The total expenditure by RIA for the system of Direct Provision in 2014 amounted to €53.22 million. In 2016 apart from government run Direct Provision centres, eight contractors operating a network of DP centres across Ireland were paid a total of 43.5 million in 2016.1
Asylum seekers are prohibited from working under Section 9(4)(b) of the Refugee Act 1996. Section 15 of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No.2) Act 2009 states that an individual who does not have a ‘right to reside’ in the State shall not be regarded as being habitually resident in the State. As asylum seekers do not have a right to reside in Ireland they are therefore excluded from social welfare. Under the IPA this prohibition remains unless a person has a pre-existing right to work on their previous status in Ireland. Section 16(3)(b) IPA states that an applicant shall not seek, enter or be in employment or engage for gain in any business, trade or profession.
Under Section 13 of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2003 asylum applicants are specifically excluded from receiving rent supplement.
Asylum seekers receive a weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €15.60 per child. This allowance for adults, despite inflation, has remained the same since introduction in 2000. In early 2016 the allowance for children was raised in response to a Working Group recommendation. The Working Group on the Protection Process in June 2015 received contributions from resident asylum seekers which indicated that the weekly allowance was wholly inadequate to meet essential needs such as clothing including for school going children and it did not enable participation in social and community activities. The weekly allowance was also often used to supplement the food provided at Direct Provision centres. The Working Group recommended that the weekly allowance was increased for adults from €19.10 to €38.74 and increased from €9.60 to €29.80 for children.2 In 2015 the allowances was increased as noted above but no allowance increase was provided to adults. Despite this recommendation, no reference was made to an increase in the Weekly Allowance for adult residents of Direct Provision centres as part of the Budget 2016 priorities.3 Asylum seekers are not required to provide a monetary contribution to the cost of accommodation.
The small amount of Christmas bonus given to asylum seekers in DP also effectively excluded them from being able to celebrate over the festive period with adults only receiving a bonus of €16.23 and children receiving €13.2. The weekly allowance for asylum seekers and their children, and the “bonus”, are so low that families in direct provision are “effectively unable to participate in Christmas” according to Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance. “We know children in direct provision try to hide the fact that they live there because they are so ashamed of the poverty. Christmas makes the reality of that poverty even starker for them.4
The Working Group report noted that “apart from the weekly allowance, residents are not eligible to apply for other social protection supports with the exception of Exceptional Needs Payments (ENPs) and the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.”5
Both the Irish Refugee Council6 and Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC)7 have stated that the small weekly allowance payment inhibits participation in family and community life. The Irish Refugee Council state that children are unable to ‘fully participate in the Irish education system’ due to limitations in purchasing uniforms, school supplies and to attend school trips.8 On Universal Children’s Day on 20 November 2014, the Irish Refugee Council repeated its call for an end to the Direct Provision system, noting that one third of Direct Provision residents are children.9 Similarly April 2015 marked fifteen years since the establishment of the Direct Provision, The Human Rights in Ireland blog marked it by hosting a week-long event with contributions from a cross section of civil society, NGOs, supporters and legal professionals highlighting the issue of Direct Provision: 15 years of reports, research, newspaper articles, blogs, videos and quotes about the damage this system has caused and continues to cause.
At all centres apart from self-catering accommodation, residents receive all meals. There are currently two self-catering accommodation centres, in Dublin and Louth, with a total capacity of 88. Apart from these self-catering centres, in general residents are not allowed to cook their own food while living in an accommodation centre and have no autonomy in relation to their own personal food choices.10
In April 2014 an article in the Irish Times suggested that not allowing asylum seekers to cook their natural ethnic foods is cruel and degrading.11
In May 2014 Nasc released a report on food in Direct Provision. The report concluded that food provided in Direct Provision centres is not satisfactory, food does not represent the cultural and multi-faith religious needs of asylum seekers living in Direct Provision centres in Cork City, and that the food system in Direct Provision has a negative impact on families and children who are residents of Direct Provision centres.12
While persons receiving Direct Provision support are entitled to food, accommodation and a small financial allowance they are not entitled to access the mainstream welfare system because they are deemed not to be habitually resident.13 This exclusion from the social welfare system makes it difficult to make a comparison between the level of material support given to persons receiving Direct Provision support and the allowance given to Irish nationals or other persons deemed habitually resident. However, the communal nature of the accommodation, the small financial allowance and the fact that persons are given food, rather than allowed to cook their own food, indicates that Direct Provision is at the very least inferior to social welfare. Of note is that, in April 2014, a legal challenge against Direct Provision was brought in the High Court.14 One of the grounds of the challenges was the refusal to consider the applicant’s right to work and the exclusion of asylum seekers and persons seeking subsidiary protection from accessing the mainstream social welfare system.
