Friday, 19 July 2013
Direct Provision System
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Táim buíoch dó as ucht fanacht anseo don díospóireacht seo ar an Athló. I am again raising the issue of direct provision. I have raised it before on numerous occasions from different perspectives. It would be good at this stage to get an update from the Minister for Justice and Equality on the 53 direct provision centres around the country. I know that the Minister has made headway in dealing with the number of people waiting for their asylum applications to be processed and that is to be welcomed.
In recent times, the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, has been quite scathing of the system. People such as Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness have also spoken out about it. A number of Senators, including myself and Senator van Turnhout, have raised serious concerns that if the direct provision system is not addressed, a future Taoiseach will have to make a similar apology to the one the Taoiseach had to make about the Magdalen laundries.
The question I ask is quite straightforward and is a statistical one seeking the numbers in the system currently and a breakdown of the number of males, females and children. We have particular concerns about the number of children in the system. I also seek a breakdown of how many years these people have been in the system up to one year, one to two years, two to three years, three to four years and so on. I look forward to the Minister's reply and thank him for being here for the Adjournment debate.
I thank Senator Ó Clochartaigh for raising this issue and apologise on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, who is at a European Council meeting. The Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, of the Department of Justice and Equality is responsible for the accommodation of asylum seekers in accordance with the Government policy of direct provision and dispersal. The RIA currently provides full board accommodation and ancillary services to 4,627 persons in 34 centres across the State, according to the INIS database.
It is important to note the RIA itself has no function in determining whether someone should stay in its accommodation. Its function is to provide accommodation and related services to those who have sought international protection and who otherwise have no means of supporting themselves. In essence, the RIA accommodates all those who make a claim for international protection and who seek accommodation until such time as they: leave voluntarily; are removed, either by way of deportation or Dublin II transfer; are granted refugee status or subsidiary protection; or are granted leave to remain, either through the process set out in the Immigration Act 1999 or are granted permission to remain in the State on some other basis.
In regard to the first part of the statistics sought, it is not possible in the time provided to give these to the Senator in the format requested. However, it should be noted that similar statistics in respect of the end of 2012 will be provided in the 2012 RIA annual report which will be published on the RIA website, ria.gov.ie, in the forthcoming days. The RIA has further expanded its annual report in 2012 and provided a comprehensive centre-by-centre breakdown of the facilities available to children and adults residing in RIA accommodation.
In regard to the second part of the request for statistics, which refers to the length of time that has elapsed since RIA residents made an initial application for asylum, the breakdown is as follows: as at 18 July 2013, there were 575 residents in accommodation centres who had made their application for asylum less than one year previously, 257 females and 318 males; 430 who had applied between one and two years previously, 201 females and 229 males; 484 between two and three years previously, 231 females and 253 males; 599 between three and four years previously, 270 females and 329 males; 690 between four and five years previously, 333 females and 357 males; 702 between five and six years previously, 345 females and 357 males; 543 between six and seven years previously, 298 females and 245 males; and 604 who had made their applications more than seven years previously, 292 females and 312 males. It was not possible in the time provided to further breakdown the respective male and female statistics as to whether they were an adult or a minor but that should be in the annual report.
The overall length of time taken to process cases to their finality is determined not just by the length of time taken to process the cases by the independent refugee determination bodies and by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service but also by the length of time taken by the applicant and his or her legal representative to respond to requests for further information, etc. In some cases, applicants choose to change their legal representative and understandably it takes some time for the new representative to become familiar with the case. In many cases, applicants will not agree with the decisions reached and will continue to use every avenue open to them, including referral to the courts in that regard. This obviously impacts on the time the same applicants spend in the process and also in the direct provision system. While not suggesting that applicants are not entitled to the protection of the courts and to due process, a consequence of these actions is to extend the length of time the applicant spends in the direct provision system.
INIS has no desire to have applicants remain in the system any longer than the minimum period it takes to process their case. However, ultimately a balance has to be struck between maintaining the integrity of the State's protection and immigration systems and the case put forward by the individual applicant, all of which must be considered within the legal requirements and obligations. In the first instance requirements are set down in primary and secondary legislation and these requirements are constantly evolving, taking into account interpretation of the law by the courts at both national and EU level.
The Minister accepts that the direct provision system is not ideal and many residents spend too long there. However, it is a system which facilitates the State providing a roof over the heads of those seeking protection or the right to remain in the State on humanitarian grounds or other reasons. It allows the State to do it in a manner that facilitates resources being used economically in circumstances where the State is in financial difficulty.
The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, which the Minister intends to republish, should substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements for asylum, subsidiary protection and leave to remain applications. It will do this by making provision for the establishment of a single application procedure so that applicants can be provided with a final decision on all aspects of their protection application in a more straight forward and timely fashion.
I thank the Minister. I am glad more detailed statistics will be available. Does the Minister accept, on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, that the system was set up as almost a short-term solution to a situation and that it is totally unacceptable that 1,849 people in this system have been waiting more than five years for their applications to be dealt with? We must address this issue as a matter of urgency. It is far too long for people to be staying in what was set up as a temporary solution to a problem we had.
I accept, on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, that there is a problem, which I acknowledged in my contribution. Pending the enactment and commencement of the legislation to which I referred, the Minister for Justice and Equality indicated to me that he proposes to introduce new arrangements for the processing of subsidiary protection applications in the light of recent judgments in the superior courts. His Department, in consultation with the Attorney General, is developing a new legislative and administrative framework for the processing of current and future subsidiary protection applications. This work is being given priority by the Minister for Justice and Equality.