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Department planning new Direct Provision centres to cut down on 'highly unsatisfactory' shortages

50% more people have applied this year and many end up in emergency accommodation according to the Department of Justice.

THE GOVERNMENT IS looking at housing thousands of asylum seekers in new Direct Provision centres in the coming years. 

The numbers of people arriving to seek international protection in the state has risen 50% in the past year, according to the Department of Justice, and more centres are needed to prevent further applicants being housed in emergency accommodation. 

The cost of the new centres will be in excess of €320 million in the coming years, the Irish Times reported this morning. 

In correspondence seen by TheJournal.ie, Department of Justice secretary general Aidan O’Driscoll wrote to the Public Accounts Committee earlier this month to provide an update on its plans to put a contract out to tender for additional Direct Provision centres.

“Because of the shortage of places in centres, there are now, as of 29 October 2019, 1,531 people in emergency accommodation in hotels and guesthouses,” O’Driscoll said. “I am aware that this is a highly unsatisfactory situation and can only be short-term.”

He said that the department is running procurement competitions around the country for new Direct Provision centres. 

“This search is nationwide,” O’Driscoll said. “The contracts are longer term than the expressions of interest with a minimum contract duration of 2 years on offer and a maximum contract duration of 4 years.”

He said that until the procurement process was complete, it wasn’t possible to confirm any specific locations. 

In some cases, the process is further along such as in the south-east, midlands and mid-west regions. 

TheJournal.ie in August reported that one of these tenders – covering Kildare, Wicklow, Meath and Louth – had an estimated value of €65 million.

O’Driscoll said that evaluation of this region will commence shortly.

“Consideration of all premises in the Dublin and Border areas offered to the Department will follow from those competitions,” he said.

When the evaluation and commercially sensitive aspects of the process are completed, the Department will begin engagement with local communities and their political representatives and in order to allay any concerns about impacts on local services.

deformation 930_90585049 Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said recently that improvements to the DP system are necessary. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Speaking to RTÉ News at One, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said that when centres are selected, he is “anxious” to ensure that the government “engages fully with local communities in a way that ensures a welcome and in a way that ensures best practice, and ina way that we can learn the lessons from some pretty difficult experiences earlier this year”. 

The Minister admitted that he accepts there are “shortcomings” in the Direct Provision system. 

To the end of October this year, 4,198 applications of international protection have been made in Ireland. There were 6,670 persons residing in Direct Provision centres at the same time who are associated with an application for protection status. 

Also at the end of October, 778 people who have been granted leave to remain in Ireland were residing in Direct Provision. 

According to DOJ figures, the average length of stay in State-provided accommodation by asylum seekers is 21.75 months.

Established in 1999 in response to a sharp increase in the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland, Direct Provision has been repeatedly critcised by migrant rights groups.

These groups have highlighted 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 all having a negative impact on those involved. 

It’s estimated that over 60,000 asylum seekers have been placed in Direct Provision since its introduction. 

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said that “improvements” to the Direct Provision are necessary but that he “doesn’t want to see people on the streets”. 

The Department of Justice this evening said claims reported today that it was planning on housing 5,500 new asylum seekers in the coming years were not correct.

A statement from the department read: “The number of additional bed spaces any potential new centres will bring will only become clear once all tenders are completed and any new offers are assessed for suitability.
“Assuming the majority of existing centres remain in the system, the department will not be seeking anywhere near 5,500 additional new accommodation places. Nor has it suggested it would. Indeed, the current excess demand is reflected in the number of people currently being accommodated in emergency accommodation (approx. 1,500).

With reporting from Christina Finn, Hayley Halpin and Conal Thomas

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Sean Murray

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