Conditions in reception facilities

Republic of Ireland

Country Report: Conditions in reception facilities Last updated: 30/11/20

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Direct Provision has been under intense scrutiny since its inception in 2000 for the conditions imposed on residents, exacerbated by the fact that systemic delays in the asylum procedure result in people spending far longer in Direct Provision than was originally intended by the State. The system of Direct Provision has been criticised by numerous prominent organisations including the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, the Ombudsman for Children, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, and the Special Rapporteur for Children, and UN Treaty Bodies such as the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Most importantly, people in the protection process themselves have also criticised conditions in Direct Provision. For example, Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland (MASI) gave detailed criticism of conditions via social media and in their submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Direct Provision.[1]

Since 2017, the Ombudsman has jurisdiction to hear complaints from residents of accommodation centres regarding the conditions of facilities amongst other matters.[2] The Ombudsman received a total of 168 complaints from residents in Direct Provision which compares to a total of 152 for 2018, giving a year on year increase of 10.5%.[3] 82 complaints were presented against IPAS, of which 33 related to transfers, 14 to accommodation, 5 to involuntary removal, 5 to food, 4 to facilities, 2 to transportation, 2 to complaint handling and 17 to other issues.[4] The Ombudsman has not provided a statistical breakdown of these complaints but provides a commentary. In appropriate cases, the Ombudsman’s office engages with the relevant Government Department or agency to resolve the situation for the individual complainant concerned and in order to avoid any future similar issues arising.

 

Overcrowding and overall conditions

 

IPAS states that all accommodation centres operate in compliance with relevant legislation, specifically the Housing Act 1966 which refers to a definition of overcrowding, in essence the Act provides that there must be no less than 400 cubic feet (about 11m3) per person in each room and that a house shall be deemed to be overcrowded when [the number of persons] are such that any two of those persons, being persons of ten years of age or more of the opposite sexes and not being persons living together as husband and wife, must sleep in the same room.

The Ombudsman in its third commentary on Direct Provision, published in April 2020, has expressed his concern over the use of this benchmark in the National Standards for accommodation centres.[5] In line with the Housing Act 1966, Indicator 4.2.2 of the National Standards provides that  “A minimum space of 4.65 for each resident per bedroom is provided.”[6] This deviates from the recommendation of the dimensions of a minimum of 7.1m²  for single bedrooms and 11.4 for double bedrooms as set out in the McMahon report.[7]

When questioned by the Ombudsman about this, the Department of Justice has argued that “increasing bedroom space per person would either reduce the amount of space available for communal areas in centres or reduce the number of people that could be accommodated in each new centre. This in turn would reduce the number that could be moved out of emergency settings.”[8] Accommodation centres are currently at capacity and there are 1,559 protection applicants in emergency accommodation, where rooms are frequently shared by three or more people.[9] There have been media reports of eight to ten people sharing one bedroom.[10] The Department of Justice has committed to move towards a maximum of three unrelated people sharing a room.[11]

 

Quality of food and lack of self-catering provisions

 

At all centres apart from one self-catering accommodation facility, residents receive all meals. In relation to food, the McMahon Working Group recommended that IPAS should: (a) 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; and (b) include an obligation in new contracts to consult with residents when planning the 28 day menu cycle.[12]

The final National Standards presented in August 2019 include a theme on food in order to improve the quality, diversity and cultural appropriateness of food provided in accommodation centres including the following:

  • Food preparation and dining facilities meet the needs of residents, support family life and are appropriately equipped and maintained;[13]
  • The service provider commits to meeting the catering needs and autonomy of residents which includes access to a varied diet that respects their cultural, religious, dietary, nutritional and medical requirements.[14]

According to the Government’s progress report on the recommendations of the Working Group Report, 15 of 33 accommodation centres under contract in 2017 had “some form of personal catering’, ranging from ‘fully fitted kitchens … for reheating food and preparing breakfast to communal cooking stations.”[15] The report also indicated that work was ongoing to commence pilots for fully independent living, that would “include home cooking within the family accommodation units in some instances and access to communal cooking stations for residents in others.” By the end of 2019, over half of all residents in direct provision centres have access to cooking facilities, self-cooking and residents’ shops have been established at 18 centres, compared to eight at the end of 2018.[16] This increase is due to IPAS implementation of changes in its approach to contracting. Unless centres comply fully with the McMahon recommendations to provide self-cooking facilities and residents’ shops, no contracts for permanent centres will be awarded, or existing contracts renewed.[17]

As the rolling out of IPAS’ contract programme is on a regional basis, centres in some regions are getting cooking facilities before those in other places.[18] The Department of Justice stated in August 2019 that “[t]he aim is to have all residents in commercial centres benefitting from independent living (cooking facilities and onsite food hall) by the middle of next year through the ongoing regional procurement process for accommodation centres.”[19] In respect of the seven state-owned accommodation centres, as of July 2019, independent living had already been introduced in Athlone and the Department of Justice had initiated discussions with the Office of Public Works regarding the implementation of independent living in the six remaining state-owned accommodation centres.[20]