In September 2014 asylum seekers in one of the biggest Direct Provision centres in Ireland refused food in protest at the conditions at the Athlone Accommodation Centre. Asylum seekers resident there stated that ongoing concerns regarding food, hygiene and living conditions had not been addressed by the management of the Direct Provision centre.15 Similar protests were also held at other Direct Provisions such as Mount Trenchard, Kinsale Road, Birchwood House and Atlantic House. In December 2014 the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission among other recommendations concerning Direct Provision explicitly recommended “respecting residents’ right to prepare and cook food appropriate to their culture, diet and individual needs during time spent in Direct Provision.”16 Another issue was the times in which meals were available for residents. Some children complained of hunger and said that they were not given enough food according to the consultations with the Working Group. Direct provision kitchen opening times are not necessarily tailored to cater for children returning from school.17
In relation to food the Working Group recommended the following:
The Reception and Integration Agency should engage a suitably qualified person to conduct a nutrition audit to ensure that the food served meets the required standards including for children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and the needs of those with medical conditions affected by food, such as diabetes.
Include an obligation in new contracts to consult with residents when planning the 28 day menu cycle.18
In relation to the legal challenge against Direct Provision Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh delivered his decision in the case of C.A. and T.A v The Minister for Justice and others on Friday, 14 November 2014.19 Specifically in relation to the challenge ground concerning whether the payment of weekly allowance was ultra vires, it was held by the High Court that that the payments of €19.10 and €9.60 for adults and children per week respectively were legal. Mr. Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh refused the main grounds of the challenge but held that elements of the house rules issued by RIA where unlawful and found that the applicants were entitled to an independent complaints handling process.20
In November 2016 a pop-up café called ‘Our Table’ was established in Dublin to highlight the cooking ban for DP residents across the country. The café was established to raise awareness of the conditions in DP for asylum seekers.21 A similar café was also established in Galway. In response to a parliamentary question in 2016 Minister Fitzgerald stated that pilot projects were being carried out in relation to access to cooking facilities across some DP centres.22 On reporting on the progress of implementing the recommendations of the Working Group report, Minister Fitzgerald stated with respect to cooking that “a programme of independent living is being rolled out across the centres to enable residents to have access to self-catering options. Self-catering is now in operation in Mosney with further kitchens installed and becoming available for use by residents in centres in Clonakilty, Kinsale Road, Knocklisheen and St Patrick’s in Monaghan. In addition a food hall was opened at Mosney in January this year which allows residents to acquire their own food through a points system. Variants of this system will be rolled out to other centres such as Athlone.”23
- 1. The Irish Times, State paid €43.5 million to eight Direct Provision operators in 2016, 23 February 2017.
- 2. Working Group to report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers, Final Report June 2015, para 5.30, 208.
- 3. Department of Justice and Equality, Budget allocation for Justice Sector will help Gardai to tackle crime and will support important reforms and developments across a range of Agencies according to Minister Fitzgerald, 13 October 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1R9bR7y.
- 4. The Irish Times, Christmas bonus for asylum seekers in Direct Provision is 16 Euros, 28 November 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2n5GUZc.
- 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, para 5.5, 203.
- 6. Irish Refugee Council, “State Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion: The case of children in state accommodation for asylum seekers”.
- 7. One Size Doesn’t Fit All, A legal analysis of the direct provision and dispersal system in Ireland, 10 years on.” Free Legal Advice Centres, November 2009.
- 8. Irish Refugee Council, “State Sanctioned Child Poverty and Exclusion: The case of children in state accommodation for asylum seekers”.
- 9. Irish Refugee Council, Direct Provision System Must End, 20 November 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1vrVi0k.
- 10. Oireachtas Library and Research Service, Overview of the system of Direct Provision in Ireland, 27 May 2015, available at: http://bit.ly/1EZRvFM.
- 11. Irish Times, ‘Stand up for the right to cook’, 29 April 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1IkliiX .
- 12. Nasc, ‘What’s Food Got To Do With It: Food Experiences of Asylum Seekers in Direct Provision’ by Keelin Barry, Published by Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, available at: http://bit.ly/1lUQuZH.
- 13. Liam Thornton, ‘Reception Conditions for Asylum Seekers in Ireland: The Need for a Legislative Basis’, Human Rights in Ireland, available at: http://bit.ly/1CWykmi.
- 14. High Court, C.A and T.A. (a minor) v Minister for Justice and Equality, Minister for Social Protection, the Attorney General and Ireland, Judgment of 14 November 2014.
- 15. The Irish Times, Asylum Seekers refuse food in protest over conditions at Direct Provision Centre, Carl O’ Brien, 5 September 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1LF9wkb.
- 16. Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Policy Statement on the System of Direct Provision in Ireland, 10 December 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/20fIaZ5.
- 17. Working Group to report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers, Final Report June 2015, para 4.93, 173.
- 18. Ibid, para 4.102, 174.
- 19. C.A. & T.A. v Minister for Justice and others  IEHC 532.
- 20. Mac Eochaid J. adjourned the challenge on the right to work as there is currently another High Court challenge pending on this issue. See Liam Thornton, Human Rights in Ireland, Direct Provision in the Irish High Court: The Decision, 17 November 2014.
- 21. www.ourtable.ie; The Irish Times, New café addresses direct provision’s cooking ban, 9 November 2016.
- 22. Response to parliamentary question, Minister Frances Fitzgerald, question 136 of 16 September 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2lSDFnO.
- 23. Department of Justice and Equality, Tanaiste Fitzgerald and Minister Stanton announce further significant progress on the McMahon report, Direct Provision and supports to asylum seekers, 23 February 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2msQnwS.