Tented-accommodation cannot become ‘the norm’ in asylum system, says O’Gorman

Minister says Government has not ‘lost sight’ of plan to end direct provision

The use of tented accommodation and overcrowded reception facilities cannot be allowed to become “the norm” in the State’s system for housing asylum seekers, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman has said.

The Government had not “lost sight” of the long term plan to end the direct provision system, which accommodates asylum seekers in large centres often run by private companies. The Government has committed to replace the system by the end of 2024.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr O’Gorman said the planned reforms had come under serious pressure due to the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, as well as a wider increase in asylum seekers arriving in Ireland.

The pressure on the State to find accommodation has led to arrivals being put up in tents at some sites. On some occasions asylum seekers were told there was no available shelter upon landing in Dublin Airport.

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“The overcrowding that we see in Citywest, or the use of tented accommodation, that is not something I ever envisaged as Minister, it’s not what I want,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“It is something that I am determined doesn’t become accepted as a norm,” the Green Party TD said.

Officials were working to secure more State-owned centres in the short term, to reduce the “reliance” on accommodation run by private providers, he said.

Recent months had seen “far-right activists” looking to exploit local communities’ concerns at asylum seekers being housed in their areas, he said.

Activists were seeking to “bend and twist the truth” in a similar fashion to how misinformation was spread during the Covid-19 pandemic, he said. “Those who say that our country is full are never going to be on the right side of history,” the Minister said.

Mr O’Gorman was speaking at a conference discussing the progress of plans to end direct provision organised by the Children’s Rights Alliance.

Dr Catherine Day, who led the expert advisory group set up to report on the Government’s promise to scrap direct provision, said the war in Ukraine had “overwhelmed a system that was already stressed”.

Dr Day, a former secretary general of the European Commission, said she was “worried and aghast” at recent protests against asylum seekers being housed in local communities.

“We badly need to get out there and consult in advance ... This is not the same as giving any community a veto,” she said.

Plans to end direct provision had been “knocked sideways” by the Covid-19 pandemic and then the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she said.

“We need to keep pushing for that, [so] by the end of the life of this Government we haven’t totally finished direct provision, but that we are so far on the way to ending it that it is only a question of a little bit longer, and between now and then we will have passed the point of no return,” she said.

The State should “quickly build State-owned reception centres, on State-owned land”, to provide proper temporary accommodation to prevent asylum seekers sleeping on “floors and chairs” in the Citywest reception facility, she said.

The international protection system also needed to continue to speed up the pace at which it processes applications from asylum seekers. “People should not be hanging around ... losing the will to live,” she said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times