Check Against Delivery
To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality what changes the government is proposing for Direct Provision as the current system is unsatisfactory.
Senator Mark Daly
I am responding here today on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter T.D. The Minister has responded this year to over 50 Dáil questions on Direct Provision and has addressed this subject in this House several times, most extensively in response to the Seanad Private Members’ Motion on this matter on 23 October, 2013. Therefore much of what I have to say here has already been said before.
I should also point out that there are legal challenges to the Direct Provision system which are likely to litigated in the High Court next year.
By way of context, I should firstly point out that there are currently 4, 381 persons residing in 34 accommodation centres managed under contract to the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of the Department of Justice and Equality. Three years ago, at the end of 2009, there were 6,494 persons residing in 54 centres. So, the number of centres and the number of persons residing in them have decreased by a third in the space of three years. The Minister is not saying that this is an issue which will disappear over time. Rather, the point is that the issue is being managed and controlled.
The efforts of the Minister, and the efforts of his Department, will continue to further reduce the numbers of persons in Direct Provision. The Minister hopes that the new arrangements he has recently introduced to deal with outstanding subsidiary protection applications will contribute to this. He equally hopes that the passage of an amended Immigration and Residence Bill next year and the introduction of a single procedure will make for a more efficient and effective procedure.
The Minister is aware of the Irish Refugee Council’s proposals on an alternative reception system for people seeking international protection. The Reception and Integration Agency will be shortly meeting the IRC at their request in order to enable them to elaborate on its proposals.
What I would make clear at this stage in regard to that paper is that it is notable that the document states that the proposals set out therein "are addressed on the basis that Ireland is now receiving less than 1000 new asylum claims a year." The reality is that asylum trends can fluctuate and that we cannot assume that this will remain the situation. Moreover changes to the asylum system itself, including reception conditions, can and do impact on the number of asylum claims that are made and that this also needs to be borne in mind.
It would be wrong therefore to ignore this "pull factor". While the State has an important obligation to provide refuge for those in genuine need of protection and asylum and it is crucial that we comply with our international obligations in this regard, it is also appropriate to acknowledge that a significant number of those who have during the years sought asylum here have been economic migrants evading our immigration and visa requirements whose personal narratives have ultimately proved to be both untrue and unreliable. The State at this time cannot afford to provide supports and accommodation for individuals who so behave.
I would also like to take this opportunity presented by the debate to restate a number of points about the direct provision system and how it has operated.
A key point to be made– and it is a very important point – is that not once has an asylum seeker arriving in this State been left homeless. That cannot be said for several other EU States. The Minister has said on several occasions that while the direct provision system is not ideal, it facilitates the State in providing a roof over the heads of those seeking asylum or seeking to be allowed, on humanitarian grounds, to stay in the State. It allows the State to do this in a manner that facilitates resources being used economically in circumstances where it is under financial difficulty.
If the State was to allow all asylum seekers avail of full social welfare supports, including rent supplement, the immediate impact would be for all asylum seekers, including those not currently in accommodation provided by the Reception and Integration Agency, to avail of this financial support. As matters stand, not all asylum seekers live in direct provision accommodation as they are not compelled to do so. Accommodation is provided for those who cannot provide accommodation for themselves and do not have friends, family or others in the State who are willing to provide accommodation for them. Some asylum seekers live with friends or family or provide, from their own resources, for their accommodation needs.
The accommodation system cannot be in place solely in its own context. It is inextricably linked with the surrounding international protection process. An amended Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill will be published next year, the purpose of which will be to 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 in order that applicants can be provided with a final decision on all aspects of their protection application in a more straightforward and timely fashion.
The direct provision system remains an important element of the State's asylum and immigration system and the Minister has no plans to end it at this time. The Minister accepts, however, that the length of time spent in direct provision accommodation and the complexity of the asylum process are issues that need to be addressed. His resolve therefore, is to deal with the factors which lead to delays in the processing of cases in order that asylum seekers spend as little time as is necessary in that accommodation system.