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
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
· 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.
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.