Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
Direct Provision System
Last year Minister Flanagan and I asked Dr. Catherine Day to bring together an expert group with representation from asylum seekers and NGOs to examine best practice in other European States in the provision of services to international protection applicants, to examine likely longer term trends and to set out recommendations and solutions. The Group is examining both the reception system for accommodating applicants and the system for processing applications, and is expected to make recommendations for changes in both areas. A briefing paper on the work of the group, prepared by the Chairperson to inform programme for government talks, has been circulated to members of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
The Briefing Note includes a list of measures, identified so far, which would immediately improve the situation of those currently in Direct Provision, and on which officials of the Department have been asked to prepare proposals for the incoming Government. The work of the group is advancing at pace and their report is expected by the end of September.
Minister Flanagan and I are happy that this Briefing Note signals far-reaching proposals and we were anxious to ensure that Dr. Day and her Group were free to make any recommendations they deemed appropriate based on an expert analysis.
Last year we also established a high level Interdepartmental Group chaired by a senior official of my Department, to ensure that all Departments are proactively delivering on their responsibilities. The Group is reviewing the management of services for applicants for international protection and considering the short-to-medium term options which could be implemented to improve the system. Its Report has been finalised and is ready to be submitted to a new Government.
The system of Direct Provision refers to the suite of State services and supports that are provided by a range of Government Departments and agencies to persons seeking international protection in the State. It includes provision of medical cards, an exemption from prescription charges, access to education for children, a weekly payment, access to Exceptional Needs Payments, when required, and, of course, ensuring that all basic needs are met, like accommodation and food.
It is important note that significant efforts have been made to reform the system in recent years. Mr. Justice Bryan McMahon, whose report in 2015 has been the basis for introducing improvements to the system, has himself noted that the system has improved considerably compared to what it was five years ago.
Significant improvements made to the system in recent years include access to the services of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children; agreed National Standards for accommodation providers; the introduction of labour market access; and the continued roll-out of self-catering facilities for residents (now available to more than half of all residents).
The new National Standards contain specific actions to improve the lives of children in accommodation centres. As well as the aforementioned access to the services of the Ombudsman for Children, they are also supported by the Child Protection Policies that we have put in place in the centres. In addition, there is a Tusla official seconded to my Department to work with our International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS). This ensures that any child protection issues are swiftly followed up and that the process for referrals is as streamlined as possible.
Currently, around 25% of residents (1,974 people) in the Direct Provision system have own door self-catered accommodation. While, at this time, all available accommodation of this type is fully utilised, families are prioritised when this type of accommodation becomes available.
It is to be noted that the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, in its report on Direct Provision and the International Protection Application Process, published last December, found that there was no clear consensus from the Committee as to what alternatives could or ought to replace the current system. Their Report also acknowledged that any new system of reception and accommodation will need time to ensure the right system is put in place.
Finally, Minister Flanagan and I look forward to the completion of the work of Dr. Day’s expert group and the implementation of major changes, should the incoming Government accept the proposals.