Conditions in reception facilities

Republic of Ireland

Country Report: Conditions in reception facilities Last updated: 23/04/21

Author

Irish Refugee Council Visit Website

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 61 complaints from residents in Direct Provision in 2020.[3] This compares with 168 complaints from residents in 2019.[4] However, the Ombudsman notes that the significant reduction in complaints is a direct consequence of his office’s inability to visit centres as a result of Covid-19 travel restrictions.[5] 41 complaints were made against IPAS, 25 of which were related to transfers, 2 to accommodation, 1 to involuntary removal, 2 to food and 11 to other issues.[6]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.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic further highlighted the unsuitability of Direct Provision as a means of accommodating asylum seekers. As a congregated setting, individuals in Direct Provision share intimate spaces, including bathrooms, dining areas, communal living spaces and laundries. This means that social distancing has been near impossible at the majority of centres.

On 31 March 2020, the Department of Justice announced that an additional 650 beds had been procured in order to support the measures required for vulnerable residents in Direct Provision in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. These included the provision of off-site accommodation for self-isolation, as well as increasing capacity so as to accommodate social distancing. However, according to the Irish Refugee Council’s ‘Powerless’ report, which examines the experiences of Direct Provision residents during the pandemic, as of August 2020, 50% of survey respondents were unable to socially distance themselves from other residents. 42% stated that they were still sharing a room with a non-family member, while 46% shared a bathroom with a non-family member.[7] As of March 2021, the number of unrelated single residents assigned a shared room in IPAS accommodation was 1,892. This comprised of 1,171 residents in a room assigned to two people and 721 residents in a room assigned to 3 people.[8] This constitutes an increase of approximately 192 more people than the previous year, despite the onset of the pandemic. Whereby steps were taken to move residents out of Direct Provision so as to permit additional space to social distance, this was largely achieved without consulting residents, while notice provided was extremely short and residents were not informed as to whether the move would be temporary or permanent in nature.

Significant outbreaks of Covid-19 occurred at accommodation centres across the country throughout the pandemic.  Particular issues of concern emerged in relation to the Skellig Star Hotel in Co. Kerry, where one of the first major outbreaks occurred in May 2020. Various issues had been reported prior to the hotels opening, including the rushed opening of the centre, repair issues, lack of running water and heating, and staff not being Garda vetted. Individuals were also moved at very short notice from Dublin and residents were initially sharing rooms with one another. During the outbreak, residents reported that they were unable to leave the hotel, or were given a strong impression that they could not leave their accommodation. Individuals, including children, were forced to spend all day in hotel rooms and reports suggested a lack of sanitation and deep cleaning of the property, even after 22 residents had tested positive.[9] Conditions at the centre prompted residents to go on hunger strike in July 2020, while the local community and various migrant rights organisations called for the hotel to be closed.[10] It was subsequently announced that the centre was to close and residents were to be moved out on a phased basis. It is understood that the last remaining residents were transferred from the centre in September 2020.[11]

In August 2020, several Direct Provision centres also reported outbreaks of Covid-19 linked to clusters at meat factories where a number of residents worked. The vast majority of residents were moved to designated facilities to self-isolate.[12] In late December 2020, a further significant outbreak was reported at Kinsale Road accommodation centre in Co. Cork. It is understood approximately 40 residents were removed from the centre in order to facilitate social distancing, while the remaining residents were told to remain in their rooms and isolate.[13]

The Irish Refugee Council also became aware of a number of reports of individuals being transferred from temporary accommodation to communal facilities. In one such instance, a resident and her two children were moved from their temporary accommodation in Dublin, to Cahersiveen, where communal facilities with other residents were shared. One child tested positive for Covid-19 and the family were moved to a self-isolation facility for 3 weeks. Fearing reinfection if they were returned to live in communal facilities, the family requested a transfer to a self-contained family unit. This request was initially refused and only with sustained advocacy from IRC and other agencies was the decision reviewed and self-contained accommodation eventually offered.

