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White Paper for ending Direct Provision 'won't work unless processing times get significantly shorter' - O'Gorman

There are 5,225 people living in Direct Provision at present and a 1,185 people living in hotels and B&Bs.

Minister Roderic O'Gorman
Minister Roderic O'Gorman

A PROGRAMME BOARD to oversee implementation of the Government’s White Paper on ending Direct Provision is set to begin its work in the coming weeks, Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman has said. 

The White Paper published in February said that by 2024 a new not-for-profit model to replace Direct Provision will be set up with people placed in State-owned centres for up to four months and then supported to move into local housing. 

Fundamentally it committed to ending congregated settings run by private contractors. 

Three months after O’Gorman and Taoiseach Micheál Martin launched a plan to end Ireland’s current system of accommodating Internal Protection Applicants, the Minister tasked with delivering on his Government’s commitment has said procurement for new accommodation in line with this plan will begin later this year. 

There are 5,225 people living in Direct Provision at present and 1,185 people living in hotels and B&Bs. A total of €51.3 million has been spent on Emergency Accommodation since May 2020.

A number of private companies are likely to remain contracted until a new system is in place by 2024, however, said O’Gorman, who added his Department’s main aim this year is to end the use of Emergency Accommodation, which has been widely criticised as sub-standard even by current Direct Provision centre standards.

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As O’Gorman moves to implement the White Paper NGOs have raised concerns about the challenges facing his Department and ask why the Department of Justice & Equality – which processes applications for International Protection – did not adopt certain measures outlined in October’s Day Report.

A report from an Expert Advisory Group headed by former European Commissioner Catherine Day recommended last year that a once-off amnesty be granted to people who had been living in Direct Provision for more than two years in order to address the current backlog of cases for International Protection.

Under this scenario, people would be allowed remain in Ireland for up to 5 years, a move backed by The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland [MASI], Cork-based NGO NASC and one Irish Refugee Council CEO Nick Henderson said could “reset” Ireland’s asylum system, paving the way for accommodation reform.

“In our opinion there is a risk that the Department of Integration are stuck in the middle
between the Department of Justice in control of decision making and the Department of
Housing who can impact on future housing options,” said IRC’s Henderson.”

“There are long delays and a large backlog at the International
Protection office,” he said. “There is a real risk that these issues will impact on the the Department of Children’s ability to wind down Direct Provision, even within that the
2024 timeline.”

Meanwhile, a comparison analysis of the White Report and the Day Report carried out by the Irish Refugee Council shows that a total 30% of recommendations contained within the Day Report were adopted by the White Paper.

A further 70% fo recommendations were either not adopted, partly-adopted or are under consideration. A number of these fall under the Department of Justice’s remit, including issues related to the International Protection Office, Legal Aid and Deportations.

“There is a clear trend within the White Paper that issues relating to the
Department of Justice recommended by the day Report have either not been adopted or
parked for consideration at a later date,” said Henderson.A spokesperson for the justice department said the International Protection Office “continues to explore new ways of working but it must operate within legal and logistical constraints, with the health and safety of all involved as an absolute priority.

“In-person contact and support, which remains an indispensable part of the process, also presents the greatest challenges during Covid-19.

“The interview schedule for the IPO has been severely disrupted by Covid-19 restrictions. As a result, no interviews were conducted in 2021 from January to the first week in May. 

“However, from 10 May, the IPO commenced video interviews with the applicant in one room and the interviewer in another room of the same building.

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“This is in compliance with health and safety guidance. The IPO is following public health advice which recommends an incremental increase of interviews and a schedule is being put in place that reflects both this and existing resources.

“Interviews are currently scheduled to take place in Cork. Plans are also in place to hold interviews in suitable International Protection Accommodation Service centres, starting with centres in Letterkenny and Galway once additional equipment has been procured,” they said. 

In response to concerns around processing times, O’Gorman said: “All three parties in Government are committed to the full implementation of the White Paper. We all understand the [it] won’t work unless processing times get significantly shorter.”

In addition to the Programme Board – which will be made up of civil servants from across a number of Departments – O’Gorman said a Memorandum of Understanding between his Department and the Housing Agency, which is seen as crucial to delivering new forms of accommodation, is being finalised at present.

“The Memorandum will set out how my Department will work with the Housing Agency, what supports can be given and how accommodation will be identified,” he said. 

Furthermore, an Independent Advisory Group is to be established in the coming months to oversee implementation of the Programme Board and its work, a role O’Gorman has described as “blowing the whistle” on Government if it does not meet its commitments. 

“I know there is a lack of trust built up over the years so it really important to have this independent oversight to give people trust in the process but also to keep pressure on my Department and other relevant Departments,” said O’Gorman. 

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