation will continue to be used in the short to medium term,” he said.

“Similarly, although we welcome measures to support Ukrainian children in Irish schools, including the establishment of Regional Education and Language Teams [REALT], we are concerned that guidance issued by the Department of Education on supporting Ukrainian children’s wellbeing in schools does not provide for sufficient inclusion of practical supports.”

Dr Muldoon also said there were concerns about the provision of appropriate school places for Ukrainian children with special educational needs “in light of existing challenges with provision in this area”.

He said efforts by Tusla to support unaccompanied minors was acknowledged but it was concerning that the child and family agency had not undertaken vulnerability assessments regarding these minors.

“While Ireland’s response to people arriving from Ukraine has been positive, a corollary of measures by the State to implement the TPD [Temporary Protection Directive] is that the State is effectively treating people arriving from Ukraine differently to other groups of asylum seekers and refugees seeking protection, particularly those in direct provision,” Dr Muldoon said.

“This differential treatment as regards entitlements and access to services is problematic and the OCO is concerned that children seeking protection in Ireland from countries other than Ukraine are being treated less favourably on a basis that is not reasonably justifiable under the aims of the convention.”

In a response to Dr Muldoon on October 24th, the Taoiseach said all branches of Government continue to respond “in a sensitive and caring way and we are ensuring that everything possible is done to assist these [Ukrainian] children and their families”.

Mr Martin said he had requested that the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman and the Minister for Education Norma Foley engage with the Ombudsman on the issues raised.

He also said he had asked his own officials to follow up with the cross-departmental Senior Officials Group on the Humanitarian Response.

A spokeswoman for the ombudsman said Ms Foley had since confirmed that REALT, which supports the educational needs of children from Ukraine arriving in Ireland, had been extended to include non-Ukrainian arrivals, “ensuring one clear and comprehensive system”.

“While this is very good news and will make a difference for children arriving in Ireland who are attending school, the OCO remains concerned about differential treatment of children in areas other than education,” the spokeswoman said.

“The OCO continues to call for the implementation of the minimum standards of protection provided for under the Temporary Protection Directive.

“The OCO also calls for measures to ensure that all unaccompanied minors (UAMs) are subject to vulnerability assessments upon arrival in Ireland and that all actions and decisions by Tusla in respect of UAMs are guided by the best interests of the child.”

Latest figures from the Department of Education show that 13,323 Ukrainian pupils have been enrolled in schools across Ireland as of December 1st. Of these pupils, 8,522 have been accommodated in primary schools while 4,801 have been enrolled in post-primary schools, the department said on Monday.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times