The Direct Provision System: The Time for Change is Now

Direct-ProvisionOver recent weeks, the issue of direct provision has been raised on several occasions within and outside the Irish Parliament (see herehere and here). Breda O’Brien’s excellent article in Saturday’s Irish Times and a letter by a practicing Cork based GP in today’s Irish Times add further weight to the calls (since 2001) for a fundamental reform of this punitive and penal system. A system that indefinitely denies a right to work no matter how long it takes to take a decision on  a refugee/subsidiary protection/leave to remain claim and forces some asylum seekers into communal living for years on end is not fit for purpose.

The Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD and the Secretary General of the Department of Justice (pp. 9-11, p. 13) have defended the system on the basis of a 2010 Value for Money Report. This report is deeply flawed for a number of reasons:

  1. The only people responsible for drafting the report were officials from government departments. There were no representatives from those living in direct provision or of any civil society organisations who seek to represent the interests of asylum seekers;
  2. It was presumed (totally unreasonably) that asylum seekers not residing in direct provision accommodation centres would be entitled to social welfare payments if direct provision was abolished and asylum seekers moved into the mainstream social welfare system.  The Value for Money report did not seem to realise that asylum seekers, like those who are habitually resident in the State, could be excluded if they were able to support themselves.
  3. The report failed to mention that there is no legislative basis for the Department of Social Protection paying the direct provision allowance payment of €19.10 per week. Given that asylum seekers under Irish law are barred from receiving any social welfare payment, the Government failed to put in a saver clause in the social welfare legislation to permit the payment of direct provision allowance.

Comparisons are rightly been drawn between the Magdalene Laundries and the system of direct provision in Ireland (see, herehereherehere and here). With the direct provision system we have swapped the cloak of religiosity for the cloak of private enterprise . Ireland’s treatment of asylum seekers on the basis that they are ‘not us’, their rights are ‘different’ and anything above a life of communal immiseration will attract more asylum seekers is horrific.  We as a nation are repeating mistakes of our not so long ago past, but now substituting societal condemnation of women for societal institutionalisation of those who claim protection in Ireland. There are several hundred individuals currently in this system for several years. The (supposed forthcoming) Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill will not be the solution to those people who have already spent several years in the system of direct provision. The time for change and reform of this system is now. This must involve:

  1. Moving those who are in the system of direct provision for  between 6-12 months  into community living, unless there are reasons individual to that particular case for not doing so and the asylum seeker can challenge such a decision. Where an asylum seeker is moved from the system of direct provision, s/he will have to satisfy all the usual tests for gaining access to social assistance (with the exception of the habitual residence condition).
  2. Ensuring applications for refugee/subsidiary protection and leave to remain are all considered within a six month-one year time frame.
  3. Where refugee/subsidiary protection or leave to remain is not going to be  granted, humane removal from the state in a speedy manner.