Check Against Delivery

 

National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2

 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

 

 

Judge Bryan Mc Mahon, members of the Working Group, Ladies & Gentlemen,

 

The direct provision system is in existence 15 years.

15 years is a long time.

But direct provision not just a ‘system’.

For thousands, direct provision represents their home and their community.

For many, many children, direct provision is all they know of life and living.

 

15 years is a long time.

It was about time we conducted a root-and-branch review of a system.

That is what this Government committed to.

That is what Minister of State Ó Ríordáin and I initiated.

Today, for the first time, we have comprehensive assessment.

 

I welcome the publication today of the Report of the Working Group on the Protection process.

 

This Report gives us a clear perspective and valuable recommendations about improving our current systems and processes. The openness and honest engagement throughout the process can be seen right through the pages of this weighty report.

 

Working Group

This is an important report, carefully put together.

 

We were fortunate in being able to appoint a wide range of expertise to the Working Group under their distinguished Chair, Dr Bryan Mc Mahon. Members came from a range of NGO’s, academia and included protection applicants themselves.

 

It was also important that the Working Group included representatives from a range of other Government departments; because while this may be a report commissioned by Justice, its findings; recommendations have implications for the whole-of-Government, across all Departments

 

I will ensure this report receives serious study and consideration by the whole-of-Government; and a cross departmental response is only right. I will be immediately initiating a dialogue with the many Departments and Agencies impacted by the 170 recommendations contained in the report

 

Context

The publication of this Report is also timely in the new context of a significant increase in asylum applications in the last year and developments in the wider European context.

 

Coincidentally, as of earlier this week, asylum applications have surpassed the total for the entirety of last year which was 1448 – itself a significant increase on the previous year.

 

If trends continue the number of applications in 2015 could double that of 2014 by year end. In this context it is urgent that we do what we can to improve our existing protection process and this report is a very welcome contribution to that strategy.

 

In considering the overall report, we must also take account of the rapidly changing immigration situation both in Ireland and in Europe, particularly in the Mediterranean.

 

We have been through difficult economic times but we are now the fastest going economy in Europe. Ireland has always lived up to its international and humanitarian obligations and we will do so in the future.

 

Length of Time

This report reaffirms that the excessive length of time in the protection system as the most significant issue facing those in direct provision.

I am absolutely committed to tackling the lengthy delays in the protection system.

 

It is clear from reading this Report that the successful implementation of key recommendations is dependent on the early enactment of the International Protection Bill

 

I have already published the heads of this important new Bill which will introduce a new streamlined and more effective single procedure for those applying for protection status.

 

The introduction of a single asylum application procedure will greatly enhance the experience of the applicant and accelerate proper decision making on the determination of status. It would address the core process issues specified in the Report and significantly shorten the expected time people would rely on Direct Provision.

 

This bill is a priority for Government and it is intended to have it enacted by the end of the year.

 

I appreciate the need to address the plight of those already in the protection system for over five years. The Government will be reviewing the recommendations from the Working Group with a view to addressing the concerns raised.

 

Condition & Supports

The report also makes recommendations on a range of other matters affecting those living Direct Provision accommodation and all those in the protection system.

 

The recommendation relating to allowances, access to the labour market and other supports will be considered with the utmost seriousness and care by Government.

 

I share the very real concerns expressed in the report regarding some of the conditions in direct provision accommodation.

 

As I referred to already, many of these issues are for the whole-of-Government and that’s why I have started reviewing the working group's specific recommendations with my Government colleagues; and it my firm intention to bring forward a series of reforms aimed at improving conditions, particularly for families and children.

 

The Working Group was asked to set out the cost implications of their recommendations. They have done so and asserted that a more efficient system will save money in the medium term. There are challenges to be met with change. There is a housing shortage meaning that on February 16th last, 679 people in Direct Provision already have been granted status but remain housed and supported within the State system.

 

There are also costs arising from status determinations arising in other Departments and State services that are not within the remit of the Working Group, that also need to be examined. In short there is much food for thought and I assure you these important matters have the full attention of Government.

 

Conclusion

I would like to express my thanks and that of the Government to Dr Mc Mahon for his leadership and to all the members and their alternates for making such a commitment to this process over the past seven months. I also wish to acknowledge the work of the secretariat, Anne Barry and others, in servicing the many meetings and the unprecedented support provided by the staff of the Department of Justice & Equality to the Working Group as it prepared this substantial report since last November.

 

I am very pleased that after 15 years we now have such a reliable document to study. I am confident from my discussions with the Chair that the roadmap set out here is practical in its ambition and sensitive to the dignity of the people impacted by the length of time they remain in the protection process.

 

I look forward to identifying the next stages of our work to ensure the Irish protection process stands up to scrutiny and serves the country and those who apply for our protection, well in the future.