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Ombudsman criticises use of hotels as emergency accommodation for asylum seekers

Peter Tyndall called for more powers for the Ombudsman’s office.

Peter Tyndall has called for more powers to inspect the asylum seeker process.
Peter Tyndall has called for more powers to inspect the asylum seeker process.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Updated Sep 25th 2019, 11:35 AM

THE OMBUDSMAN PETER Tyndall wants increased powers to inspect the processing of asylum applications. 

Tyndall made the request in his opening statement to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality, while also taking the opportunity to repeatedly criticise the conditions faced by asylum seekers living in emergency accommodation. 

In his opening statement, Tyndall said: “The core decisions on asylum applications are made by or on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality and are properly outside of my jurisdiction. However, I do not see the same case for the exclusion of the administrative process through which asylum applications are assessed.”

“I believe that my remit should be extended to include that process, and I respectfully ask for the committee’s support for this extension,” he told the committee. 

Tyndall also said that asking asylum seekers, who may be suspicious of authority or have poor English, to complain about their experience in a “conventional” way might not be appropriate.

The Ombudsman’s office, alongside the Ombudsman for Children, remain the only independent bodies with a role in inspecting direct provision centres, the committee was told. 

Emergency accommodation

TDs and senators were united in their criticism of the living conditions faced by asylum seekers living in hotels and B&Bs around Ireland. 

Tyndall, who said that he shared many of their concerns, said that the only solution was an “active re-settlement programme” to make room for more people in Direct Provision and reduce the government’s recourse to emergency accommodation. 

As long as emergency accommodation is used, the problems will continue and essentially we’ve gone back to the situation we had before Direct Provision was improved.

“The fundamental issue faced by residents is that the Direct Provision accommodation was only ever intended for short stays, while their applications for asylum were processed,” Tyndall also told TD and senators in his opening statement. 

While noting that some “improvements” had been made, he said that “the majority of centres are quasi-institutional settings where in many cases access to kitchen, bathroom and living room facilities are shared amenities which cannot be enjoyed in private”. 

Tyndall also linked the issues facing asylum seekers in Direct Provision to the wider housing crisis. 

“The problem currently is being exacerbated by the shortage of affordable rented housing,” he said. “Even those with leave to remain are unable to find accommodation, thus reducing supply for new entrants.”

Since September 2018, the Department of Justice & Equality’s Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) has accommodated people in hotels and B&Bs due to capacity issues in Direct Provision centres. 

There are now 1,200 people living in emergency set-ups around Ireland. The department has paid over €12 million to private business owners running hotels and B&Bs in that time.

“It’s the emergency centres at the moment that are generating additional work for us,” the Tyndall said, responding to a question from Sinn Féin senator Niall Ó Donnghaile.  

Tyndall also offered a rebuke to those opposed to Ireland offering support to asylum seekers and refugees. 

Galway’s Oughterard has recently been at the centre of national attention after locals protested against any possible opening of a Direct Provision Centre in the Galway town. 

While the ombudsman did not mention Oughterard, he told the committee that “the issue of populism and the issue of the antipathy to asylum seekers and immigrants is affecting the whole of public discourse across Europe”.

“The reality is that we as a country need to be properly providing for people who come to us as asylum seekers and refugees,” Tyndall said. 

Referring to his own experience living in another country, he said that it is “incumbent on us to behave in the kind of way that we would like to be treated when we lived abroad”. 

With additional reporting by Cónal Thomas

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