From August 2017, asylum seekers in Ireland will receive increases to the direct provision allowance payments. For adults, this is the first increase to direct provision allowance in 17 years. For children, this is the second increase in direct provision allowance since 2000. Adult asylum seekers and child asylum seekers will now receive €21.60 per week, an increase of €2.50 for adults, and an increase of €6 for children.
In June 2017, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Department of Social Protection seeking to understand what the rationale for these small increases were. The Department’s response to the FOI request, provides some further understanding as to why the the child direct provision allowances were equalised, however the documentation received fails to provide a clear rationale for the increases in adult direct provision allowances.
Before getting to the most relevant documents, it is important to note that the McMahon Report on direct provision made very few unqualified recommendations: but did in an unequivocal manner recommend that adult asylum seekers be provided with an allowance of €38.74 per week, and children with an allowance of €29.80 per week in June 2015. The increases in direct provision allowance fall far short of this recommendation. (I should acknowledge my significant concerns regarding the McMahon Report and its recommendations from a human rights perspective. See Subprime for excellent analysis on the McMahon Report and its impact. See also Doras Luimni’s analysis of improvements with the direct provision system). In July 2017, the Department of Justice has claimed in its final progress report on the McMahon Recommendations that 98% of all the recommendations from the McMahon report have been implemented, or are in the process of being implemented. Some questions have been raised by NASC in relation to the Department of Justice claims on their 2nd progress report (which stated 92% of all recommendations implemented). Focusing solely on direct provision payment, calculations by Department of Social Protection on 08 June 2017, noted that the cost of implementing the McMahon direct provision increases would be under €3.7 million per year [See document  here].
So why the very small monetary increases announced in June 2017?
On 24 May 2017, Tanya Ward, CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance wrote to the Minister for Social Protection (now Taoiseach), Dr Leo Varadkar (see letter here ).
It may be the case (but we cannot say this in any way definitively), that discussions took place on increasing direct provision allowance among senior officials in the Department of Social Protection and Department of Justice between 08 June 2017 and 12 June 2017 (see schedule of records here ). While I know records exist where increases to direct provision allowance were discussed, these records have not been released as they relate to (a) meetings of government & (b) deliberations of public bodies.
The Memorandum for Government was prepared in draft on 09 June 2017 by the Department of Social Protection, with a number of amendments possibly made by the Department of Justice (see schedule of records here ).
By 10 June 2017 (see here ) a draft press release was prepared by officials at the Department of Social Protection. The press release was discussed and edited, with the most ‘interesting’ edits to the press release coming on 13 June 2017. As initially drafted the press release (see here ) in its ‘Further Information on Direct Provision payments’ section stated (my emphasis):
A Working Group established by the Minister for Justice and Equality and whose report was published in 2015,identified children as a particularly vulnerable group within the Direct Provision System.
On the proposal of the Department of Justice, this was changed on 13 June 2017 (see here ) to read:
A Working Group established by the Minister for Justice and Equality and whose report was published in 2015, identified children as a group of particular focus within the Direct Provision System.
You can access the full schedule of FOI records released to me here.
Overall, these records provide a clear explanation as to why the children’s direct provision allowance was increased, and the reason for the very small €6 increase, although still no explanation is forthcoming as to why the adult direct provision allowance payment was increased.
The claim that the Department of Social Protection administers the direct provision allowance on behalf of the Department of Justice has been a long running claim. For those of us who have explored and sought to challenge ‘legal’ aspects of the system of direct provision, these series of documents are important. It provides clear evidence of policy on increases for direct provision allowance not being led by the Department of Justice, but from the Department of Social Protection. Given the administrative nature of the direct provision allowance payment (as found in the direct provision High Court decision), this doesn’t mean that this has always or will always be the case. The direct provision High Court decision has solidified the ad hoc administrative nature of the direct provision allowance payment. This long running issue surrounding which Department was actually responsible for direct provision allowance now appears to be settled- it is the Department of Social Protection. However, it would be remiss not to note the level of detailed discussion that also took place with the Department of Justice, however unfortunately, access to these discussions were refused. The reason for this refusal is that the increases in direct provision allowance are only “partially” implementing the McMahon Report recommendations, and the McMahon recommendations remain “open for consideration”. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether further increases to direct provision allowance may be forthcoming.