President Higgins criticises lack of asylum seeker reform

Dim view taken on why direct provision reform not in government programme

In an interview with The Irish Times President Higgins noted the lack of discussion on the need to implement reform of the system for over 5,000 asylum seekers. Photograph: The Irish Times

In an interview with The Irish Times President Higgins noted the lack of discussion on the need to implement reform of the system for over 5,000 asylum seekers. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

President Michael D Higgins has questioned why reform of the direct provision system was missing from discussions on the formation of Government.

In an interview with The Irish Times Mr Higgins pointed to the lack of discussion on the need to implement reform of the system for more than 5,000 asylum seekers.

A report last year from a working group chaired by retired High Court judge Dr Bryan McMahon made 173 recommendations. Among these were reducing the time asylum applicants wait for a final decision and improving living conditions while waiting.

Long durations in direct provision are acknowledged to have a negative impact on family life.

Last month Dr McMahon said Government treatment of asylum-seekers remained “narrow” and “mean”, 10 months after the publication of his report.

He called for an immediate, once-off amnesty to any asylum seeker in the system for more than five years, as a “gesture of generosity . . . in the spirit of the 1916 celebrations”.

There is no commitment in the programme for government agreed by Fine Gael and the Independents to implement the McMahon report.

The President said the proposals were “reasonable and practical” and would mean “considerable progress”.

Government formation

“While I was here awaiting the formation of a new government I obviously read everything that was happening every day but it did strike me that those who laid out their demands for the participation in government they were not mentioning Bryan McMahon’s report,” he said.

Asked if that was a failure by the parties engaged in the discussions Mr Higgins said: “I noticed it was missing.”

In his interview ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit next week, the President said the report from Dr McMahon was not “on the parliament’s agenda at the present time”.

The summit will focus on addressing forced displacement, humanitarian financing, managing natural disaster and climate change, and achieving gender equality.

Mr Higgins said he was eager to discuss the response to the migrant crisis which he described as a global issue that required long-term solutions.

He said the rhetoric being used around the issue concerned him. “The language of flocks and language about swarms is completely wrong.”

The President also raised concerns about the Government’s reliance on the private sector to build homes. He said the State should have learned lessons from the social effects of private developments in areas such as Dolphin’s Barn or O’Devaney Gardens in Dublin.

He said there was an impression being created by some that tenants are “troublesome” and that “landlords must be kept happy at all costs”.

“This is all nonsense in a way. It is very understandable. But people are not moving from it in a way. How could building social houses be some sort of statism? What is wrong with a State?”

Homelessness

The President said there was not “a single person who isn’t concerned about homelessness”.

However, he said people were upset about the refusal to reach a conclusion in this area.

“The fact of the matter is there are people who will need public housing. When I was elected in 1974 at local authority level managers of local authorities and their housing sections looked after tenants.”

“What is wrong with tenants? Where did some God-like utterance come that said ‘we don’t do tenancies anymore, the private sector has to become involved,’”

he said.