Negotiations for Government and Direct Provision

RialtasExploring the interaction between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party on issues of direct provision provides some possibility, and only that, of a more fundamental re-think of rights for persons seeking asylum in Ireland. Of course, it should be remembered that all these political parties have only ever expressed concern with direct provision in opposition, while supporting direct provision in government.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael general election manifesto commitments on direct provision focused on improving existing systems and speeding up the international protection process.

The Labour Party

10. Direct Provision must be made more humane and person-centred.

The Green Party

9. Will you commit to working towards ending the Direct Provision system and replacing it with a not-for-profit system based on accommodation provided through existing or new approved housing bodies?

Yes. This will take time, but both of our parties are committed to achieving the standards set out in the McMahon Report such as own-door and self-catering accommodation and we need to be conscious of other priorities within the housing sector also. We can discuss this further when we meet.

Screenshot 2020-04-30 at 10.53.41The Labour Party position seems to simply want the full implementation of the McMahon Report. The Green Party position seems to be seeking to end the system of direct provision as currently formulated. Both positions, and the Fianna Fail/Fine Gael response to the Green Party position, leave significant questions that must be considered. The new Labour Party position appears to be inline with Fine Gael’s Manifesto commitments on direct provision and the international protection system.

The recommendations of the McMahon Report that dealt with direct provision were solely designed to make direct provision more bearable, which appears to be the Labour Party’s new April 2020 policy. This ignores the commitment made in the Labour Party manifesto of February 2020 of “progressively abolishing” direct provision, and moving responsibility for direct provision out of the Department of Justice to the Department of Rural and Community Affairs. This change should not be surprising, as the Labour Party had been vocal supporters of direct provision in Government, followed by damascene conversions in opposition.

Screenshot 2020-04-30 at 11.21.23Looking more closely at the Green Party proposals, which match manifesto commitments, taking the response of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael at face value , then the reform proposals for direct provision within McMahon if implemented themselves would not result in anything approach a rights based system of reception for asylum seekers.

Own-Door Accomodation & Standards in Centres

Screenshot 2020-04-30 at 11.40.14First, the McMahon Report never recommended ‘own-door accommodation’.  It did recommend that for single persons, after 9 months in direct provision, they would be provided with a right to apply for an individual room in a direct provision centre. This should be granted, “in so far as reasonably practicable” by month 15. For families, the McMahon Report recommended that by the end of 2016 families should have private living space apart from just the family bedroom within direct provision centres (what the Report referred to as a ‘self-contained unit’).  That own door accomodation is at least on the table within the Fianna Fail/Fine Gael/Green Party negotiations is welcome.

Second, as regards self-catering/cooking facilities, the McMahon Report recommended that by the end of 2016, single persons “in so far as reasonably practicable and subject to contractual obligations” should have access to communal kitchens for food preparation. Families were to be provided with access to facilities to make school lunches for children by November 2015 . Communal cooking facilities were to be available to families by June 2016. All these ‘commitment’ were only to be delivered “in so far as reasonably practicable and subject to contractual obligations“. There has been a significant increase in the last two years of persons in direct provision who have some access to food preparation facilities and communal kitchens.

Screenshot 2020-04-30 at 11.41.16The national standards on direct provision accommodation centres are supposed to come into force in  January 2021. While certainly these standards utilise the language, in places, of McMahon Report recommendations- they do not implement the McMahon Report in full. Only families, under Standard 4.4.7 provides “Families are accommodated in own-door accommodation”. This is defined as  permitting a family to “…get in and out of …accommodation through a door which can only be used by…[the]… family. ” Under Standard 5, which deals with food, there are commitments to ensure food preparation facilities, at least of a communal nature. However, “[i]f a self-catering option is not available, the service provider takes concrete steps, within a reasonable timeframe, to make facilities available for cooking.”

Whether these standards can still be implemented by January 2021, in light of Covid-19, is unclear.

Potential Policy Reforms in Train

I’d imagine Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will state that the issue of reforming/ending direct provision is already under consideration, and attempt to state that this process should be concluded before any new government should provide commitments.

There is an Inter-Departmental Committee , established since April 2019 (?) who are tasked with three aims:

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This very much is focused on compliance (or lack thereof in certain aspects) of Ireland with its EU legal obligations under the Reception Directive. However, there is importantly a commitment to exploring replacement of direct provision in the short-to-medium term. This report has now been completed, and any potential government suitor should request a copy of the report, and please send it onto me! (as it is still at the ‘policy formation’ stage it will not be released under the Freedom of Information Act).

There is a second advisory group,  chaired by Dr Catherine Day, whose task it is to, amongst other things, to “advise on the development of a long term approach to the provision of supports including accommodation” for persons in direct provision. This includes examining ‘best practice’ in other European states. (FOI documents in the office, but documents can be read from this Twitter thread- and role of Advisory groups changed from its initial incarnation). What work this Advisory Group has completed is not clear as I have not made any FOI applications pertaining to this group since December 2019.

We do not need another McMahon Report

The McMahon Report was not a ‘yes equality’ moment, and the Department of Justice (who claimed McMahon was ‘fully implemented’ in 2018), were not the only ones who sought to ignore recommendations. The then Labour Party leader, Joan Burton, did not want to implement the increases to direct provision allowance.

Screenshot 2020-04-30 at 11.52.11The onslaught of Covid-19 has highlighted the absolute unsuitability and rights violations inherent within direct provision as a model for accommodating persons seeking asylum in Ireland. Unsuitability and rights violations within direct provision have been documented ad nauseum since its establishment twenty years ago. Covid-19 has only shone a more piercing light on the daily degradations and controls placed on persons in the international protection system. Necessary medical advice on social distancing is simply ignored by the Department of Justice, Government and the Health Services Executive- with little interest or care in the manner that those subjected to institutional living in direct provision are at a heightened risk of contracting Covid-19 due to the communal nature of living arrangements.

Persons were to be subject to the direct provision system for ‘no more than six months‘, have with government, administrative and public support (or disinterest) become yet another institution that is much loved by state administrative bodies, government  and the public for containing and confining people for being brazen enough to request an assessment of a protection claim. Like borstals, laundries, mother and baby ‘homes’,  homeless shelters and family hubs, direct provision is nothing more than the continuation of long standing policies (with varying degrees of horrificness) to institutionalise societal groups that government, administration and the public do not very much care about. When those subject to the system of direct provision do complain, they are painted by officialdom as ungrateful and feckless, while the entrepreneurs of degradation get rich from the misery of implementing state policy.

The Freedom of Information documentation relied upon in this post were funded by UCD Seed Funding Grant (No. SF1697) as part of the Exploring Direct Provision project.