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Statement on Direct Provision - David Stanton T.D., Minister of State, Department of Justice & Equality

Ceann Comhairle,

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter, to put aside some

mis-conceptions about the system known as direct provision and to listen to

and hear the views of colleagues from across the political spectrum on the

current system.

Ceann Comhairle, I would like to set out the context for the establishment

of the direct provision system.

Services for all protection applicants (those in State provided

accommodation or those who live in the community) are delivered under the

Government policies of direct provision and dispersal. This policy was

established in 2000 when the then Health Boards, who were responsible for

homeless persons, found themselves unable to cope with a very large influx

of persons into Ireland who were claiming asylum.

In May of 2000 some 1,500 persons in the protection process were being

provided with accommodation and full board by the Government. Twelve months

later that number had grown to 4,200 and by May 2005 it had grown to 7,200.

As of the middle of March this year some 4,500 were living in State

provided accommodation and of those, 77% have been there for three years or

less – this is an issue to which I will return later in my comments on this


I believe that it is important we are all clear on our understanding of

what exactly is meant by the direct provision system. The direct provision

system is the system whereby State services are delivered directly to

protection applicants through the relevant Government Department or Agency

– for example the Department of Education & Skills delivers education

services through the established school system; the HSE delivers medical

services through the established GP and hospital systems.

In the case of the Department of Justice & Equality, full board

accommodation is offered to residents while their application for

protection is being processed. Not every person who seeks international

protection in Ireland choses to accept the offer of full board

accommodation and of course many choose to live with colleagues, family or

friends in communities across the country, as they are entitled to do.

Direct provision is not about detention, it is not about disregarding human

rights, it is not about treating those in the protection process any

differently than those in the wider community. Since it was established in

2000 some 60,000 persons have been provided with full board accommodation

by the State. Equally they have been provided with full access to the

State’s medical and education services.

Last evening over 4,000 persons were provided with accommodation and full

board by the State. If the State was not providing this service where would

these people have stayed? How would they have been provided with medical

and health care? How would the children be linked in with pre-school,

primary and post primary education?

Previous debate which has played out here in these Houses and in the media

has often focused on a call to end the Direct provision system. I have yet

to hear anyone say what they would replace it with. Cash? Vouchers? Already

vulnerable people whom we are responsible for protecting would join the

lengthy waiting lists for social housing or enter the private rental market

with little hope of finding affordable and secure accommodation. The offer

of State provided accommodation is a guarantee that every person who walks

into the International Protection Office today will tonight have a bed,

food, a shower and medical care. They will not be forced to spend the night

on the streets or to look for emergency housing. This is not something to

be thrown away blindly without care for its replacement, particularly at a

time of housing crisis.

Of course no system is without room for improvement and our job is to

continually enhance and develop the entire system so that the best possible

set of facilities and services can be provided to those in our care. To

that end, the Government commissioned retired Judge Dr. Bryan McMahon to

Chair a Working Group to carry out a report into the protection process and

the system of direct provision and that report was published in June of


The report forms the basis for ongoing improvements across the entirety of

the system involving all relevant Government Departments and Agencies.

The Programme for a Partnership Government (May 2016) states that “Long

durations in direct provision are acknowledged to have a negative impact on

family life. We are therefore committed to reforming the Direct Provision

system, with particular focus on families and children.”

On 23rd February 2017, we published the latest audit of the implementation

of the recommendations contained in that report which shows that some 121

of the recommendations are now implemented, with a further 38

recommendations partially implemented or in progress. In total, 92% of the

173 recommendations are implemented, partially implemented or in progress,

a significant increase on the figure of 80% we reported on last June.

The Department is implementing a large number of commitments contained in

the Programme for a Partnership Government within two broad themes. The

first of these is by way of reforming legislation with the commencement of

the International Protection Act 2015 on 31 December 2016.

A key feature of this new legislation is the introduction of a new single

application procedure which will, in time, significantly accelerate the

protection determination process and by extension will reduce the length of

time which applicants spend in State provided accommodation.

The new processing arrangements will determine certainty of status at an

earlier stage for those entitled to international protection within the

State. The Act is intended to achieve the desired balance between treating

asylum seekers with humanity and respect and ensuring more efficient

immigration procedures and safeguards.

Under the regime that existed up to the commencement of this Act, the

protection process had four discrete steps: a refugee status determination

at first instance; a refugee status determination on appeal; a subsidiary

protection determination at first instance; and a subsidiary protection

determination on appeal. Members will appreciate that given the

multi-layered protection system which existed up to 30 December, 2016,

those refused asylum at first instance but still pending in the protection

process could be pending at asylum appeal stage, pending at first instance

subsidiary protection stage, pending at subsidiary protection appeal stage

or be challenging an asylum/subsidiary protection determination in the

courts through the medium of judicial review proceedings. The process could

therefore be and very often was of considerable length.

Figures prepared for consideration by the Working Group to Report to

Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct

Provision and other supports for Asylum Seekers, in 2015, showed that there

were some 2,695 persons in State provided accommodation for three or more

years at that time. Recent analysis has shown that this figure has now been

reduced to just over 1,200 persons.