As regards, hygiene and sanitary measures, all accommodation centres, including emergency accommodation centres were required to complete contingency planning for Covid-19 with a view to limiting the possible spread of disease throughout centres. Contingency plans were subject to review by IPAS and HSE Community Healthcare Organisations (CHOs). Public health information was distributed to residents through the circulation of notices in multiple languages. Each centre was also asked to generate a self-isolation capability for use by persons with a positive Covid-19 test result.[14] Moreover, in September 2020, it was announced that a comprehensive programme of Covid-19 testing was to be established across all Direct Provision and emergency accommodation centres. The testing programme followed numerous outbreaks of Covid-19 within Direct Provision centres throughout the country over the course of the pandemic.[15]

Additionally, the HSE established a temporary accommodation scheme for healthcare workers at the outset of the pandemic. Under the scheme, healthcare workers or individuals providing home support who are resident in Direct Provision were entitled to apply for temporary accommodation in certain defined circumstances.[16] As of May 2020, 40 residents had been granted alternative accommodation under the HSE-provided scheme, while approximately 15 were forced to stop working owing to childcare issues. In the experience of the Irish Refugee Council, while there have been some problems with the scheme, particularly around availability of facilities, the vast majority of residents seeking access to the scheme have been accommodated.

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, expressed his concern over the use of this benchmark in the National Standards for accommodation centres.[17] 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.”[18] 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.[19]

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.”[20] Accommodation centres are currently at capacity and there are 1,382 individuals resident in emergency accommodation[21] where rooms are frequently shared by three or more people.[22] There have been media reports of eight to ten people sharing one bedroom.[23] The Department of Justice has committed to move towards a maximum of three unrelated people sharing a room.[24]

The onset of Covid-19 further highlighted the issue of overcrowding in Direct Provision, with significant outbreaks of the virus occurring at Direct Provision Centres across the country. As a congregated setting, individuals in Direct Provision share intimate spaces, including bathrooms, dining areas, communal living spaces and laundries, thus making social distancing near impossible. Moreover, at the onset of the pandemic, the vast majority of accommodation centres were at capacity, with media reports indicating that in some centres, up to six unrelated adults were sharing rooms.[25]

On 31 March 2020, the Department of Justice announced that an additional 650 beds had been procedure in order to support the measures required for vulnerable residents in Direct Provision in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. These included the provision of off-site accommodation for self-isolation, as well as increasing capacity so as to accommodate social distancing. However, according to the Irish Refugee Council’s ‘Powerless’ report, which examines the experiences of Direct Provision residents during the pandemic, as of August 2020, 50% of survey respondents were unable to socially distance themselves from other residents. 42% stated that they were still sharing a room with a non-family member, while 46% shared a bathroom with a non-family member.[26]

As of March 2021, the number of unrelated single residents assigned a shared room in IPAS accommodation was 1,892 (an increase from 1,700 in April 2020). This comprised of 1,171 residents in a room assigned to two people and 721 residents in a room assigned to 3 people.[27] Whereby steps were taken to move residents out of Direct Provision so as to permit additional space to social distance, this was largely achieved without consulting residents, while notice provided was extremely short and residents were not informed as to whether the move would be temporary or permanent in nature.

Quality of food and lack of self-catering provisions

In approximately half of Direct Provision Centres, residents receive all meals and are not permitted to cook for themselves. [28] 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.[29]

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;[30]
  • 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.[31]

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.”[32] 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.[33] 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.[34]

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.[35] 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.”[36] 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.[37] As of October 2020, approximately 52.1% (4,901 of 9,404) of contracted beds in Direct Provision accommodation centres have access to independent living facilities. In respect of the seven state-owned accommodation centres, Athlone remains the only centre in which independent living facilities have been implemented.[38]

During 2019, the Ombudsman received six complaints concerning food, down from nine in 2018.[39]  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.[40] The Ombudsman received two complaints relating to food in 2020.[41]

All contractors of accommodation centres have the contractual obligation to provide residents with culturally appropriate food options.[42] 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.[43] It is also a contractual obligation to provide a 28-day menu and to consult residents on it.[44] 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.[45] 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.[46] However, complaints about the quality and presentation of food persist across centres.[47]