During 2019, the Ombudsman received six complaints concerning food, down from nine in 2018.[21]  This reduction was attributed to the establishment of self-cooking and residents’ shops at ten centres in 2019. The lack of communication and engagement of centre’s management with residents was identified as the cause of most complaints presented regarding food in Direct Provision centres.[22]

All contractors of accommodation centres have the contractual obligation to provide residents with culturally appropriate food options.[23] The menus prepared have to meet the reasonable dietary needs of the different ethnic groups of residents and the reasonable prescribed dietary needs of any person accommodated at the centre.[24] It is also a contractual obligation to provide a 28-day menu and to consult residents on it.[25] In addition to this, a vegetarian option must be included in menus and all food products provided must have a traceability system that complies with food safety requirements.[26] IPAS’s House Rules and Procedures document states that, where possible and practical, an accommodation centre will cater for ‘ethnic food preferences’ and the centre will provide tea and coffee making facilities, and drinking water, outside normal meal times.[27] However, complaints about the quality and presentation of food persist across centres.[28]

 

Length of time spent in Direct Provision

 

One of the primary issues with Direct Provision is the length of time people spend living in a system that was initially conceived to accommodate people for a maximum of six months while their application was processed. This accommodation that is effectively unfit for its intended purpose, combined with an asylum procedure riddled with systemic delays (see Regular Procedure: General), led to a reception environment that has forced people into circumstances of idleness, and exacerbated trauma and mental health issues. As a result, the system has been subject to national and international scrutiny.[29]

A shortage of staff at both the IPO and the IPAT appears to be undermining the reduction in delays which the single procedure under the IPA should have introduced. Resourcing issues and the decision to refer each application under the Refugee Act 1996 back for reconsideration under the single procedure has meant that delays have not been reduced and are, in fact, increasing. 

Research has demonstrated that even where applicants are eventually granted status, they face a number of difficulties transitioning out of Direct Provision and into independent living due to the length of time they have spent out of the workforce, with limited opportunity for personal or professional development. This, combined with limited economic resources and Ireland’s ongoing employment and housing shortages, has led to a significant challenge for people attempting to leave Direct Provision (see Content of Protection: Housing).[30]

As of the end 2019, the following periods of stay in Direct Provision have been reported by IPAS:

 

Average stay in Direct Provision

 

2019

Number of Months

Total

Percentage

0 to 3

1,053

14%

3 to 6

833

11%

6 to 9

625

8%

9 to 12

802

11%

12 to 18

800

11%

18 to 24

802

11%

24 to 36

1,016

13%

36 to 48

762

10%

48 to 60

519

7%

60 to 72

178

2%

72 to 84

78

1%

84+

114

2%

Total

7,582

 

 

 


[1] Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), Submission to Justice & Equality Joint Committee, 27 May 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2VHPUI2

[2] Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman and direct provision’, available at: https://bit.ly/2LdNfl4.

[3]  The Times, ‘More protection applicants take problems to ombudsman’, 11 January 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2RGitW5.

[4] Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2019’, April 2019.

[5] Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2019’, April 2019.

[6] Department of Justice and Equality, Final National Standards, 15 August 2019,  available at: https://bit.ly/3cLWi6M, Standard 4.2.

[7] 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 4.55, 163.

[8] Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2019’, April 2019.

[9]  Ibid.

[10] Independent.ie, ‘Eight or ten people staying in one bedroom’, 6 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3aKrZMu.

[11] Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2019’, April 2019.

[12]  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 4.102, 174.

[13]  Department of Justice and Equality, Final National Standards, 15 August 2019,  available at: https://bit.ly/3cLWi6M, Standard 5.1.

[14]  Ibid, Standard 5.2.

[15]  Department of Justice, Third and Final Progress Report on the Implementation of the Report’s Recommendations, June 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2w12bLC, 9.

[16]  Department of Justice and Equality, Spending Review on Direct Provision, 15 August 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3eVBtrx.

[17]  Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2019’, April 2019.

[18]  Ibid.

[19] Department of Justice and Equality, Spending Review on Direct Provision, 15 August 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3eVBtrx.

[20] Minister for Justice and Equality, Reply to Parliamentary Question No 921, 23 July 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2VIpq9C.

[21]  Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2019’, April 2019.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, David Stanton, Reply to Parliamentary Question No 970, 23 July 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/35fUMaO.

[24]  Ibid.

[25]  Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, David Stanton, Reply to Parliamentary Question No 970, 23 July 2019.

[26] Ibid.

[27] RIA, House Rules and Procedures, available at: http://bit.ly/1eiZdFd.

[28] Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2019’, April 2019.

[29] See e.g. Ombudsman, The Ombudsman & Direct Provision – the story so far, January 2018, available at: http://bit.ly/2FXmJWX; United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations on the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Ireland, CRC/C/IRL/CO/3-4, 1 March 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/1Qetbq6.

[30] Dr. Muireann Ní Raghallaigh, Maeve Foreman and Maggie Feeley, ‘Transition: From Direct Provision to life in the Community’, June 2016.

 

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation