Senator Paul Gavan
The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to confirm how many of the 19 separate recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions in the 2015 Report regarding Direct Provision have been introduced, and if certain recommendations have not been introduced to outline why have they not been.

Opening Speech:

I welcome this opportunity to update the Seanad on behalf of the Tánaiste on developments in the provision of services to asylum seekers in Ireland.

Of the 23 recommendations counted in the mentioned report.

The McMahon report on the Protection Process, including Direct Provision was published in 2015 and is the key driver of change. The Report of the Public Service Petitions and Oversight Committee raises some of the same issues covered in the McMahon report.

The Tánaiste and I are committed to reforming the Direct Provision system in line with the Programme for Government, with particular focus on families and children.

Significant inroads have been made into the length of time in Direct Provision and these will be further improved with the implementation of the International Protection Act, 2015 and in particular, the single procedure.

The Tánaiste is introducing a number of pilot projects before end 2016 which will see the installation of catering solutions in accommodation centres. This will facilitate families cooking for themselves and it is intended that these will be rolled out across more centres in 2017. This work will proceed alongside changes to the accommodation profiles to provide more living space to families.

RIA, through centre managers are engaging locally to develop ‘Friends of the Centre’ groups and an equality and diversity training programme will also be rolled out for centre staff.

The Department of Education & Skills has introduced a pilot scheme to allow asylum seekers avail of third level education.

The rate of payment to children in direct provision centres has increased to €15.60 since January 2016.The Department of Social Protection continue to pay other supports including Back to School payments.

Legislative change to extend the remit of both Ombudsman Offices to Direct Provision accommodation services is being put in place. The Reception & Integration Agency and other Government Departments providing Direct Provision services have always been subject to the Freedom of Information Acts.

Health services to asylum seekers are mainstreamed and are provided on the same basis as for Irish citizens. Asylum seekers in Direct Provision qualify for a medical card and do not have to pay the prescription charge. They can access the same GPs, mental health and other health supports as any other medical card user in their locality.

Ireland did not opt in to the 2003 Reception Conditions Directive or its 2013 recast. The main reason for this relates to the right to work for asylum-seekers who are awaiting a first instance decision on their application after 9 months, which is contrary to national law. The Refugee Act, 1996, provides that applicants for international protection shall not seek or enter employment or carry on any business, trade or profession during the period before the final determination of their application.

This prohibition is restated in the International Protection Act, 2015. The key concern in this regard is that both the asylum process and the wider immigration system would be undermined by giving immigrants who secure entry to the State, on foot of claims to asylum, the same access to employment as immigrants who follow the lawful route to employment. There is an effective visa and immigration system in place for those who wish to lawfully migrate to the State for employment purposes.