A Government commitment to end direct provision by 2024 looks set to be shelved in light of continuing accommodation pressures exacerbated by the war on Ukraine.
Catherine Day, the head of an expert advisory group set up to report on the Government’s promise to scrap direct provision, said she believed the timelines set out by the Coalition would no longer be possible to meet.
In an interview with The Irish Times as part of an in-depth look at immigration issues, Ms Day, the former secretary general of the European Commission, also urged the State to adjust the targets in the Housing for All plan to take account of the significant increase in the country’s population.
In 2021, the Government said it would phase out the system of direct provision by 2024.
Asked if these timelines were still possible in light of the consequences of the war on Ukraine, Ms Day said: “I think, frankly, no. That does not mean that we can’t be much closer to it by the end of 2024. I think we have to act now even if we don’t get there exactly on schedule, that we are well on the way and that everyone can see it is going to be a thing of the past, because we have put a better programme in place and because we have taken action towards it. We need to take extra measures to get back on track and to deliver this.”
The Coalition’s White Paper on ending direct provision proposed a two-stage “blended” accommodation system. Newly arrived asylum seekers would spend a maximum of four months in State-owned reception centres before moving into not-for-profit housing secured through approved housing bodies.
Ms Day’s expert group delivered a report to Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman this month that recommended the State urgently use emergency powers to build two reception centres on State-owned land by May 2023, and another four by the end of 2023.
“One of our messages is that the State has to take up its responsibilities. Using the private sector option – whether it be hotels or trying to find private sector accommodation – is not ideal, to put it mildly,” Ms Day said.
The group’s report also called on the Government to establish a State agency for the accommodation and integration of asylum seekers by the end of 2024. Departmental responsibility for the agency would be with the Department of Housing.
“We don’t think it is a Civil Service activity to have to source and provide accommodation,” Ms Day said.
“Inevitably, Civil Service departments are understaffed and they have lots of other duties to carry out. We think, given the fact we have these flows in the future, there should be an agency. The risk of proposing an agency now is that it will then distract everyone from the task in hand. That is why we said there should be a build-up to the agency and then it should come in at the end of 2024, because it will take time to pass legislation to create it and give it a budget and staff.”
The report was also critical of the overall Government response and found that most of the “heavy lifting” is being done by the Department of Children.
“You have to ask the question: why do we have a department managing this, which has no housing experience, when we have a housing department which is better prepared and geared up for it,” she said.
Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan confirmed yesterday that Roderic O’Gorman would retain responsibility for accommodation refugees and those seeking international protection, after December 17th, when Leo Varadkar replaces Micheál Martin as taoiseach.