Speaking in Seanad Éireann this week, Independent NUI Senator, Rónán Mullen raised the plight of the Suhinthan family, an Irish couple with three children, who have been denied entry to New Zealand because one of their daughters has Down Syndrome.
Nilani Suhinthan was head-hunted for an IT job in New Zealand and after applying for visas for herself and her family, was told that a residency permit would not be issued for their 15 year old daughter Bumikka who has Downs Syndrome. An appeal against the decision was recently rejected.
“Many of us have had New Zealand in our minds recently because of the appalling outrage of the murder of 50 people at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre. It is appropriate to remember Ireland’s affinity with New Zealand, on account of the emigration of our people to that country and similarities between the two countries in agriculture and the food industry. I learned recently that there are 600,000 people of Irish ancestry in that country, with 18,000 relocating from Ireland between 2011 and 2015 during the worst of the recession. Perhaps because of that close affinity, I felt all the more shocked to hear of the case of an Irish family, the Suhinthan family, and its experience with the New Zealand authorities.”
Senator Mullen outlined the circumstances of the Suhinthan family’s case, including the fact that they had spent a considerable sum of money preparing for the move and said:
“I accept that each country has the right to regulate its own immigration laws as it sees fit but, on the other hand, this is a situation where we have to ask what it says about a society that would welcome a highly-skilled couple with open arms and two of that couple’s daughters but turn away their third daughter purely because she has Down Syndrome.”
He also quoted from the recent speech of the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern at the Christchurch commemoration where she said ‘ Racism exists, but it is not welcome here. Assaults on faith and religion are not welcome here. Extremism in all its forms is not welcome here’, and commented:
“Listening to her speak and learning of the Suhinthan family’s case, I am wondering if she could have added, “A child with Down Syndrome is not welcome here”. The turning away of an Irish child from the borders of a country on such grounds is truly reprehensible and is not reflective of a tolerant society
Senator Mullen concluded by asking that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade confirm whether the Government has examined this issue closely and whether it doing anything to assist the Suhinthan family.
Note to Editors: Full text of Seanad speech is available here