The Chapter: Reception Conditions in Ireland contains sections on:
A. Access and forms of reception conditions
- Criteria and restrictions to access reception centres
- Forms and levels of material reception conditions
- Reduction or withdrawal of material reception conditions
- Freedom of movement
C. Employment and education
F. Information for asylum seekers and access to reception centres
Short overview of the reception system
International protection applicants are offered accommodation by the Irish State in reception centres under a system known as ‘Direct Provision.’ The State directly provides accommodation and board, along with a weekly allowance for personal requisites (currently €38.80 for adults and €29.80 for children), a medical card and ancillary supports for individuals awaiting a decision on their application for international protection The Direct Provision system is overseen by the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS), a subdivision of the Department of Justice and Equality.
Upon lodging an application for international protection, applicants are referred to IPAS and are initially accommodated at Balseskin Reception Centre near Dublin Airport for a number of weeks so as to facilitate a preliminary interview at the IPO, as well as health screening and registration for Community Welfare Service assistance.
Following the processing period, applicants are then dispersed to one of the 45 Direct Provision accommodation centres around the country. The majority of centres are privately owned and operated and the standards of accommodation and living conditions vary widely from centre to centre. Accommodation can broadly be categorised into three types; dormitory style accommodation, bedrooms with ensuites or access to a communal bathroom and self-contained units, generally allocated to families or those with particular reception needs. The majority of centres are mixed centres, accommodating both single people and families. According to latest available statistics, there are seven single male-only accommodation centres and one female-only reception centre.
In September 2018, the Direct Provision estate reached capacity and consequently, no accommodation was available for newly arrived international protection applicants. Due to shortage of bed space, a number of individuals were accommodated in temporary, emergency accommodation, including hotels, bed and breakfasts and holiday homes. This remained an ongoing issue throughout 2020 and 2021, with accommodation centres still at capacity. This is problematic as it means that applicants in emergency accommodation may not receive the same level of supports that are offered at Direct Provision accommodation centres. As of June 2021, approximately 1,360 individuals were resident in emergency accommodation, 174 of whom were children.
While there is no obligation on an asylum seeker to remain in Direct Provision during the status determination process, if they do opt to leave or stay elsewhere Direct Provision allowance payments are withdrawn. Applicants who opt to reside in Direct Provision centres are accommodated until they are granted some form of status and are subsequently integrated into the community. However, in practice, a significant number of individuals who have been granted status have been unable to move out of Direct Provision owing to a lack of available and affordable housing. The housing crisis in Ireland continues to exacerbate the situation. According to latest available figures, as of November 2021, approximately 1,640 people, with status remain in Direct Provision accommodation.
The transposition of the Reception Conditions Directive
Until 2018, Ireland had not been party to 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 – Article 15 of its 2013 recast – which states that if a decision at first instance has not been taken within one year (now nine months) 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 protection applicants 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.’
However, the Supreme Court in its judgment in N.V.H. v. Minister for Justice and Equality, which dealt with the situation of an asylum seeker who had been living in Direct Provision for eight years with no access to employment, declared that the indefinite prohibition on employment for people in the asylum process was unconstitutional. The Court provided the State with a six-month period within which to review the ban on employment (see Access to the Labour Market) and to make proposals for providing effective access to the labour market for people in the asylum process. In its response, the Government announced on 22 November 2017 that it would opt in to the recast Reception Conditions Directive.
While the prohibition on seeking employment was struck down on 9 February 2018, opt into the Directive was only crystallised by the adoption of the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018 on 6 July 2018. Transposition was done by way of secondary legislation, a statutory instrument, enacted by the Minister for Justice and Equality
Although this has placed the reception system on a legislative footing for the first time, the practice which preceded the Regulations continues to govern the approach to reception for people seeking international protection. In July 2019, the Irish Refugee Council published a report analysing the transposition of the Directive one year later. Particular concerns were the absence of a vulnerability assessment and the rapid increase in the number of people dispersed to ad hoc emergency accommodation premises due to the lack of available bed spaces in Direct Provision accommodation. As of 2021, the extent to which the provisions of the Regulations have been implemented in practice continues to vary.
At the end of January 2021, a pilot programme for the conducting of vulnerability assessments was established at Balseskin reception centre in Dublin. Officials from the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) are carrying out assessments with the assistance of a social worker from the IPO. The pilot scheme initially assessed applicants seeking accommodation from the State, and was subsequently extended to all new applicants seeking international protection.
Capacity in Direct Provision also continued to be a significant issue throughout the year, with 1360 protection applicants, 174 of whom were children, housed in emergency accommodation as of June 2021. The housing crisis in Ireland continued to exacerbate the situation, meaning that individuals who had been granted protection status or permission to remain were unable to move out of Direct Provision accommodation owing to a lack of available and affordable housing. Additionally, given the sustained risk of COVID-19 infections, emergency centres continued to operate so as to enable Direct Provisions residents to socially distance, and reduce over-crowding. These centres were also used to facilitate self-isolation for those who contracted COVID-19. Despite a commitment by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman, to decommission the use of emergency accommodation prior to year-end, 24 emergency accommodation centres remained in operation as of December 2021.
The “McMahon Report” and Direct Provision reform
In relation to the establishment of a Working Group on the Protection Process and Direct Provision that the Report on the Working Group to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers was published in June 2015 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, 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.” Former Minister Fitzgerald in launching the report acknowledged that successful implementation of key recommendations is dependent on the early enactment of the IPA.
To date, the Government has published three progress reports on the implementation of these recommendations, with the final report having been published in July 2017. On releasing the report, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan stated that “133 recommendations have been reported as fully implemented and a further 36 are in progress or partially implemented. This represents 98% full or partial implementation.” However, the organisation Nasc the Migrant and Refugee Rights conducted an independent review of the implementation progress and published their findings in a working paper on the 18 December 2017. Their findings suggest that in reality only 20 of the 170 Working Group Report recommendations could be verified as implemented, with 51% of the recommendations fully or partially implemented, noting poor implementation particularly among recommendations for which responsibility lies with agencies other than the Department of Justice (such as the Health Service Executive, for example). Key concerns emerging from the Nasc review of the implementation progress, which contradict the official progress reports include: lack of regard for children’s rights, including the principle of the best interests of the child; slow and ad hoc implementation of recommendations relating to cooking and living spaces; persistent delays in the international protection process, and the lack of a multidisciplinary approach to identification of vulnerabilities.
In an article published in June 2020, former members of the Working Group noted that many of the key recommendations of the report “have only been partially implemented: communal catering is still only available to half of residents and additional living space has not been widely provided for families and individuals.” It was further stated that “while the Government accepted the report, it never appointed an implementation body or adopted a clear implementation plan.” Overall, the implementation process was “uneven, delayed and at times only reluctantly undertaken.”
In 2018, building on the Report on the Working Group to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers, the Working Group on National Standards produced a draft document consisting of a set of proposed national standards for accommodation centres in Ireland. The National Standards aim to introduce further reforms of the Direct Provision system. The National Standards were subject to a public consultation process which closed on 25 September 2018. The final draft of the Standards were published in August 2019.
The National Standards are designed to constitute a set of standardised rules for every Direct Provision accommodation in Ireland. The draft National Standards cover ten themes including:
- Governance, Accountability and Leadership
- Responsive Workforce
- Contingency Planning and Emergency Preparedness
- Food, Catering and Cooking Facilities
- Person Centred Care and Support
- Individual, Family and Community Life
- Safeguarding and Protection
- Health, Wellbeing and Development
- Identification, Assessment and Response to Special Needs
The National Standards are aimed at the private operators of Direct Provision centres. They are, however, distinct from the tendering process and contractual relationship between private actors and IPAS. Furthermore, the mechanism for assessing adherence to the National Standards is a self-auditing process. There is no provision for oversight of adherence by IPAS or any independent monitoring body. While an important next step to the reforms proposed by the McMahon report, compliance with the National Standards, as currently proposed, lacks any oversight or enforcement mechanism, which may undermine their usefulness. While welcoming the introduction of a set of coherent accommodation standards, the Irish Refugee Council expressed concern at the lack of accountability mechanisms in its submission to the Standards Advisory Committee during the public consultation.
The National Standards became legally binding and enforceable on 1 January 2021. It was hoped that a mechanism for independent monitoring the implementation of the standards would be established soon thereafter. Instead, inspections continued to be carried out by IPAS and a private contractor engaged by IPAS. In October 2021, Minister O’Gorman confirmed that that Direct Provision Accommodation Centres are to be monitored by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) for compliance with the National Standards. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is currently engaging with HIQA and the Department of Health with a view to undertaking the preparatory work with regard to HIQA’s monitoring role. In parallel with this process, the Health (Inspection of Emergency Homeless Accommodation and Asylum Seekers Accommodation) Bill is currently before the Dáil with a view to placing HIQA’s monitoring role on statutory footing.
Report of the Advisory Group on the Provision of Support including Accommodation to Persons in the International Protection Process
In November 2019, the Government announced a new expert advisory group to look at a ‘long term approach to how people seeking asylum are accommodated and supported’. The group, chaired by former European Commission secretary general Dr. Catherine Day, was tasked with making a series of recommendations to end the Direct Provision system and transform the international protection process.
Following an extensive review process, the group’s report was published on 21 October 2020. Launching the report, the group’s chair Dr. Catherine Day stated that a “whole-of-government approach” is required in order to successfully replace the system. She further added that “continued political oversight” was crucial in implementing the new system.
The Advisory Group was concerned with two primary issues – the length of time that asylum seekers spend in the system and the type of accommodation and the support they receive while awaiting a final determination on their application for international protection.
Amongst the most significant of the Advisory Group’s recommendations is the abolition of the “congregated and segregated accommodation” of applicants for international protection by mid-2023. Instead, applicants ought to be initially housed in a designated State-owned reception centre for a three-month period. An onsite multi-service centre should assist applicants in accessing the necessary services and entitlements, including legal aid and post-reception centre housing placement. During this period, applicants should also be provided with a weekly cash allowance, a Temporary Residence Card, PPS number and access to ancillary supports such as a medical card, education and training. Applicants should also receive medical and vulnerability assessments within 30 days of making their application for international protection.
Following the initial 3-month reception period, applicants ought to be provided with own-door accommodation in a local community and be permitted to access a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) equivalent. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage would be responsible for securing housing placements. Social welfare allowance would be aligned with mainstream income supports and multi-service support would be provided with work placement, access to education and training, medical card and integration support for a period of up to 18 months following a positive decision.
In the event that a negative determination is made and in circumstances whereby all avenues of appeal are exhausted, an applicant ought to be provided with own-door accommodation and housing allowance for a period of 3-6 months pending removal from the State. Social welfare allowance would be aligned with mainstream income supports for up to 6 months, while multi-service support would also continue during this period.
The report also makes a number of recommendations that ought to be implemented in the short-term, until the new, permanent system enters into force. These include appointing the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) as an independent inspectorate to examine conditions in Direct Provision centres and ensure that the National Standards are being adequately implemented. Further immediate recommendations include facilitating access to driving licenses and bank accounts, as well as removing restrictions on the right to work.
The report also makes significant recommendations regarding shorter processing times for applications for international protection. According to the Report, binding deadlines must apply for each stage of the international protection process. It is recommended that the IPO and IPAT should issue decisions within 6 months. In order to clear the backlog of existing cases, the report recommends that a simplified approach ought to be taken whereby an individual has been in the protection process for over 2 years by the end of 2020. In such circumstances, the individual ought to be offered permission to remain for a five-year period without prejudice to their pending application for international protection.
The recommendations of the Advisory Group were assessed by relevant Government Ministers and their departments and informed the development of the Government’s White Paper on replacing the Direct Provision system. The White Paper was published on 26 February 2021.
Government White Paper on Ending Direct Provision
The Government’s long-awaited White Paper on Ending Direct Provision was published on 26 February 2021. The paper establishes a variety of measures aimed at ending the system of Direct Provision and replacing it with a not-for-profit model. The paper broadly reflects the recommendations of the Advisory Group’s report and sets out a roadmap towards establishing a new international protection accommodation policy, to be in place by 2024.
The new model proposes a two-phased approach to accommodating applicants for international protection. In Phase One, it is proposed that the applicant will be accommodated in a designated Reception and Integration Centre for a period of four months. The focus during this phase will be on identifying the applicants’ particular needs and linking them with appropriate support services. Accommodation in Reception and Integration Centres will be own-door for families and own-room for single people, with specific accommodation tailored to individuals with identified vulnerabilities. Applicants are to be provided with comprehensive information about the International Protection process, including information regarding Legal Aid Board services, Health services, Education supports, Childcare and Employment activation. An intensive orientation and English language programme will also be provided. Vulnerability Assessments will be carried out in order to determine particular accommodation and support needs and applicants will be linked with appropriate services accordingly. Applicants will continue to receive a bespoke allowance while in the Reception and Integration Centre, similar to that currently provided. In total, six Reception and Integration Centres will be established and operated by the newly established International Protection Support Service.
Under Phase Two, it is proposed that all accommodation provided will be own-door, self-contained houses or apartments for families, with single people housed in either own-door or own-room accommodation. Accommodation will be located in all counties and the location and number of applicants to be accommodated in each county will be determined according to a national settlement pattern. Different supports will apply to the applicant depending on the accommodation strand provided. For vulnerable persons, supports will be provided by not-for-profit organisations contracted and funded by the Department of Children, Equality and Disability, Integration and Youth to provide the service in a particular location. Whereby the applicant is not deemed vulnerable, resettlement workers, overseen by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, will act at county level to link applicants with supports and services. Applicants and their families will have the right to access mainstream services, including education and health services. Access to further intensive English language supports will also be provided.
The report has been widely welcomed by migrant rights groups in that it goes some way towards developing an all-government approach to ending the system of Direct Provision. However, a major weakness identified in the paper is that it fails to incorporate the Day Advisory Group recommendation in relation to offering permission to remain to people who are two or more years in the system. One of the issues associated with the current process is that the processing of applications takes too long, the result being that asylum seekers spend years waiting for a decision on their application, effectively putting their lives on hold. This ultimately causes considerable capacity issues within the system and, unless the current sizable backlog of cases is resolved, implementation of the Paper’s key recommendations will be significantly hampered. The 2024 end-date for implementing the new system has also been widely criticised, with significant work towards establishing the new system not due to begin until 2022.
Following the publication of the White Paper, a team was established in the Department of Justice in order to lead the transition to a new accommodation model for international protection applicants. Additionally, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman has appointed a programme board, including officials from the relevant Departments and agencies and independent members from various non-governmental organisations tasked with overseeing the transition to the new model. The programme board has met four times since it was established, with a fifth meeting scheduled for mid-December 2021. Minister O’Gorman also appointed a three-person external advisory group to act as an independent observer and oversee the implementation of the new model. As of the end of December 2021, this group had met twice. Additionally, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, working with the Housing Agency, has begun the acquisition of properties for use during phase 2, that is, after people have completed an initial four months in a reception and integration centre and are moved into the community. It was envisaged that applicants would move into this accommodation beginning in 2022 and for this process to accelerate in the following years as more properties are acquired. However, as of March 2022, this has not yet materialised.
Joint Committee on Justice and Equality
In December 2019, the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality of the Oireachtas published the ‘Report on Direct Provision and the International Protection Application Process December 2019’. This report called for a fundamental reform of the Direct Provision system and describes it as ‘not fit for purpose’.
The members of the Committee found that ‘shared, institutionalised living fails to fully respect the rights to privacy and human dignity of those placed in these centres. The issues pointed out in the report of the all-party group include:
- Inadequate support and services that do not cater to the needs of vulnerable individuals arriving in Ireland;
- Long delays in the single application process;
- Issues with accessing the labour market; and
- Issues relating to children in the Direct Provision system.
The report made 43 conclusions and recommendations and followed a series of public hearings with stakeholder groups and the receipt of more than 140 written submissions and visits by the Committee to Direct Provision centres in Mosney and Monaghan. Amongst its recommendations there was the change to ‘own door’ accommodation units for individuals and families; leaving behind the current ‘for profit’ running of direct provision, and the involvement of approved housing bodies in the provision of accommodation and services. The work of the Joint Committee ceased with the dissolution of the 32nd Dáil in January 2020. However, many of the findings made by the Committee subsequently informed the work of the Advisory Group on the Provision of Support including Accommodation to Persons in the International Protection Process.
Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
In 2019, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in its Concluding observations on the combined fifth to ninth reports of Ireland expressed its concerns about Ireland’s Direct Provision system, referring to its continuous failure to provide adequate accommodation for protection applicants and in particular regarding:
(a) The lengthy stay in inadequate living conditions in Direct Provision centres and its significant impact on mental health and family life of protection applicants;
(b) The operation of Direct Provision centres by private actors on a for-profit basis without proper regulation or accountability mechanisms;
(c) The extensive use of emergency accommodation for lengthy periods due to the capacity limit of Direct Provision centres and the housing crisis, the substandard living conditions of emergency accommodation and the lack of necessary services and support provided therein;
(d) The reported lack of transparency regarding the deaths of persons residing in these centres (art.5).
After expressing such concerns the CERD made the recommendation to Ireland to phase out the Direct Provision system and develop an alternative reception model, with a series of interim measures:
(a) Improve living conditions in Direct Provision centres and reduce the length of stay in the centres;
(b) Set up clear standards of reception conditions for Direct Provision centres; regulate and inspect the operation of Direct Provision centres; and hold those responsible accountable in case of breach of standards;
(c) Halt the emergency accommodation as soon as possible and develop a contingency planning framework with a view to effectively responding to capacity pressures;
(d) Ensure transparency regarding the deaths in Direct Provision centres and collect and publish data on the deaths in the centres.
STAD (Standing Against Direct Provision) Coalition
The STAD coalition was founded by eight NGOs in January 2022 with a view to lobbying the Government to deliver on the commitment to bring an end to direct provision in the next two years. Membership is comprised of Nasc, Amnesty International Ireland, Crosscare, Cultúr, Doras, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Irish Refugee Council, and the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland. The coalition’s primary aim is to replace Direct Provision with an alternative system by 2024, ensure that all emergency reception centres are closed as an immediate priority and reduce processing times for international protection applications and appeals. STAD has also called for HIQA to be provided with a mandate to independently inspect Direct Provision centres while they remain operation and for urgent measures identified in the Catherine Day report to be implemented immediately, such as an increase in the daily expenses allowance, making the right to work available after three months, and the provision a comprehensive vulnerability assessment to all applicants for international protection.
 Alan Shatter, Department of Justice and Equality, written answer to Parliamentary Question of Mary Lou McDonald TD, 27 March 2013.
 Nasc, Working Paper on the Progress of Implementation of the McMahon Report, December 2017.
 Ibid, 4.
 Health (Inspection of Emergency Homeless Accommodation and Asylum Seekers Accommodation) Bill 2021.
 Advisory Group on Direct Provision, Report of the Advisory Group on the Provision of Support including Accommodation to Persons in the International Protection Process, 21 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3qgSmC3, 5.
 ibid, 8.
 ibid, 12.
 ibid, 12.
 ibid, 80.
 ibid, 56.
 ibid, 56.
 Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, White Paper on Ending Direct Provision, 26 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3t2Xqv6.
 Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, White Paper on Ending Direct Provision, 26 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3t2Xqv6.
 Ibid, 42.
 Ibid, 43.
 Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman, Response to Parliamentary Question Nos 12, 14, 74, 77 and 82, 3 December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/33ZH4vX.
 Houses of the Oireachtais, Joint Committee on Justice and Equality report finds Direct Provision ‘not fit for purpose’ and calls for fundamental reform of ‘flawed’ international protection application process, 12 December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2GdKzzW.