I am responding on this subject today on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D.
In responding to this very specific motion, I feel it necessary, firstly, to put on record what Direct Provision means and how we fulfill our obligations to those persons who apply for international protection from this State.
The policy of direct provision and dispersal is one of the central features of the State’s asylum system. The Minister has recounted in responses to Dáil Questions how the direct provision system was a necessary response to the increasing number of asylum seekers arriving into the State given the incapacity of the structures dealing with homelessness to cope with the crisis.
Direct Provision is, essentially, a cashless system whereby the residents of accommodation centres are provided with food and other services on a full board basis. Residents do not have to pay for rent, electricity, heating, food, maintenance or other costs. Health and education services from mainstream hospitals/clinics and schools are provided in the same way as for Irish citizens. Residents receive a weekly direct provision allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child. They are also entitled to supports under the Community Welfare Scheme.
There are currently 4,836 persons seeking international protection residing in 35 Direct Provision accommodation centres across 17 counties under contract to the Reception & Integration Agency (RIA), an operational unit of the Irish Naturalisation & Immigration Service (INIS) of the Department of Justice and Equality. Three of these 35 centres are State owned: that is to say, the land and buildings are owned by the State. But for all 35 centres, their management is provided by private companies under contract to RIA.
RIA does not own, lease or rent premises from commercial contractors. Rather, it 'contracts-in' a comprehensive range of services and facilities, which include accommodation, housekeeping etc., for a fixed sum over the period of the contract. The Minister has explained in numerous responses to Dáil Questions that RIA negotiates separately with each contractor and it is not in the interests of the taxpayer that details of rates paid to individual contractors for current contracts are provided publicly.
Because of reducing numbers and significant cost cutting measures put in place by RIA, the overall cost of the Direct Provision system in declining. In 2008, RIA spent €91.5 million. In 2012, the estimate provision is €63.5 million and this represents a decline of 30% over four years. A breakdown of these expenditure costs are shown on RIA's Annual Reports for the years 2007 to 2011 inclusive, which are published in its website.
Because different rates are paid to different contractors and because residents receive a range of welfare, medical, legal and educational benefits not covered in the RIA budget, a note of caution has to be sounded in providing a statistic showing the cost per individual to the State of keeping asylum seekers in the Direct Provision system.
Nonetheless, taking the overall RIA expenditure of €69.5 million in 2011 and the number of residents at the mid-point of that year – 5745 - then this would represent a cost per RIA resident of just over €12,000 per year.
It is worth noting that in 2010, a Value for Money review of the Direct Provision system found that – and I quote:
"From comparison with a number of options including social welfare and self-catering, the chosen policy of direct provision was found to be the best choice for a number of reasons. It is less costly, it is less likely to act as an incentive to new asylum seekers (asylum shopping) and it allows the State to manage the challenge of asylum seekers in a way that reduces pressure on local services."
A copy of that report is on the Oireachtas and RIA websites.