In February 2021, approximately 100 residents at Ashbourne House accommodation centre in Co. Cork went on hunger strike in a protest action over the provision of food materials at the centre. It is understood that the centre has a small kitchen area where residents are permitted to cook for themselves, however, management have repeatedly turned down requests by residents for food items they could prepare themselves. The protest began following an unsuccessful meeting with centre management, with residents having subsequently written to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’ Gorman.[48]

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.[49]

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).[50]

As of the October 2020, the following periods of stay in Direct Provision have been reported by the Minister for Justice:

Average stay in Direct Provision
  2020[51]
Number of Months Total Percentage
0 to 5 333 5%
6 to 11 1,135 16%
1 + Years 2,406 34%
2 + Years 1,377 20%
3 + Years 724 10%
4 + Years 502 7%
5 + Years 317 5%
6 + Years 106 2%
7 + Years 114 2%
Total 7,014

 

[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]  Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2020’, March 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/2PbgkSe.

[4]  Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2019’, April 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2Xku2Dr.

[5]   Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2020’, March 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/2PbgkSe.

[6]  Ibid.

[7]   Irish Refugee Council, ‘Powerless: Experiences of Direct Provision During the Covid-19 Pandemic’, available at: https://bit.ly/3pXOaGZ.

[8]   Information provided in correspondence from Minister Roderic O’Gorman to Catherine Connolly TD, further to Parliamentary Questions 602, 603, 612 and 613 of the 3rd of March 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3tEMioT.

[9] Irish Examiner, ‘Calls for direct provision centre in Cahersiveen to be closed’, 11 May 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3i8Xbum.

[10] Irish Times, ‘Controversial Skellig Star direct provision centre in Kerry to close’, 30 July 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/38zS4QG.

[11]  RTÉ News, ‘Dept of Justice denies plans to reuse Skellig Star Hotel’, 27 September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2K8BZrL.

[12] RTÉ News, ‘Concern over virus clusters at direct provision centres’, 2 August 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/39kJPag.

[13] Irish Examiner, ‘Residents moved from Cork direct provision centre following ‘serious’ Covid-19 outbreak’, 25 December 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2MZNxP5.

[14] Health Service Executive, New Measures to Protect Direct Provision Residents during Covid-19, 23 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3sifNwm.

[15] Department of Justice, Joint Statement from the Department of Justice and Equality and the HSE on Covid testing in Direct Provision Centres, 11 September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2Ke74KI.

[16 UNHCR, Information on Covid-19 for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers in Ireland – updated February 5 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/35hNTa8.

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

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

[19] 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.

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

[21] Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, Response to Parliamentary Question No 582, 15 September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3ih594H.

[22] Ibid.

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

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

[25]  Irish Times, ‘Coronavirus: Outbreaks in Direct Provision could be ‘devastating’, 10 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2N4skEa.

[26] Irish Refugee Council, Powerless: Experiences of Direct Provision During the Covid-19 Pandemic, available at: https://bit.ly/3pXOaGZ.

[27]  Information provided in correspondence from Minister Roderic O’Gorman to Catherine Connolly TD, futher to Parliamentary Questions 602, 603, 612 and 613 of the 3rd of March 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3tEMioT.

[28]  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, 118.

[29]  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.

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

[31]  Ibid, Standard 5.2.

[32] 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.

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

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

[35]  Ibid.

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

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

[38]  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, 118.

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

[40]  Ibid.

[41]  Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2020’, March 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/2PbgkSe.

[42]  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.

[43] Ibid.

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

[45]  Ibid.

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

[47]  Ombudsman, ‘The Ombudsman & Direct Provision: Update for 2019’, April 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3stSjEp.

[48] Irish Examiner, ‘Residents at Cork Direct Provision centre refuse meals in protest at standards’, 17 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/2ZqHlCx.

[49] 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.

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

[51]  Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, Reply to Parliamentary Question No 372, 13 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3nTOpBr.

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