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Catherine Day: 'Continued political oversight' needed to end Direct Provision

Dr Day said today the current Direct Provision system is “reactive” and said that people living in the system “bear the consequences” of its failures.

Dr Catherine Day
Dr Catherine Day
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

THE GOVERNMENT HAS said Direct Provision is not fit for purpose and should be replaced following the publication of a landmark report today on ending the controversial system. 

An Advisory Group, chaired by former Secretary General of the European Commission Dr Catherine Day, has made a number of sweeping recommendations in its report, including a once-off grant to people who have lived in the current system for more than two years. It also recommends increasing access to the labour market and own-door accommodation. 

Direct Provision was set up in 1999 in response to a sharp increase in the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland.

The system has been repeatedly criticised by migrant rights groups due to the length of time people remain in centres while their asylum applications or appeals are processed, the conditions of centres as well as the psychological effects on those living in these centres. 

Over €1 billion has been paid to private contractors and businesses since the system was established. 

Dr Day said today the current Direct Provision system is “reactive” and said that people living in the system “bear the consequences” of its failures. 

“A whole-of-government approach” is needed to replace the system, she said, adding that “continued political oversight” was required to implement the new system. 

Day’s report recommends that any person who has been living in Direct Provision for more than two years be granted leave-to-remain for a period of five years – pending security vetting.

There should be an option to renew this under a once-off case-processing approach which should be put in place by January in order to clear the current backlog of asylum applications. 

Leave-to-remain is granted to people who have been refused refugee or subsidiary protection but are not deported for humanitarian or other reasons. 

Whole-of-government approach

Today’s report was commissioned by former Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. The Advisory Group first convened in November 2019 and presented its findings to Government in recent days. 

It was drawn up in consultation with a number of NGOs, including Nasc, the Irish Refugee Council and Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) as well as current and retired senior civil servants. 

The current system of accommodating asylum seekers should be ended and replaced by a three-stage system of State-run accommodation by mid-2023, the report says. 

The new reception system outlined in the Advisory Group’s report would see accommodation provided to people at State-owned centres for three months, according to the report. 

On-site services should also be available at this stage to assist applicants in accessing services such as health and social welfare. 

After three months at a reception centre, applicants should be helped to move to own-door accommodation through a housing allowance model.

Dr Day said today that a “mix of housing solutions” should be found and recommended that “for at least some time” the Housing Assistance Payment should be expanded to include asylum seekers. 

“We are not asking for any privilege for asylum seekers, there is no jumping up the housing list or anything else,” she said, after concerns were raised as to the impact such a move could have on the housing crisis. 

“What we have a system that was designed to be temporary. But for some people it has gone on for years and years and years,” she said. “We need to be aware of the implications of living a long time in [Direct Provision].”

A payment similar to the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) would also be made available as well as a weekly allowance under this new system, the report recommends, as well as a number of other key recommendation which can be read here. 

It is estimated that the new system would cost €35 million less than was paid to administer Direct Provision in 2019. 

‘Keyboard warriors’

Speaking this afternoon, Minister Roderic O’Gorman said any new asylum system will take time to implement and said it was “important that we immediately begin to create a more humane system, rooted in human rights.”

O’Gorman confirmed that vulnerability assessments for asylum seekers will be introduced by the end of the year, following the report’s publication, and that the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) will carry out inspections of Direct Provision centres around the country starting next year -  a key recommendation of the report. 

cabinet 187 Minister for Children, Disabilty, Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman TD. Source: Sam Boal

The Day report, which is not legally-binding, will now inform the Government’s White Paper for replacing the controversial system of accommodating asylum seekers in Ireland, which is due to be published by January. 

Responsibility for administering Direct Provision accommodation transferred last week from the Department of Justice & Equality to the Department of Children & Youth Affairs, as part of an agreement under the Programme For Government. 

The report and its recommendations will now be considered by a committee overseeing the drafting of the White Paper. 

Said O’Gorman: “To address the homelessness crisis, we have a very ambitious target of 30,000 social houses to be provided across the lifetime of the government and we saw the first steps towards that taking the budget, to deliver 9000 of social houses from next year.”

“We will be setting out, how we achieve the various steps within the sphere of direct provision, within the white paper and the timelines we’ll need to add to deliver that, we don’t minimise the scale of the challenge here but, we have set it as an objective within the programme for government and the government is fully committed to delivering on that objective.”

In response to concern regarding opposition to Direct Provision centres in Ireland and the rise of the far-right, O’Gorman said that improved community engagement and “open communication” should help counteract opposition from “the far-right and keyboard warriors”. 

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said this afternoon that violent behaviour “is never acceptable, whether it’s from a far-right group, whether it’s a group opposed to Direct Provision…and as a society we need to make that very clearly.”

‘Significant’ 

NGOs and migrant rights groups have broadly welcomed today’s report. 

“The significance of this report cannot be understated,” Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc said.

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“Twenty years after the introduction of Direct Provision, a government-commissioned independent report has called for an end to Direct Provision and charted a pathway for the State to provide a protection and reception system for international protection applicants with the needs of applicants at its heart.”

The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) said that “while the report makes groundbreaking recommendations such as recommending the provision of housing, healthcare, and welfare payments to asylum seekers who do not stay in reception centres… there are some areas that need further consideration in the report.”

MASI spokesman Bulelani Mfaco raised concerns that asylum seekers could be open to discrimination under a HAP housing model. 

While it has welcomed a 6-month statutory timeframe for processing asylum claims, MASI said this is unhelpful without consequences or benefit for an asylum seeker “if and when the State fails to meet this deadline”. 

MASI called on the Irish State to match this with a legislative provision for the granting of permission to remain to any applicant who has not received a final decision on their asylum claim within 18 months from the date they lodged their application. 

It says it would end the legal limbo facing many asylum seekers and ensure that no asylum seeker spends years waiting for a decision in future. 

“The alternative to Direct Provision must truly mark a departure from the horrors of the past two decades. This must be reflected in the White Paper that will be published before the end of this year to set out a new policy on reception conditions for asylum seekers in Ireland,” Mfaco said. 

007 Fireworks Minister for Justice McEntee Source: RollingNews.ie

Amnesty International, meanwhile, said it welcomed the expert group’s recommendations but said “this is just the beginning”.  

“At this stage, we will need detailed implementation plans with ironclad commitments and timelines that will outlast any shifts in the political landscape,” Amnesty said in a statement.

“The pandemic has also forced government to confront the brutal reality of Direct Provision’s accommodation system. So, the practical recommendations in this report such as own-door accommodation, as well as housing people in areas where they can actually access employment and education, will have profound impacts on people’s lives.”

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