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Opinion 'Direct provision has been a disaster'

Numerous reports and recommendations have cast a light on the failings, writes Ronan Herlihy.

WE HAVE A long history of scandals to our name. In times gone by, scandals involving the Catholic Church have been prominent. Scandals surrounding politicians have received plenty of attention.

Some scandals were so dishonourable that we even went as far as setting up tribunals to deal with them.

We now have a 4-step plan with dealing with scandals: exposure, outrage, tribunal and more outrage.

A disaster

However, one scandal has stayed constant for nearly two decades. One scandal has looked us straight in the eyes and refused to blink. One scandal has refused to go away and it is this scandal that will judge us as a country in years to come. To cut to the chase, direct provision has been a disaster.

There have been an abundance of reports and a litany of articles written highlighting the ungodly conditions service users encounter on a daily basis.

Up to December 2017, there were 5,096 people in direct provision. Total capacity in the 34 centres spread across 17 counties, means we are operating at a capacity of 93%.

Service users have repeatedly spoken open heartedly of being monitored 24/7 like prisoners, their only crime being that they came here from their war ravaged countries, in search of hope and to fulfil whatever ambition they might possess.

Right to work

Here’s a case in point. Up to recently service users have been unable to seek work legally. This has since changed due to a Supreme Court ruling. As all service users receive only €21.60 per week, this ruling is welcome and can only be seen as a step in the right direction. But all is not as it seems.

Service users are still encountering barriers. Even with this ruling, they cannot take up employment in jobs, that pay below €30,000 per year. Additionally, before they take up this work they are required to pay between €500 and €1,000 for a work permit. If that wasn’t enough, they are prohibited from taking up work in a variety of sectors such as childcare, hospitality and construction.

So basically we set standards and barriers which we don’t apply to ourselves.

Direct provision was initially seen as an interim arrangement for 6 months per individual. However, the light touch approach that successive governments has taken, has seen service users spend an average of 23 months in direct provision centres.


Of these 34 centres only two are self-catering and one is a reception centre. During time spent here, they are subjected to a constant routine of assimilation. We have chosen to segregate them to the fringes of society.

Simple restrictions such as not been able to cook for oneself, or even freedom of bringing your child to the shop for a treat might not seem like a big deal. But try it for a prolonged period. Try living in a canteen environment day in day out, where you must eat what is put in front of you, regardless of your dietary needs.

There are currently 1,420 children living within the direct provision service. These children have the right to attend primary and secondary school but cannot continue to third level.

Whatever happened to education been the gateway to opportunity? As highlighted earlier, the scandal of direct provision is not a new phenomenon.

Reports and recommendations

Numerous reports and recommendations have cast a light on the failings. But we need to ask ourselves, how many reports need to be conducted before we see real change? How many more current and past service users need to speak out highlighting the degrading conditions within the service, before the government finally acts?

Evidently, it’s either a case that the government don’t see it as a priority or they think that the status quo should continue.

I have no doubt that the structures of direct provision were made in good faith, but what was once seen as a solid foundation to opportunity, has since turned into quicksand.

What behoves us as a nation is that we deal with this issue now.

Ronan Herlihy is a Politics and Sociology student in National University Ireland Maynooth. He blogs at

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