The Budget 2019 proposed increase in a weekly payment to persons seeking asylum in the direct provision system, is the first time the Oireachtas will ever approve, by means of a budget vote, direct provision allowance/daily expenses allowance. The adult rates of payment will now be €38.80 for an adult and €29.80 for a child. There was no fanfare, there was no big ministerial announcement, there was just the quiet (almost) implementation of a recommendation made three and a half years ago in the McMahon Report.
The introduction of the direct provision allowance for persons in the direct provision system was initially set at €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child in the year 2000., This was done in secret, by Government, with no approval or oversight by the Oireachtas. This was done by means of a Departmental Circular in April 2000: SWA Circular 04 00 . This type of law-making was found to be absolutely a-OK by the Irish courts in 2014.
In 2016, after years of doing little on this, (will engage with the McMahon Report below) the then Minister for Social Protection issued a press release to announce an increase of the child rate of the allowance to €15.60. Needless to say, the huddled mass of children condemned to a life in direct provision in Ireland arose en masse to praise Joan Burton’s benevolence and kindness of her royal ministerial order of an additional €5 per week. Joan, post election, was snatched of her birth-right to High State Office by the sometime bold boy-prince placed in Social Protection as Taoiseach Enda wanted to bring (now Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar down to size.
As part of a cynical and wholly orchestrated choreography to assist Leo’s run for leadership of Fine Gael, so he did not appear to dislike poor people so much, and after an unusually specific letter for an increase in the payment for children in direct provision from Children’s Rights Alliance, then Minister Leo by his hand, under his seal and by virtue of his high majesty decreed that direct provision allowance would be €21.60 for children and adults. Leo, the great equalizer, the great protector of children, wanted to treat functioning adults as children (but then again direct provision treats adults like children, so not a big skip or a jump).
The increase yesterday, followed a sustained campaign for eighteen years that focused on the experience of asylum seekers having to live on subsistence deprivation rates, and denied self-sufficiency/the freedom to work in essence until July 2018. Now, if the Department of Social Protection did want to implement the essence of the McMahon Report recommendations (which are timid!), then they would have ensured to account for inflation between June 2015 and March 2019 with the adult rate (when I imagine the new rates come into effect?). For children, the payment should be linked to the ‘qualified child rates’ under social welfare law. So in light of increases to these yesterday, people raising children under 12 in direct provision should get a payment of €34 and those raising children over 12 in direct provision, should get a payment of €37.
I do not believe it is an adequate increase to be honest, but I do applaud the public manner in which it was introduced by Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty -and I suspect one or two other Ministers would have had to fight for this also. An acquaintance among a section of civil servants in Justice -who up to now had successfully prevented payment increases for asylum seekers at almost every turn- have told me some are “apoplectic”.
This year has been an interesting one as regards enhancing the rights of asylum seekers, with the setting down of the rights, entitlements and obligations to/of persons claiming asylum within law clearly and categorically for the first time ever. The introduction of the right to work, the placement of clear legal obligations upon the Reception and Integration Agency, and now the increase in direct provision allowance -from now on the be called the ‘Daily Expenses Allowance’ (see p.86 here)- are all significant improvements to the rights of asylum seekers. That some asylum seekers are been denied their clear legal rights to shelter over the last short while, must be rectified by the Reception and Integration Agency, or the Department of Justice as a matter of urgency, otherwise it will be resolved- with somewhat less urgency-by the superior courts.
None of these changes, on their own, or as a whole impact upon my ultimate analysis that direct provision as a system, where persons are subjected to it for a significant period of time, will violate Ireland’s freely accepted international human rights obligations- even if human rights legal obligations towards persons in the asylum system, are not as all embracing as I would like them to be.
However, 2018 has proven to be a really interesting year so far as regards the rights of persons seeking asylum in Ireland. Maybe the mantra of ‘yes equality‘ has, in a limited manner, and painfully slowly, begun to take hold? Or maybe I’m (still) very naive.