In 2000, following an increase in the numbers applying for asylum in the 1990s, a decision was taken to withdraw social welfare from asylum seekers and to provide for their basic needs directly through a largely cash-less system. This became known as Direct Provision (DP).
The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) was set up as a division within the Department of Justice to manage DP. RIA has no statutory basis and the decision to establish it is not a matter of public record.1 Originally, it was intended that asylum seekers would spend no more than 6 months living in DP.
On lodging an application for asylum with the International Protection Office (IPO), the applicant is referred to RIA and brought to a reception centre near Dublin airport named Balseskin. After a person has applied for asylum they will be issued with a Temporary Residence Certificate, in the form of a plastic card, which sets out the person’s personal details and contains their photograph. When the Temporary Residence Certificate has been received they will be referred to the RIA office within the IPO building.
Asylum seekers are not obliged to use RIA accommodation and may source their own accommodation or stay with relatives or friends. However, to do so means that the individual is not entitled to State social welfare supports, e.g. medical card, rent allowance, etc. RIA have suggested that it is believed that a similar number of applicants live outside the Direct Provision system as within it.2
After claiming asylum the person is accommodated in Balseskin reception centre for a period of up to eight weeks in order to facilitate an interview with ORAC, health screening and registration for Community Welfare Service assistance. The majority of asylum applicants are dispersed from their accommodation in the initial reception centre after their initial ORAC interview has taken place. It appears likely that this practice will continue under the new International Protection System.
In December 2013 RIA stated that their total capacity was 5,309 with an occupancy of 4,494 residents.3 The number of residents in RIA accommodation in 2014 was 4,364 persons.4 According to the Working Group report on the Protection Process published in June 2015, of the 7,937 persons in the asylum system, 3,607 or 45% live in Direct Provision accommodation centres in the State. This figure excludes 679 persons living in the Direct Provision system who have been granted some form of status.5
The Working Group report stated that “of the 3,607 persons residing in accommodation centres:
41% (1,480) have been in the system for more than five years;
59% (2,140) are in the protection process;
25% (890) are at the leave to remain stage;
16% (577) are at the deportation order stage;
30% are children.”6
As of the end of December 2016 there were approximately 4,308 persons registered as living in Direct Provision.7 At the end of December 2016, the RIA accommodation portfolio was comprised of a total of 34 centres throughout 16 counties, with a contracted capacity of 5,273. These centres were: 1 Reception Centre, located in Dublin, 31 Accommodation Centres, 2 Self Catering Centres, located in Dublin and Co. Louth.8 3.4% of residents in DP have been there up to five years, with a further 2.3 % over 6 years and 8.3% beyond that time period.9
In 2016 the number of persons with some form of status residing in DP centres varied from approximately 450 people to 600 people.10
According to the recently published INIS Annual Review 2016 “At end 2016 there were 4,420 protection applicants residing in State-provided accommodation centres under contract to the Reception and Integration Agency. Not all those 4,420 persons were awaiting decisions on their protection application; this figure included approximately 450 with some form of status residing there while they source private accommodation as well as 269 who have been issued with a Deportation Order requiring that they remove themselves from the State. The figure of 4,420 is 276 less than at the end of 2015 (a decrease of 5.9%). However, this masks the fact that over 1,600 persons entered the system of State-provided accommodation in 2016, while over 1,900 persons left the system over the same period. As the State provided accommodation is entirely voluntary, some of those leaving the system were exercising their right to live elsewhere. In addition, the length of time applicants spend in the system has reduced significantly with only a very small number now in the system for more than 5 years. This is due to a concerted effort to process such cases during 2016.”11
Of note is that anecdotal reports suggest that a person making a subsequent application for asylum under Section 17(7) of the Refugee Act 1996, who has left Ireland and then re-entered the state, is not eligible for support until that subsequent application has been accepted by the Department of Justice and it can proceed to be considered by ORAC. It is unclear if this practice will continue under the new International Protection Act.
RIA also provides overnight accommodation to citizens of certain EU States who are destitute and who have expressed a wish to return to their own country. Programme refugees on their arrival in the State until permanent accommodation has been finalised are also accommodated. Victims of trafficking who are not asylum seekers are also accommodated during a 60 day reflection period.12 In September 2014 the Immigrant Council of Ireland in a submission to the Minister for Justice and Equality as part of the National Action Plan for Combatting and Preventing Trafficking in Human Beings stated that the Direct Provision system and RIA accommodation were inappropriate for victims of trafficking and cited various independent reports on the problems inherent in such accommodation such as the accommodation leaving vulnerable young women open to further grooming and exploitation.13
There have been no reports of asylum seekers not being able to access material reception conditions due to a lack of capacity or space in the system. Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, stated in October 2013 that, since 2000, no asylum seeker has been left homeless by the failure of the State to provide basic shelter or to meet basic needs.14 In addition RIA does not seem to assess a person’s means when considering to grant them accommodation and support. Alan Shatter, also stated in April 2012 that RIA itself has no function in determining whether someone should stay or not in its accommodation, except in the context of rare instances of serious and repeated misbehaviour.15 There is no appeal against such a decision to exclude a person if made.
