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State plans to end Direct Provision by 2024 and replace system with not-for-profit accommodation

The Government’s White Paper published today will lay out measures to overhaul the controversial privatised system.

Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated Feb 26th 2021, 7:50 AM

INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION APPLICANTS will spend no more than four months in 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. 

The Government’s 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.

Under plans published today by Minister Roderic O’Gorman, 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. 

NO FEE TAOISEACH MIN O GORMAN PRESS CONF JB10 Minister for Integration Roderic O'Gorman Source: RollingNews.ie

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. 

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”. 

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. 

The Department intends to build six State-owned accommodation centres with a capacity of 330 people. One of these centres is planned to be be in Dublin, the rest will be spread throughout the country. 

However, the paper 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 [Direct Provision] centres.”

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. 

Dr Day said at the time that the current Direct Provision system is “reactive” and said that people living in the system “bear the consequences” of its failures. 

“A whole-of-government approach” is needed to replace the system, she said, adding that “continued political oversight” was required to implement any new system.  

The Direct Provision system has been repeatedly criticised by migrant rights groups due to the length of time people remain in centres while their asylum applications or appeals are processed, the conditions of centres as well as the psychological effects on those living in these centres. 

Over €1 billion has been paid to private contractors and businesses since the system was established. 

Today’s White Paper also includes a section from the Department of Justice & Equality around processing times for asylum applications.

It will likely prove disappointing considering one of the key elements in reforming Direct Provision is the length of time people spend in the system. 

The White Paper states that “the litigious nature of the International Protection and immigration systems generally presents ongoing challenges.

“While it is recognised that applicants have the right to take judicial review proceedings in the courts, this does add to the length of time that they remain in the system.”

It also states that the Justice Department will not commence a review of progress made in reducing backlogs and improving processing times until October 2022. 

A spokesperson for the Department said additional resources have been secured for 2021 and detailed work including an end-to-end review of processes is underway.

“When this first phase of work has been carried out it will enable a more detailed set of milestones to be put in place,” the spokesperson said. 

Speaking in October, Minister Roderic O’Gorman said any new asylum system will take time to implement and said it was “important that we immediately begin to create a more humane system, rooted in human rights.”

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‘Radical transformation’

The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has welcomed the publication of the White Paper.

However, it warned that deteriorating processing times, continued reliance on emergency accommodation for asylum seekers, and shortages of housing in the community for those granted status risk hampering the realisation of the report’s aims.

“The White Paper on Direct Provision is a welcome, ambitious plan that has the potential to radically transform the integration outcomes of refugees in Ireland,” Enda O’Neill, Head of Office with UNHCR Ireland, said.

“In moving away from accommodating people in centres, some of which are in isolated locations, the new system promises a model which integrates access to services into existing community settings that will promote positive links between refugees and their communities.”

However, the UNHCR cautioned that the effective operation of the accommodation system for asylum seekers could only be achieved by providing fair and fast procedures for deciding on their cases.

“Fair and efficient procedures benefit refugees by ensuring swift access to safety and reducing uncertainty. They benefit governments by reducing procedural costs while respecting human rights principles, and decrease the overall demands on the reception system,” O’Neill said.

“Equally, it is important to the credibility of the entire asylum system that those who are found not to be in need of international protection can be returned promptly to their country of origin in safety and with dignity.”

The UNHCR also urged the government to put an end to the use of emergency accommodation and to appoint an independent inspectorate to monitor new standards in existing centres.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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