Direct Provision: On the Limits of Rights, on the Limits of Law, on the Limits of Politics

Direct-ProvisionThe system of direct provision is 13 years old this month. In April 2000, the system was established as a means of dealing with the relatively large numbers claiming asylum, which it was argued, was leading to accommodation shortages, particularly in the Dublin area. Some 13 years later, despite a huge fall in the numbers claiming asylum and a change in government, the system of direct provision remains in tact. Last week in Seanad Eireann (the upper house of the Irish Parliament), Senator Jillian van Turnhout (a contributor to today’s blog carnival) asked what the legislative basis for direct provision is.  In particular, Jillian asked what precisely was the legal basis for the direct provision allowance payments of €19.10 per week per adult/ €9.60 per week per child, given that asylum seekers are, in effect, legislatively barred from receiving any welfare payments.

The response of  James Reilly T.D (Minister for Heath, responding on behalf of the Minister for Justice and EqualityAlan Shatter T.D.) was revealing in that Minister Reilly did not respond to Senator van Turnhout’s question. Rather, Minister Reilly, while recognising problems with direct provision, maintained:

  1. Legislation for the sake of legislation is not  the answer and there is no requirement for the state to legislate to provide services to those who would otherwise not have access to any form of social assistance protection. This is incorrect, as Jillian noted in her question, Claire notes in her blog contribution today and as I have noted several times previously, the basis for direct provision is the supplementary welfare allowance scheme of providing in kind supports to asylum seekers. Since asylum seekers cannot be habitually resident, and have no entitlement to any form of social assistance payment, theDepartment of Social Protection is acting outside its powers by making the direct provision allowance payments. This also raises a more general question of why Parliament has had no role in providing a legal framework for the direct provision system.
  2. As a result of direct provision no asylum seeker has ever been homeless. Generally, this statement is correct. However, there have been some cases of asylum seekers (behind paywall) being removed from direct provision and living on the streets.
  3. Asylum seekers receive nourishment “on par with” or “exceeding” that available to the general populationThis is very much debateable.
  4. Asylum seekers (under 18) receive education and all asylum seekers have access to health care through the medical card system. This is correct.
  5. A system other than direct provision would be too expensive. The Minister relied on, in my view, the flawed approach of the Value for Money Report on Direct Provision.

Interestingly, the Minister did not deal with Seanator van Turnhout’s question as regards the legality of continued payment of direct provision allowance, despite asylum seekers being legislatively barred from receiving any such social assistance payments. Jillian is following this up with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Both Fine Gael and Labour were vocal opponents of the direct provision system in opposition (see herehereherehere, and here). However, the appetite for reform of this system has not been maintained in government.  The system of direct provision is on the limits of law, the limits of rights and the limits of politics. There appears to be no political push for reforming the system mainly as their would probably be more votes lost than won for conducting such reform. As a nation, we in Ireland have too often turned a blind eye to how we treat the most vulnerable. That individuals remain for several years in the direct provision system is something that has been highlighted for many years. Yet, there seems to be, at best, willful societal blindness to this.  Justifying the system of direct provision on the basis of scare stories of a ‘swamped’ welfare system cannot mean that we as a society condemn asylum seekers to lives of immiseration and institutional living for several years.

A better way must be found. By shortening, yet maintaining legal protections, the status determination process, with swift grant of protection or removal from the state, a limited system of direct provision could still be maintained. With a time limit of six months maximum, all claims and appeals for asylum, subsidiary protection and/or leave to remain could be considered if proper status determination systems were in place. Where status determination mechanisms take longer than this six months, asylum seekers could be moved into self catering accommodation and provided with the opportunity to live independently until such time as the asylum claim is accepted or rejected.