RIA provides accommodation for applicants up to their return to their country of origin following a negative decision. It also continues to provide temporary accommodation for persons granted international protection or permission to remain in Ireland under Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999. Persons issued with a deportation order which is not yet effected, continue to be housed in RIA accommodation.
Ireland has opted out of the Reception Conditions Directive. The Minister for Justice and Equality stated in March 2013 that the reason for the opt out was Article 11 of the Directive which states that if a decision at first instance has not been taken within one year of the presentation of an application for asylum, and this delay cannot be attributed to the applicant, Member States shall decide the conditions for granting access to the labour market for the applicant. The Minister stated that “this is contrary to the existing statutory position in Ireland which provides that an asylum seeker shall not seek or enter employment. Extending the right to work to asylum seekers would almost certainly have a profoundly negative impact on application numbers, as was experienced in the aftermath of the July 1999 decision to do so.”16
Ms. Frances Fitzgerald, TD, Minister for Justice and Equality acknowledged that the time spent in Direct Provision is an issue that needs to be addressed in June 2014. She further stated that:
“My immediate priority is that the factors which lead to delays in the processing of cases are dealt with. In this regard, legislative reform aimed at establishing a single application procedure for the investigation of all grounds for protection is a key priority for this Government. Such reform would substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements by removing the current multi-layered and sequential processes and provide applicants with a final decision on their application in a more straightforward and timely fashion.”17
Despite continued recommendations from national, international bodies, NGOs and others the government has not made plans to abolish the Direct Provision system but more to limit the amount of time spent in such centres. Minister Fitzgerald confirmed in a Parliamentary question response that she has no plans to end Direct Provision but rather work on improving the system and supports for asylum seekers.18 This is the same approach in terms of the new government established in early 2016. Under the new government the Programme for Partnership Government noted that “Long durations in direct provision are acknowledged to have a negative impact on family life. We are therefore committed to reforming the Direct Provision system, with particular focus on families and children.”19
Please note below in relation to the establishment of a Working Group on the Protection Process and Direct Provision that in June 2015 the Report on the Working Group to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers was published and included over 170 recommendations. It represented the first review of the protection process since the establishment of the Direct Provision system 15 years ago. The Chair of the Working Group Dr, Bryan McMahon on publication of the report stated that the “single most important issue to be resolved was the length of time that many of those in the system have to wait before their cases are finally determined”.20 Minister Fitzgerald in launching the report acknowledged that successful implementation of key recommendations is dependent on the early enactment of an International Protection Bill.21
- 1. In April 2000, Minister O’Donoghue still anticipated that RIA would be placed on a statutory basis (J. O’Donoghue, 13 April 2000); this was later discounted by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (B. Ahern 5 December 2002).
- 2. The Organisation Of Reception Facilities For Asylum Seekers, The Economic and Social Research Institute, Corona Joyce and Emma Quinn, February 2014.
- 3. Reception and Integration Agency, Monthly Statistics Report, December 2013.
- 4. RIA, Key Statistics and Expenditure Breakdown End of Year 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1SQn52y.
- 5. Working Group to report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers, Final Report June 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1LSZc6j, para 3.10, 66.
- 6. Ibid, para 3.11, 66.
- 7. Reception and Integration Agency, Monthly Statistics Report, December 2016.
- 8. Ibid.
- 9. Ibid.
- 10. Parliamentary response from Minister France Fitzgerald to Question no. 70 of 16 February 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2mxc0N9.
- 11. Department of Justice and Equality, Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, Immigration in Ireland, Annual Review 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2lx8fT5.
- 12. The purpose of the reflection period is to allow a victim of trafficking to recover from the alleged trafficking, and to escape the influence of the alleged perpetrators of the alleged trafficking so that he or she can take an informed decision as to whether to assist Gardaí or other relevant authorities in relation to any investigation or prosecution arising in relation to the alleged trafficking. See ‘Administrative Immigration Arrangements for the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking’, available at: http://bit.ly/1HTRdmE.
- 13. Immigrant Council of Ireland, Submission on the accommodation needs of adult victims of sex trafficking in Ireland, September 2014.
- 14. Alan Shatter, Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence, Seanad debate on Direct Provision 23rd October 2014.
- 15. Alan Shatter, Minister, Department of Justice and Equality, written answer to the Parliamentary question of Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, 18 April 2012.
- 16. Alan Shatter, Department of Justice and Equality, written answer to the Parliamentary question of Mary Lou McDonald TD, 27 March 2013.
- 17. Ms. Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice and Equality, written answer to the Parliamentary question of Finian McGrath, 1 July 2014.
- 18. Minister for Justice and Equality, Written answer to the Parliamentary question of Deputy Robert Troy, no. 406, 16 June 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1M0XoYc.
- 19. A programme for a partnership government, May 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/1T4VooO.
- 20. Department of Justice and Equality, Chair’s remarks on the publication of the report to Government, 30 June 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1MxniZe.
- 21. Department of Justice and Equality, Speech by Minister Fitzgerald: Publication of the Report of the Working Group on the Protection Process, 30 June 2015 available at: http://bit.ly/1XDJEKi.