The number of persons in State provided accommodation for five years or

more has been reduced to less than 600 persons.

Our analysis has also shown that practically all cases of persons living in

State provided accommodation for over five years that could be processed

have now been processed. The remaining approximately 250 cases have been

reviewed and cannot be processed for a number of reasons – including

applicants judicially reviewing earlier decisions. This was a major

achievement and has impacted directly on the lives of a large number of

persons in the protection and related systems.

The single procedure will speed up the processing of claims and the clear

ambition here is that the day of applicants residing for very lengthy

periods in Direct Provision will be over. People have quite rightly for

many years sought an end to the sometimes lengthy multi-sequential

determination process. The new process is addressing those very issues; it

is in the interest of everyone – not least the applicants themselves – that

all protection applications are dealt with speedily efficiently and in

accordance with the highest international standards.

The second major theme of improvements is in the area of the delivery of

services overseen by the Reception & Integration Agency of the Department

of Justice and Equality and other Government Departments and agencies. The

Reception and Integration Agency oversees the provision of full board

accommodation for protection applicants while they await a decision on

their claim for international protection.

Following from the McMahon report and, in particular, since the publication

of the Programme for a Partnership Government, a number of recommendations

in relation to physical improvements to accommodation are being rolled out.

The following are some examples:

· The introduction of full independent living at the Mosney Accommodation

centre - each family is now able to acquire fresh food to their liking

so they may prepare meals themselves. The new home cooking arrangements

in Mosney went live on 23rd January 2017.

· The installation of residents’ kitchens in a number of accommodation

centres to provide for home cooking by residents and their families;

· Cooking facilities are being rolled out to other centres including the

State owned centres (Killarney, Tralee, Athlone, Knocklisheen in

Limerick and Kinsale Road in Cork) and in Ballyhaunis, Milstreet, St

Patrick’s in Monaghan and any other centres in which families are


· A complete refurbishment consisting of triple glazed windows and doors

and refurbished interiors in each accommodation unit at the Athlone

Accommodation Centre;

· Improvements to a number of outdoor playgrounds and football pitches to

provide for ‘all-weather’ facilities.

· Teenagers rooms in centres to provide social areas for this age group

Recommendations of the McMahon report that involve structural changes or

improvements will be implemented as quickly as possible, with due

consideration of possible fire safety, building regulation and planning


The Department has also co-ordinated the preparation of a

multi-departmental information booklet for persons who have been granted

any type of ‘leave to remain’ in the State. The booklet contains practical

and useful information for residents across housing, finances, healthcare,

education as well as TV licences, public transport and other related

matters and has been prepared with the assistance of the National Adult

Literacy Agency (NALA) to ensure that it is presented in Plain English. The

booklet has been translated into a number of languages

In addition to the publication of the booklet, a number of NGOs have been

awarded monies under the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF)

specifically to provide assistance to persons who have been granted

protection and who are now in a position to move out of State provided

accommodation. At the end of December 2016, there were approximately 450

persons with some form of status continuing to reside in State provided

accommodation. Notwithstanding the current housing crisis, we are working

with the NGO community and residents alike to ensure that those with

permission to remain in the State are assisted in finding mainstream

accommodation as soon as possible and that state provided accommodation

remains available for those in most need.

In January 2016 the Minister for Social Protection increased the rate of

allowance paid to children in State provided accommodation from €9.60 per

week to €15.60 per week.

In recent years the Minister for Education and Skills introduced a scheme

to provide supports in line with the current Student Grant Scheme to school

leavers who are in the protection system and who meet the eligibility


Another key recommendation of the McMahon report was that the remit of the

Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children should be extended to cover those

who are living in State provided accommodation. This has now been

implemented and both offices will begin to accept complaints with effect

from Monday 3rd April 2017.

As can be seen from the foregoing, significant improvements have either

been implemented or are being implemented across all aspects of the system

of supports for those in the protection process.

Ceann Comhairle, this work will continue through the remainder of 2017 and

beyond. Our intention is to ensure that the best possible service is

provided to those seeking protection by way of a speedy, effective and

efficient decision making process combined with a system that meets the

basic needs of persons in that process.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say that I would welcome

applications from groups or organisations with proposals to provide, run

and manage accommodation centres in response to the current call for

expressions of interest published recently by the Department.

Since taking office I have visited many of the accommodation centres under

contract to the Department. I know that in recent times other members of

this House have also visited accommodation centres in a discreet and

respectful manner without fanfare and publicity. I will continue to have an

open approach to any colleagues who wish to do so in the future.

I have spoken with residents and representatives of residents. I have

listened to their concerns and I am working on addressing their concerns.

This work will focus on improving processing times and improving the

facilities available to all those in our care.

Ceann Comhairle,

In conclusion let me assure the House that the work we are currently

engaged upon will improve the processing time for applications for

international protection and the accommodation and facilities being

provided by the State for those in the protection process.

I look forward to hearing the views of members on this matter and I can

assure all members that their views will be carefully considered as we

continue to improve and enhance the full range of services being provided

to those in the protection system.

Thank you.