Justice committee hears calls for abolition of direct provision

Human rights ‘set at naught’ by system to deal with international protection applicants

Direct provision had been intended to last no more than six months but instead morphed into one of institutionalised living ‘that will last for many international protection applicants for many years’, the justice committee was told. File photograph: Tom Honan

Direct provision had been intended to last no more than six months but instead morphed into one of institutionalised living ‘that will last for many international protection applicants for many years’, the justice committee was told. File photograph: Tom Honan

 

The system of direct provision was condemned for breaching human rights, negatively impacting on children and destabilising families at an Oireachtas Justice Committee hearing on Wednesday morning.

Associate professor in UCD’s School of Law Dr Liam Thornton said the system was “one that sets human rights at naught, that destabilises and impacts negatively on the rights of the child, the rights of families, and the rights of individuals subject to this system”.

He said direct provision had been intended to last no more than six months but instead morphed into one of institutionalised living “that will last for many international protection applicants for many years”.

He suggested that the State’s approach to international protection applicants had “sought to justify years of institutionalised living, years of the inability to do something as simple as decide what to eat and when to eat”.

He questioned the value of the phrase human rights when the right “to decide the most intimate and basic aspects of one’s life is withdrawn for years on end”. “Convicted of no crime, international protection applicants are segregated from Irish society, and condemned to live a half-live,” he said.

He called for the system to be abolished although he accepted that it would not happen overnight and could have cost implications.

“From nearly twenty years of testimony on lived experience of international protection applicants and human rights-based research, once thing is clear: direct provision was and is a gross breach of the most fundamental human rights we all should have- the right to dignity and respect,” he told the committee.

Fiona Finn, the chief executive of Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, said Ireland had “always institutionalised, excluded and contracted out the care of vulnerable adults and children” and said the Direct Provision system “fails to respect the human dignity of asylum seekers in Ireland”.

She acknowledged and welcomed the openness within the Department of Justice and in some political quarters to radically change our overall protection system.

She also pointed to improvements including the putting of the reception system on a statutory footing, the granting of open access to the labour market for protection applicants who have not had a first instance decision on their application within 9 months and the increase of the weekly allowance to €38.80 for adults €29.80 for children.

However, she said serious structural and systemic issues remained and would continue for as long as the “current institutionalised for-profit model of asylum reception” exists.

She said there was a need to move “from our current reliance on private accommodation providers and create the conditions upon which Approved Housing Bodies with expertise in the provision of housing and social care can provide suitable self-contained accommodation for protection applicants”.

And she repeatedly said the delays in handling all applications would have to be addressed.

The presentations were part of a series of submissions on direct provision which the Justice Committee has been hearing in recent weeks and the process is set to run until the Dáil summer recess.