Advocating and Setting Agendas: An Exploratory Study of NGO Advocacy surrounding the Reception Conditions of Asylum Seeking Children and Families in Ireland and its Influence on Agenda Setting
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Asylum seekers arriving in Ireland are accommodated under a system known as Direct Provision and Dispersal. Concerns have been raised since its inception in 2000 by NGOs, academics, health professionals and the international community. These have included human rights and humanitarian issues such as overcrowding, malnutrition, mental and physical health, poverty, social exclusion, lack of play and study space, child protection and parenting challenges. NGOs have been to the fore in advocating for policy change in this area, with some lobbying and campaigning for change for over a decade. Several national and regional NGOs have formed coalitions and are attempting to influence policy makers, with a stronger focus now placed on elected politicians as opposed to civil servants. This thesis seeks to explore such advocacy, focusing on how it is received at state level and how the NGOs attempt to put their concerns on the public policy agenda. A constructionist research design was used in addressing this central research question, incorporating a case study approach, giving voice to the various actors in the process. In addition to some initial surveying of NGOs, in-depth interviews were undertaken with NGO advocates, senior civil servants, politicians, funders and observers. The research was influenced by a theoretical framework, based around the concept of agenda setting (Kingdon 1995), and informed by the literature on advocacy and theories on the challenges of pro-asylum advocacy. The research highlighted that whilst some windows of opportunity have opened for advocates to place their concerns on the public agenda, they have not stayed open for long and their attempts at overall policy reform have not been very successful. Challenges have included a divergence of worldviews between advocates and some state actors who may be opposed to or indifferent to their concerns and view the role of the State vis-à-vis asylum seekers very differently.
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