Plan to end Direct Provision provokes cautious optimism from Refugee Council

The government’s commitment to end Direct Provision within the lifetime of the new coalition was welcomed with hopeful pragmatism by human rights advocates, following its announcement in mid-June.

The proposal was a key demand of the Green Party during government formation talks, and a white paper on the integration of a non-profit alternative to Direct Provision will be drawn up by the end of the year.

Nick Henderson, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, expressed feelings of hope in relation to the new government’s promise, in spite of the many challenges this task poses.

“We very much welcome the commitment [to end Direct Provision] in the programme for government… It is no longer just a Green commitment, it’s a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael commitment,” said Henderson.

“For the moment, they are still big words on a page and disentangling ourselves from a system like this is going to be a real challenge, but I do believe that the minister who is tasked with this responsibility, Roderick O’ Gorman, the Green Party TD, has complete conviction around trying to end the system,” he said.

Direct Provision was introduced in 1999 as an interim system to provide accommodation to asylum seekers for six months while they awaited the results of their application process.

However, the average asylum seeker spends 38 months in Direct Provision with 157 people having lived in the system for over seven years, according to statistics from the Department of Justice.

There are currently 7,000 people living in Direct Provision in Ireland across 39 centres, 3 of which are state-owned, the rest are run by private developers.

The system has come to the forefront of the media once more as a result of the progressions in the Black Lives Matter Movement in the United States and Direct Provision has been heavily criticised as a prime example of racism in Ireland.

In January 2020, after reviewing the anti-racism practices in place in Ireland, the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for the abolition of Direct Provision.

According to Henderson, the system excludes asylum seekers from Irish society and amplifies racial stereotypes.

“[Direct Provision] has parked people on the edge of a town in a building that is clearly identifiable as a place where other people from other places stay and has perpetuated stereotypes,” Henderson explained.

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent clusters of the virus that occurred in Direct Provision centres have caused further criticism of the often-cramped living conditions in the centres, with occupants unable to socially distance, sparking protests around the country.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party also agreed on a number of short term improvements to the system, such as extra resources to speed up the application process, improved mental health services and reducing the time asylum seekers must be in the country to be eligible to work from nine months to six months.

Sarah McGuinness

Image Credit: Brian Farrell