An Assault on Human Dignity, An Assault on the Rule of Law: Direct Provision in Ireland

KOD Lyons.jpgThis opinion piece first appeared on KOD Lyons blog on Friday, 11 October 2013. KOD Lyons in a human rights and criminal law firm based in Dublin, with substantial expertise in immigration and asylum law

Dr Liam Thornton is a lecturer in law and director of clinical legal education in the Sutherland School of Law

The system of direct provision is 13 years old this year. 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 intact. Over those 13 years, asylum seekers, migrants, non-governmental organisations, politicians of various hue, lawyers and academics have constantly highlighted the horrific conditions of enforced poverty in direct provision, hoisted upon asylum seekers exercising their legal entitlement to have their claims for refugee/subsidiary protection/leave to remaindetermined.

In light of Carl O’Brien’s series of articles on direct provision in the Irish Times, the plight of those forced to spend many years in this system, has once again highlighted the significant problems with direct provision. The response of the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD is minimal at best. While welcoming the publication of inspection reports (as long as it includes all inspection reports over the last 13 years), this does not deal in anyway with the significant amount of time asylum seekers in Ireland are condemned to the modern day migrant Magdalenes’ of Ireland. The reliance on a supposedly faster system for determining protection claims in the (yet to be seen) Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill is not good enough.

The Northern Ireland High Court has already refused to return a Sudanese family to Ireland on the basis that the best interests of the child members of this family would not be protected in Ireland. Given the porous border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, the Ministers for Justice and Social Protection should take note. In the Irish High Court, a challenge to the system of direct provision is currently underway and working its way through the court.

The approach of successive governments since 2000 to the social and economic rights of asylum seekers has shown scant regard to any notion of the rule of law operating within the system of direct provision or in the social welfare system generally. There is no legislative basis for the direct provision system and the derisory payment of €19.10 per week per adult asylum seeker (€9.60 per child) made by the Department of Social Protection is outside its powers, as they are legislatively barred from making such regular weekly payments as a supplementary welfare allowance payment, due to the habitual residence condition.

The assault on the rule of law as a constraint on government power continues. The assault on human dignity by the system of direct provision also continues. It remains to be seen whether the current court challenge to the system of direct provision will bring about a situation where the socio-economic rights of asylum seekers are respected by Ireland. For now, asylum seekers coming together themselves, human rights organisations like the Irish Refugee CouncilNasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, the Free Legal Advice Centres and Doras Luimní continue to highlight the inherent injustice, unfairness and inhumanity of the direct provision system. Lawyers, practicing or academic, with an interest in ensuring the rule of law and human rights, trump unrestrained government power, need to add their voices to call for an end to the direct provision system.