Direct provision protests manipulated by outsiders, judge claims

Oughterard locals ‘used’ by outside elements pursuing political agenda, retired judge says

Mr Justice Bryan McMahon said he did not see any immediate alternatives to the direct provision system. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mr Justice Bryan McMahon said he did not see any immediate alternatives to the direct provision system. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Locals in Oughterard protesting against a direct provision centre in the town were “used” by outsiders seeking to further their own political agenda, Mr Justice Bryan McMahon has said.

Referring to attempts by far-right and anti-immigration elements from outside the Co Galway town to hijack protests against the possibility of a centre, the judge said locals “were used initially”.

“They suddenly woke up and found they were being used but it was too late.”

Last month the company proposing to run a centre in the town withdrew from the tender process following protests and a blockade of the site by locals.

The Government must consult local communities about planned centres, particularly if the community is small, the judge said. It must also establish that there are enough local facilities to meet the needs of the community and the asylum seekers.

The judge, who retired from the High Court in 2011, added that “any consultation should be with the local people and not outsiders who come in trying to hijack and infiltrate with their own political agenda”.

The direct provision system is far from ideal, the judge said, “but it’s the best we’ve got and it’s a hell of a lot better than it was five years ago”.

He said he did not see any immediate alternatives to the system.

“It is all well and good saying put [asylum seekers] into the local communities where they’ll get houses to rent. They won’t.”

Community sponsorship

He said a community sponsorship model, where a small number of families are placed in towns around the country with the support of locals, holds promise. But it would take an “awful lot of time” to establish it on a scale needed to address the problems with direct provision, he said.

The country’s 38 direct provision centres are currently at full capacity, with 6,000 residents, while a further 1,400 asylum seekers are in emergency accommodation. There are about 800 people in direct provision who have been granted asylum but have nowhere to go.

“Without doubt, the housing crisis poses the greatest practical challenge to identifying an alternative to the direct provision system where residents might be allowed to live with greater dignity,” the judge said.

He noted that although there had been many improvements in the system, there were still several areas of concern including a lack of access to cooking facilities in many centres, including nearly all Government-run centres.

The judge, who was previously appointed by the Government to lead a working group on direct provision, said the Reception and Integration Agency of the Department of Justice is exploring “on a pilot basis” the possibility of the Peter McVerry Trust and De Paul Ireland providing transitional housing supports to asylum seekers to ease the crisis.