Direct provision: Group to review community engagement

Expert group to research how to consult communities on asylum seeker arrivals

Demonstrators in Oughterard, Co Galway protesting against the proposed opening of a direct provision centre in a former hotel. The plan was eventually dropped. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Demonstrators in Oughterard, Co Galway protesting against the proposed opening of a direct provision centre in a former hotel. The plan was eventually dropped. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

An expert group on direct provision is to examine how communities are consulted when centres are to be opened in their localities following a series of protests around the State over the planned arrival of asylum seekers.

The group, which is being chaired by former European Commission secretary general Catherine Day, will report to the Government on potential long-term approaches to accommodating asylum seekers by the end of next year.

Former National Asset Management Agency (Nama) chairman Frank Daly, former Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) director Frances Ruane and former Department of Social Protection secretary general Niamh O’Donoghue are also participating in the initiative.

Minister of State in the Department of Justice David Stanton said the group would look at how best to engage with communities where it is planned to house asylum seekers.

“We have seen at first-hand the concerns of communities when new accommodation centres are first mooted in their areas,” he said.

In recent years there have been objections raised to the opening of direct-provision centres in a number of Irish towns.

These include Roosky, Co Roscommon, where plans for a centre were dropped after arson attacks on the hotel earmarked for the project; Lisdoonvarna in Co Clare, where a centre opened this year; and Oughterard in Co Galway, where locals protested against the proposed conversion of a local hotel into direct-provision accommodation.

Protesters raised concerns about matters such as the lack of consultation with communities before plans to open direct provision centres were put in train and the strain that the arrival of groups of asylum seekers would put on local services such as doctors and schools.

Mr Stanton added: “While we have recently had successful outcomes in opening new centres in Borrisokane, in Ballinamore and in Ennis, the expert group will look at how we can engage more effectively with communities so that we can work together to respond to the needs of asylum seekers and of local residents. This is essential for successful integration opportunities.”

‘Learn from each other’

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the group would identify good practice used in other European countries in relation to the provision of support to those seeking international protection.

“This is a complex issue for all EU Member States and there is no doubt that we have just to learn from each other,” Mr Flanagan said.

“While substantial improvements have been made to our reception system in recent years we are constantly looking to better our service. In particular, I want to see better medium- and long-term planning embedded in our thinking.

“Dr Day’s experience as secretary general to the EU Commission is particularly important and valuable, and the group will engage with Member States as well as the European Asylum Support Office to identify systems and practices that could potentially be used here.”

Other members of the expert group include former CEO of Limerick City and County Council Conn Murray, Fiona Finn of Nasc (the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre) and Bulelani Mfaco of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland.