Dispersal across Direct Provision centres
The policy of dispersal of protection applicants to Direct Provision centres around the country has persisted with the transposition of the recast Reception Conditions Directive. The Reception Conditions Regulations 2018 continue the previous practice whereby protection applicants are first accommodated in Balseskin Reception Centre, where they usually spend several weeks, before being dispersed to one of the other accommodation centres, usually outside of Dublin.
Overcrowding and a lack of space in the Direct Provision estate has led to the use of emergency accommodation. The Minister for Justice and Equality may, exceptionally provide the material reception conditions in a manner that is different to that provided for in these Regulations where (a) an assessment of a recipient’s specific needs is required to be carried out, or (b) the accommodation capacity normally available is temporarily exhausted. Emergency accommodation can be hotels or Bed and Breakfasts. As of June 2021, 1,360 protection applicants, 174 of whom were children, were housed in emergency accommodation. The amount spent on hotel and guest house beds in emergency locations up to the end of November 2019 was €27.14m. The amount spent on emergency accommodation up to the end of December 2020 was €59.7m paid to 32 providers. The total expenditure on emergency accommodation for the year 2021 was not available at the time of updating.
The exact location of emergency accommodation is not publicly available in order to protect the identity of international protection applicants. Some emergency accommodation centres have been in place for more than 18 months.
In designating an accommodation centre for recipients of reception conditions, the Reception Conditions Regulations provide that a number of factors will be taken into account: (a) maintaining family unity; (b) gender and age-specific concerns; (c) the public interest; (d) public order; (e) the efficient processing and effective monitoring of the recipient’s application for international protection.
The special reception needs of an asylum seeker, identified following a vulnerability assessment, shall also be taken into account in designating an accommodation centre. The Regulations also provide that where a recipient is a minor, the need to accommodate the minor together with parents, unmarried siblings, or an adult acting in loco parentis will be considered, subject to consideration of the best interests of the minor in question. A further factor to be considered for minor recipients is whether the proposed accommodation centre is suitable to meet their needs.
No definition of “the public interest” or “public order” is provided in the Regulations, making it difficult to determine how those factors may be adjudged in designating an accommodation centre.
An applicant does not have a choice regarding where they are sent. In practice, due to the ongoing shortage of spaces in the Direct Provision estate, requests for transfers to other accommodation centres are not being granted, except in a very limited number of exceptional circumstances; typically, where a vulnerability is identified. However, an applicant may be moved to a different accommodation centre where the Minister considers it necessary. The Ombudsman, in his report on Direct Provision for 2019 stated: “I have not accepted refusal of transfer requests from people who wish to avail of educational opportunities that are not available from their assigned centre. In my view denying someone the opportunity to better themselves by availing of a place on a further education course is unreasonable.”
IPAS may reallocate a room if it is left unused for any period of time without letting the centre manager know in advance, or if a resident is consistently absent from the centre. In practice, an absence occurring over three consecutive nights leads to a warning letter from centre management that the applicant may lose their accommodation. In the current housing crisis and with the continuing lack of capacity in Direct Provision (see Types of Accommodation), this would place applicants at immediate risk of homelessness.
Paragraph 2.15 of the House Rules and Procedures state that the accommodation centre manager is obliged to notify the Community Welfare Office, now known as a Department of Social Protection representative, the official who grants the asylum seeker their weekly allowance, that they have been away without telling management and that this may affect access to the Direct Provision Allowance.
However, as of March 2022, the House Rules have not been revised in light of the introduction of the Reception Conditions Regulations and their legal status therefore remains unclear. The Regulations specifically define House Rules as “rules made by the Minister under Regulation 25”. Regulation 25 empowers the Minister to make rules to be complied with by persons who are being accommodated in an accommodation centre or reception centre. Such rules may relate to the operation of the centre and the conduct of residents. Regulation 25(4) further states that the Minister shall make the house rules accessible in a variety of languages on the website of IPAS. This has not been done at the time of writing. It is highly questionable whether the Minister could rely on the existing house rules, which pre-date and were not made in accordance with Regulation 25 for the purposes of the Regulations.
Restrictions on freedom of movement
Freedom of movement is not expressly restricted in law but the IPAS house rules require residents to seek permission if they are going to be away from their accommodation overnight.
In practice, freedom of movement is restricted due to the very low level of financial support given to protection applicants, which means that, unless, transport to and from a centre is free and at a suitable time, it is often too costly to travel. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has described the conditions in some Direct Provision as amounting to deprivation of liberty due to the extent of those restrictions. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has also argued that the conditions attached to Direct Provision accommodation amounts to de facto detention under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. The same argument was made by The Global Detention Project in its submission to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) in preparation for its visit to Ireland.
Asylum seekers were subject to the same public health restrictions as Irish nationals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, for example the right to exercise within a 5km radius of their accommodation and travel for essential purposes, for instance medical appointments, food and other necessities as established in Government Guidelines. However, particular issues of concern emerged at accommodation centres where outbreaks of coronavirus occurred. Residents reported that they were not permitted to leave their accommodation or were given a strong impression that they could not leave and were required to spend all day in their rooms, even in circumstances where they had tested negative for COVID-19. Moreover, all non-essential visits and activities, including transfers between centres, were cancelled to curb the spread of the virus. Additionally, a two-week quarantine period was imposed for individuals who had left and subsequently returned to their accommodation.
On 17 May 2021, IPAS implemented revised guidelines for accommodation centres in line with public health guidelines. Visits from IPAS staff, other state services and general service providers were re-implemented in line with government restrictions and were subject to contact tracing recording, observance of social distancing and proper hygienic measures. General visits and visits from organisations providing services to centre residents were also permitted in line with government guidelines. Centre residents were permitted two consecutive overnight absences from their designated accommodation without the requirement to quarantine on return. This was subject to specific conditions such as downloading the HSE COVID-19 contact-tracing app and agreeing to comply with any guidance and instructions from public health whereby a resident was found to be a close contact of a positive case. Any resident absent from their designated centre for longer than the period permitted without the express permission of IPAS was required to reapply for new accommodation and quarantine in designated quarantine facilities – usually a hotel- for a period of 14 days prior to re-entering IPAS accommodation. Overnight absences for medical care in a recognised medical facility were permitted with no limit on the number of nights, nor quarantine required on return.
 Regulation 7(2) Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 Regulation 7(3) Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.