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Department 'feared' plan to end Direct Provision would be undermined without access to State lands

There are concerns new accommodation for asylum seekers could be delayed as a result.

Mosney Direct Provision centre
Mosney Direct Provision centre

THE DEPARTMENT OF Equality expressed fears that its plan to end Ireland’s Direct Provision system could be undermined if it did not have access to State-owned lands, documents released under Freedom of Information reveal. 

The Government’s White Paper for phasing out the State-run, privately-operated system of accommodating asylum seekers was launched in February and committed to building State-run reception centres before providing people with own-door accommodation in urban areas.

It was heralded as a landmark shift away from the widely-criticised privatised system by committing to a Government-led human rights-based approach to housing asylum seekers in Ireland. 

Discussions prior to its release, however, show that Housing officials raised a number of objections to proposals from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration & Youth and insisted that any reference to the Land Development Agency [LDA] be removed.

The LDA is tasked with co-ordinating development of public land for affordable housing in Ireland.

It has been proposed as a fix to Ireland’s housing supply crisis by overseeing the use of State lands for the construction of 150,000 homes over the next 20 years. 

The LDA was one of a number of options for delivering housing for asylum seekers explored as part of Minister Roderic O’Gorman’s plan to end Direct Provision, documents show. 

Ten days before the White Paper was published an official at O’Gorman’s Department emailed officials at the Department of Housing. 

The official acknowledged that using LDA lands as part of its plan was “problematic” for Housing officials. 

However, they said there was a “genuine fear” that without access to State lands to provide housing for asylum seekers the White Paper and its targets would be “undermined.” 

“Our genuine fear is that the model proposed runs the risk of failing to achieve its targets without access in some form to suitable State-owned land,” they said. 

“Without addressing this issue in [the White Paper] the model is undermined,” they added. 

The White Paper lays out a number of options for ending privately-run centres including accessing housing through Approved Housing Bodies and Local Authorities with assistance from the Housing Agency.

Under the plan, six State-run reception centres would be built. Applicants would spend no more than four months in one of these centres before being moved into their own accommodation. However, no sites for these State-owned centres have been identified. 

It is estimated it will cost €220 million to build these centres, and between €235 million and €450 million to provide accomodation in local communities.

But Nick Henderson, Irish Refugee Council CEO, has said that without a commitment to accessing State-owned lands, it could delay new accommodation coming on stream. 

Henderson had called for the LDA’s function to be expanded to include provision of asylum accommodation as part of a Government commitment to ending congregated settings. 

“It is disappointing that this was not included,” he said.

Henderson has welcomed the Housing Agency’s role but said it should not be considered as removing the need for the LDA. 

“Including international protection accommodation in the functions of the LDA may have given longer term access to State land,” said Henderson. “The Housing Agency has a different role focusing on policy expertise.”

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The Government’s LDA Bill, meanwhile, passed in the Dáil last month after considerable debate.

Sinn Féin had also tabled an amendment that would have seen a proportion of units built on LDA lands earmarked for asylum and Traveller accommodation, but this was not adopted. 

A spokesperson for Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said the LDA has been established to specifically address issues around affordability and strategic land management. 

“Its remit will focus primarily on larger towns and urban areas,” they said, adding that given its broad scope they do not foresee it having a role in delivering asylum accommodation. 

Sinn Féin’s Housing spokesperson Eoin O’Broin told The Journal that it would have made “eminent sense” to include this provision in the LDA Bill. 

He said it would have met objectives set out in the White Paper by including a provision that own-door accommodation for applicants be built on LDA lands. 

“I think it’s an enormous missed opportunity,” he said. “The fact that they didn’t pursue it is perplexing.”

The Government’s Housing for All plan was delayed last month and is due to be published in late August. 

It will replace the previous Government’s ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ plan and set out targets and policy for solving Ireland’s housing crisis.

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