Available accommodation within the Direct Provision estate has been decreasing since 2016, due to a number of factors, including the expiry of contracts between IPAS and accommodation providers and the ongoing housing crisis, which is reducing available accommodation sites. During 2019, IPAS added 735 bed spaces to their portfolio, through an increase in the capacity of existing centres and with the opening of three new accommodation centres. IPAS also managed the closing of the Hatch Hall accommodation centre in Dublin, therefore the net increase in 2019 of bed spaces was 515 in total. Despite this, the rise in the number of applicants led to 1,559 protection applicants being placed in temporary accommodation by the end of 2019. As of September 2020, approximately 1,382 individuals were resident in emergency accommodation. As of December 2021, approximately 1,046 individuals were resident in emergency accommodation. As of January 2023, the number of individuals resident in emergency accommodation had risen to 11,414.
The Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration confirmed that accommodation in Direct Provision is prioritised for new arrivals, particularly families and other vulnerable people.
In the experience of the Irish Refugee Council in 2020 and 2021, requests for re-entry into Direct Provision under the Regulations – by people who had not taken up an initial offer of accommodation or have since experienced a change in their circumstance – have been refused on the ground of a lack of accommodation or have been subject to considerable delays. These delays have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, individuals were waiting up to ten days to re-access accommodation in circumstances where they were rendered homeless.
These difficulties persisted throughout 2022. Over the course of the year, the Irish Refugee Council assisted approximately 147 international protection applicants experiencing, or at risk of homelessness. A number of these individuals had not accessed the Direct Provision system upon their arrival in the State and had subsequently been evicted from private accommodation arrangements, while others had lost their accommodation within the Direct Provision system due to alleged breaches of the House Rules. In the experience of the Irish Refugee Council, whereby re-accommodation was requested within the Direct Provision system, such requests went unanswered by IPAS for several weeks, sometimes up to two months. During this period, applicants were left without access to shelter and were forced to sleep on the street, often in inclement weather. This cohort of applicants included individuals with medical vulnerabilities. While many clients were ultimately re-accommodated following sustained advocacy by the Irish Refugee Council’s Information and Referral Service and Independent Law Centre, as well as, intervention by the organisation’s CEO, these practices amount to a clear breach of the State’s obligations pursuant to the Reception Conditions Regulations and continues to occur as of March 2023.
The personal circumstances of persons living outside Direct Provision are generally unknown. According to figures supplied by IPAS, as of January 2022, 902 international protection applicants were living outside Direct Provision in private rented accommodation. In terms of people who lived in Direct Provision and then subsequently left it for whatever reasons whilst their asylum application was pending, for example to live with family members, a partner or friends, it is very difficult to access the Direct Provision system again, should their situation change.
As of December 2021, there were 45 Direct Provision accommodation centres located nationwide. There were a further 24 emergency accommodation locations such as in hotels and guesthouses. Owing to the significant increase in the number of protection applicants arriving in the State in 2022, as of November 2022, there were 47 Direct Provision accommodation centres and a further 79 emergency accommodation centres located nationwide.
IPAS ceased to publish data in 2018. The last statistics were contained in the RIA Monthly Report November 2018. IPAS has yet to issue any official data in relation to the accommodation of international protection applicants since it was created in 2019 as a result of the division of RIA in two sections. Nevertheless, some statistics for 2020 were made available by the Minister for Justice in response to parliamentary questions.
The capacity and occupancy of Direct Provisions centres in 2020, 2022 and 2022 were as follows:
|Capacity and occupancy of Direct Provision centres|
|Cork||1, 036||890||1, 041||800||1, 455||1,313|
|Total||6, 937||5, 529||7, 184||5, 691||–||19,240|
The 2020 figures provided above on capacity and occupancy were valid as of September 2021. The 2021 figures were valid as of December 2021. The 2022 figures were valid as of January 2023.
As of November 2021, approximately 7,089 people resided in Direct Provision and emergency accommodation. As of January 2023, 19,635 people were accommodated within IPAS system as a whole, 4,082 of which were children.
Of those centres in the IPAS portfolio, only three were built (“system built”) for the express purpose of accommodating protection applicants. The majority of the portfolio comprises buildings, which had a different initial purpose i.e., former hotels, guesthouses (B&B), hostels, former convents / nursing Homes, a holiday camp and a mobile home site. IPAS is considering the option of moving towards a capital investment-based approach in the provision of accommodation that would involve building customised facilities.
As of March 2023, there are forty single male only accommodation centres located throughout the country. There are six female-only reception centres located in Kerry, Galway and Dublin.
The Balseskin reception centre, with a capacity of 537, was previously designated as a reception centre where all newly arrived protection applicants are accommodated. The centre as of 15 September 2020 had an occupancy rate of 264 out of 537 places. However, In March 2022, Citywest Hotel and Convention Centre was contracted by the International Protection Accommodation Service and repurposed as a transit hub for the processing of beneficiaries of Temporary Protection, as well as for the accommodation of newly arrived international protection applicants. The vast majority of newly arrived protection applicants are now accommodated at Citywest. As of the 12th December 2022, there were 764 international protection applicants residing at the facility.
Seven centres are state-owned: Knockalisheen, Clare; Kinsale Road, Cork; Atlas House Killarney, Atlas House Tralee, Johnston Marina and Park Lodge, Kerry; and Athlone, Westmeath. All reception centres are operated by private external service providers who have a contract with IPAS. Seven centres are owned by the Irish State with the remainder privately owned. Executive responsibility for the day-to-day management of reception centres lies with the private agencies, which provide services such as accommodation, catering, housekeeping etc. As of October 2020, there were 26 private companies that have a contract for services with the Department of Justice for the provision of premises that meet required standards and support services for protection applicants. Of these companies, two have a contract to provide management, catering, housekeeping and general maintenance services in state owned accommodation centres. It is the role of the Department of Justice to oversee the provision of these services, which has established a High Level Interdepartmental Group tasked with ensuring better coordination of provision of services and meeting needs in the short to medium term. Moreover, the National Standards developed establish a minimum set of standards for reception centres to meet by January 2021 if they are to continue providing services. The Department of Justice stated that to ensure compliance, an independent inspection mechanism would be established to monitor premises and services. The National Standards became legally binding on 1 January 2021. It was hoped that a mechanism for independent monitoring the implementation of the standards would be established soon thereafter, however 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.
Throughout 2022, the Department of Children continued its engagement with HIQA and various other stakeholders regarding HIQA’s proposed monitoring of IPAS centres against the National Standards, which became legally binding in January 2021. An Expert Advisory Group was established, comprising of a range of different stakeholder organisations, service providers and service users, in order to inform this process and several meetings of the group were held throughout the year.
Concurrently, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of Children draft a Regulation in which to provide the necessary legal basis for HIQA’s monitoring role. At the time of updating, the draft Regulation has yet to be published, however, the Minister for Children, Roderic O’ Gorman, had confirmed that HIQA’s monitoring role would only apply to so-called ‘permanent Direct Provision Centres’, and not to emergency or temporary centres, on the basis that such centres are subject to separate contractual arrangements. While legislation giving effect to HIQA’s monitoring function is extremely welcome, the Irish Refugee Council is deeply concerned regarding the exclusion of emergency centres from HIQA’s remit. In the experience of the IRC, the most difficult conditions persist within ‘emergency’ and ‘pre-reception’ facilities, and not in permanent centres. Moreover, the number of emergency centres established around the country increased substantially throughout 2022, with more than half the population of the Direct Provision system living in emergency or pre-reception centres.
At the time of updating, IPAS accommodation centres continued to be subject to inspections both by officials within the International Protection Accommodation Service and by an independent inspectorate company.
IPAS retains overall responsibility for the accommodation of applicants for international protection in the direct provision system. The Minister for Justice and Equality has stated that residents are not ‘in the care’ of the State but rather the State has a ‘duty of care’, which it discharges via external contractors.
Emergency Accommodation Beds
In September 2018, the Direct Provision estate reached capacity and no accommodation was available for newly arriving protection applicants, as the Balseskin centre had no available places. A precise figure is not available, but over the course of a single weekend, a minimum of 20 newly arrived protection applicants were not provided with any material receptions and were informed that no accommodation was available, rendering them homeless on arrival in Ireland. After intensive representations and media attention on the issue, alternative accommodation was provided by IPAS on an emergency basis. This involved the contracting of accommodation in hotels and holiday homes to house protection applicants on a temporary basis pending IPAS contracting for more permanent accommodation centres. These centres are known as “satellite centres”.
In 2022, capacity within the Direct Provision accommodation system remained a significant and ongoing issue. 2022 saw an increasing reliance on the use of emergency centres. Such centres often comprised of disused offices, large conference rooms, schools, and sports halls in order to accommodate international protection applicants. The Irish Refugee Council has been alerted to numerous grievous risks to vulnerable residents accommodated in these centres, including to women and minor children. These reports included significant child protection issues and serious privacy concerns.
As of June 2021, 1,360 protection applicants, 174 of whom were children, were housed in emergency accommodation. As of January 2023, this figure had increased significantly to 11,414 residents across 79 centres. This marks an increase of almost 56 times the number of people in emergency accommodation in 2018, when 202 persons were residing in five hotels.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of new emergency accommodation centres were opened at extremely short notice in order to enable social distancing and avoid overcrowding. These included the contracting of an additional 650 beds at newly set up centres in Dublin, Galway and Cork, Galway. From 18 March 2020, approximately 100 asylum seekers were gradually moved from emergency centres in Dublin to the Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry in order to reduce capacity in Direct Provision centres. This centre subsequently closed, and residents were moved out on a phased basis. It is understood that the last remaining residents were transferred from the centre in September 2020.However, given the sustained risk of COVID-19, 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.
Additionally, throughout 2021, many newly arrived applicants were transferred to temporary accommodation centres following their isolation period due to lack of capacity in the Direct Provision System. Many newly arrived people – who were quarantined for extended periods and subsequently accommodated in temporary accommodation – found themselves unable to access support and information. New arrivals also experienced delays in completing their s.13 interview at the IPO. Until the completion of this interview, applicants were unable to access PPS numbers, Daily Expense Allowance or medical cards. This had serious implications for applicant’s mental health. Applicants also reported restricted access to food, hygiene products, laundry services and appropriate winter clothing while resident in post-quarantine temporary accommodation.
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. This figure had increased to 79 as of January 2023.
The living conditions in these emergency accommodation locations are clearly unsuitable for the needs of protection applicants and fail to fulfil IPAS’s obligations under the EU recast Reception Conditions Directive.
Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROC)
Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROC) were specifically designed for the accommodation of persons arriving in Ireland through relocation and resettlement. There are three EROC with a total capacity of 375 places. As of 31 December 2021, there was a total contracted capacity of 545 places across three EROC centres and 430 individuals resided in the three centres. As of 31 December 2022, there was a contracted capacity of 545 places across three EROC centres and 430 individuals resided in the three centres.
|Capacity and occupancy of EROC|
Source: Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, David Stanton, Reply to Parliamentary Question No 31, 20 November 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2Kun0Vz, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Roderic O’ Gorman, Reply to Parliamentary Question No 438, 20 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3ol0wrn.,Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Roderic O’Gorman, Reply to Parliamentary Question No 152, 26 April 2023, available at: https://bit.ly/3AAEzNB.
 Information provided by the Irish Refugee Council’s Information and Advoacy Service, January 2023.
 Information provided by IPAS, January 2022
 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, 119-121.
 Data provided by IPAS, January 2022.
 IPAS, March 2023.
 Houses of the Oireachtas and Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, Report on Direct Provision and the International Protection Application Process, December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3cRtb29.
 Department of Justice and Equality, Spending Review on Direct Provision, 15 August 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3eVBtrx.
 Data provided by the International Protection Accommodation Service.
 Irish Refugee Council, ‘Irish Refugee Council calls for Government to urgently address issue of people seeking asylum being made homeless’, 20 September 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2O37Dac.