Thursday, 2 June 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Direct Provision System
2. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to recent media reports of further delays to his Department’s plans to abolish direct provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28434/22]
Is the Minister aware - I am sure he is - of the recent media reports of further delays to the Department's plans to abolish the direct provision system? I ask him to make a statement on the matter. In his response, I ask the Minister to clarify, in respect of the answer he just gave to Deputy Daly, how many of the 37 centres are commercial and run for profit.
As the Deputy will be aware, I published a White Paper to end direction provision and to establish a new international protection support service in February 2021. In the 14 months since its publication, my Department has placed a significant focus on the delivery of the new model of accommodation and supports for international protection applicants.
As the Deputy will appreciate, the war in Ukraine has had an unavoidable impact on the implementation of the White Paper, as staff in my Department were temporarily diverted to fulfil Ireland's obligations. These members of staff included those working on the White Paper transition team. As the Deputy is aware, upwards of 33,000 Ukrainian displaced persons have come to Ireland under the temporary protection directive, and of those, more than 23,000 have been accommodated by the State.
Last week I met Catherine Day and David Donoghue, two of the members of the external advisory group appointed to oversee the implementation of the White Paper. We discussed the progress made to date on the implementation of the White Paper and the impact the Ukraine crisis was having on that. We also discussed the delivery of the new model of accommodation. As I said, staff from the transition team were temporarily diverted to responding to the need to accommodate Ukrainian displaced persons. I am pleased to be able to say that I have now been able to reallocate those staff back to the implementation of the White Paper process.
However, and I am being as upfront as possible, the need to respond to Ukraine has created delays in recent months. We are doing a review of the project timelines now and we will initially bring forward a revised implementation plan to the programme board and will subsequently publish it later in the summer.
The implementation of the White Paper on the ending of direct provision is a priority for me. It is an absolute priority for the Government. We have the commitment to the provision of resources to undertake that, but we must also respond to the significant pressures my Department has faced over the past four months.
The Minister did not answer my question about the number of commercially run centres, but I hope he will come back to it.
First, we both agree that the scrapping of this inhumane system has to be achieved. If the Minister achieves this, he can be proud but I contend that the entering by the Green Party into a coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which have an appalling record on housing, the dispensing of public housing and lands into the private sector and pandering to the developer-led models they have, was bound to failure. Will the Minister comment on that?
This system was specifically designed effectively to punish people for coming here. In the words of officialdom in the past, it was to lessen the pull factor of coming to Ireland, as if somehow the oceans did not pull people away from either climate disaster, war or famine and all of the terrible things happening across the world in terms of societal collapse. We are failing in our international obligations to live up to that. I do not accept that the war in Ukraine is the whole reason. We were failing before the war.
As the Deputy is aware, the central problem with the direct provision model is its reliance on commercial operators and that is why the State has so few centres. We have seven State-owned accommodation centres as well as Balseskin, which is State owned and operated. Other than that, the system relied on commercial operators. That is the problem with the system, which the White Paper is trying to change and move away from.
In terms of the commitment to doing this, I have received full support across the Government on the White Paper. There has not been opposition to what I have been seeking to achieve. I share the Deputy's critique of direct provision and the reliance on that model for more than 20 years, but I believe there has been a recognition across the Government and society that such a model is not the way to go. People fleeing conflict deserve to be accommodated in conditions that are human rights compliant.
We agree on many things and I am sure the Minister does not get verbal or even officially written opposition to the commitment to end direct provision. The problem is that the Minister is in a Government with parties that are dominated by their links to international finance, developers and the idea of private property for rent and ownership. They have handed over public land and facilities that could have been used not just to house refugees but to end the housing crisis and take the people off the streets; today I walked past dozens of people sleeping on the streets. We have an absolutely disastrous housing policy.
The Minister will not end direct provision or indeed deal with the housing crisis with a group of parties that do not have a commitment to public housing or to ending the sort of profiteering that emanates from it. The figures speak for themselves. Seven out of 37 direct provision centres are publicly run. The rest are making vast profits from State money. This is an absolute scandal and I do not believe it will be ended by just getting a commitment from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. There needs to be a much greater struggle to demand it happens at least on a human rights basis if not further, and to stop spreading the idea that the housing crisis is the fault of refugees.
The Deputy's last comment is certainly not one I have put forward and I do not think it is one anyone in government has put it forward either. However, she is absolutely right in terms of the response to the need to accommodate people seeking international protection. It has to be seen in the context of the wider response to the housing crisis. It is also important that we have a clear plan. For years, we have seen that we need to end direct provision but there has to be an answer to the question of how we accommodate people while they are waiting for their international protection application to be addressed. That is a complicated question. It requires resources and the provision of accommodation. I believe what we have put forward in the White Paper is the way to go in that regard. We will probably have to broaden the assumptions upon which the White Paper is based because there is a greater flow of people migrating internationally seeking protection and that is part of the review process that I have asked my Department to undertake in terms of those timelines.