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O'Gorman will 'consider' State apology on Direct Provision but 'the best thing we can do is create new system'

Plans to end Direct Provision by 2024 were unveiled today.

Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman (file photo)
Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman (file photo)
Image: Julien Behal Photography/RollingNews.ie

CHILDREN’S MINISTER RODERIC O’Gorman has said he will consider a State apology on how people have been treated in the Direct Provision system over the last 20 years.

However, O’Gorman said “the best thing” the government can do is “create a new system”. He added that he is “happy to engage with groups on [an apology] as a consideration”.

Speaking at the launch of the Government’s White Paper to replace the DP system, O’Gorman said he is “aware of the criticism of how Direct Provision has impacted on children in particular”.

He noted that Tusla will have a presence on each new site in an effort to improve child protection in the centres.

“This system has not served children well up to this point,” the minister stated.

Ombudsman for public services Peter Tyndall has welcomed the publication of the White Paper.

Speaking today, Tyndall said: “My own outreach programme and my visits to centres have made me acutely aware of the stressful and inappropriate circumstances faced by residents of direct provision.

“I particularly welcome the decision to move to own-door accommodation for families and to end room-sharing for single people, practices I have consistently criticised in reports.”

Tyndall added that he will also “seek to ensure that while commitments are being implemented, the living conditions of people remaining in current Direct Provision centres are not overlooked”.

Under the proposed new system, asylum seekers will spend no more than four months in a six State-owned, not-for-profit centres before moving into their own accommodation under a new model aimed at ending the institutionalised Direct Provision system by 2024.

It is estimated that Phase One will cost €281 million while Phase Two will cost €391 million to deliver. The Government’s plan is based on estimates of 3,500 people applying for international protection annually.

O’Gorman acknowledged the plan is ambitious, particularly given the housing crisis, but he said he believes it’s achievable.

The department intends to build six State-owned accommodation centres with a capacity of 330 people – one in Dublin and the others spread out around the country.

The White Paper paper itself notes that “delivery of what will be a large capital programme within the timeframe will be challenging and require active management”.

“Delays or slippage in the delivery of major parts of the programme could delay the decommissioning of permanent centres,” the document notes.

“The accommodation will be own-door for families, and provide the privacy and independence so many were not afforded over the past two decades. Single people will have own-room accommodation, ending the shared dormitory-styled rooms associated with the current system,” O’Gorman said.

“We have seen the huge ground swell of solidarity for people in the current Direct Provision system. Irish people want to be proud of the support offered to people who come here seeking protection. In making a home here, they strengthen and enrich our communities.”

The minister added that, in order for the new model to be “truly transformative, it will rely on strong engagement and cooperation between the State and not-for-profit organisations”.

“I am looking forward to creating new partnerships with non-governmental organisations as we begin the process of bringing this new system to fruition,” he said.

Following on from protests at the site of planned DP centres in recent years, O’Gorman said his department will work with local authorities and other groups in an attempt to stop the spread of misinformation. He said national and local information campaigns will run to ensure communities are aware of plans in advance.

Need to address processing times

Responding to the White Paper, Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, said: “We are delighted to see the White Paper include plans to introduce a child benefit equivalent type payment for families living in the community.

“We hope that this will go some ways to addressing the consistent child poverty in asylum seeking families. The recommendations around unaccompanied minors are very strong and we particular welcome the emphasis on unaccompanied minors having a final instance decision on their case before they turn 18.”

However, Finn added that “it does not appear that the Department of Justice have engaged as thoroughly or as thoughtfully with the recommendations of the Day Report as their counterparts in the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have”.

“We are simply setting a future system up for failure if we do not address the processing times and the backlog of cases,” she said.

Chief Executive Officer of the Housing Agency, John O’Connor, said: “I welcome the ending of Direct Provision, and the creation of a new system based on a not-for-profit approach, grounded in the principles of human rights, respect for diversity and respect for privacy and family life.”

O’Connor said the Housing Agency looks forward to working closely with the Department, Approved Housing Bodies and other non-for-profit housing organisations “to ensure that people who come to Ireland to seek protection have sustainable and welcoming communities in which they can reside”.

What’s in the plan?

The White Paper published today lays out measures to overhaul the controversial privatised system including the construction of State-run accommodation centres.

The current for-profit system has been repeatedly criticised since its establishment in 1999.

The Government intends to establish a new international protection support service to be in place by 2024 and to be delivered by the Department of Children, Equality, Integration and Youth.

Phase One of the plan involves identifying locations for new State-run reception and integration centres made up of own-door accommodation which will be spread throughout the country.

Wraparound services should be in place from when a person makes their application for international protection with specific vulnerabilities identified throughout.

The emphasis, according to the Government’s plan, is on a person-centred approach to support people to integrate into local communities.

The roadmap to phasing out Ireland’s network of private contracts, overcrowded accommodation and shared living spaces is to be followed up with “a blend of not-for-profit housing models”.

After four months in a State-owned centre, applicants should be moved to their own accommodation through a mix of both urban renewal and community hosting schemes but with the vast majority of people moving into accommodation delivered by Approved Housing Bodies.

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Under Phase Two of the plan, all accommodation will be own-door, self-contained houses or apartments for families.

It’s intended that single people be housed in either own-door or own-room accommodation.

A distribution scheme is currently being agreed with local authority chief executives to deliver this plan.

The Government also plan to use rent-a-room schemes to source some of the accommodation for single people while private tenancies will be used to source accommodation for families “as necessary”.

In addition, the White Paper lays out supports for people throughout their application including education, healthcare, supports for children and victims of domestic violence.

This includes parenting supports and child development services, Vulnerability Assessments which the State has failed to implement despite breaking EU law since 2018 and “special refuge accommodation” for victims of sexual violence and trafficking.

It is planned for inter-agency working groups to be established in every county to ensure integration, according to the White Paper.

The plan also includes expanding the remit of the Offices of the Ombudsman and of the Ombudsman for Children to include complaints relating to services provided to residents of accommodation centres.

The Government’s ambitious plan to end Direct Provision over the next three years comes after the publication of a report from an Expert Advisory Group chaired by former Secretary General of the European Commission Dr Catherine Day.

The Day Report made a number of sweeping recommendations, including a once-off grant to people who have lived in the current system for more than two years. It also recommended increasing access to the labour market and own-door accommodation.

With reporting by Cónal Thomas

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Órla Ryan

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