Former High Court judge to chair group on direct provision

Opposition calls for abolition of ‘inhumane’ direct provision system

Former Justice Bryan McMahon, presiding officer at citizenship ceremonies, will chair a new  working group on direct provision for asylum seekers. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

Former Justice Bryan McMahon, presiding officer at citizenship ceremonies, will chair a new working group on direct provision for asylum seekers. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

 

The Government has appointed a former High Court judge to chair its working group on direct provision for asylum seekers.

Former Justice Bryan McMahon, presiding officer at citizenship ceremonies, will take control of the group which whose membership and terms of reference will be announced “shortly”.

Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin told the Dáil the membership of the group would include representatives of non-governmental organisations, advocacy groups working with children and other vulnerable people, refugees and representatives “from all relevant Government Departments which have a role to play in relation to dealing with protection applicants in terms of the supports and services provided to them”.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said the working group is expected to submit a first report to the Government by the end of the year.

The group is expected to deal with issues including: the material needs of applicants in direct provision, such as the direct provision allowance and exceptional needs payments; accommodation requirements for families and those with special needs; arrangements for handling complaints and inspections and whether limits should be placed on the length of time spent in direct provision.

The Minister rejected a private member’s motion from the technical group calling for the abolition of direct provision, saying it was inhumane and incompatible with the 21st century.

They had to be sure the changes they were sustainable, he said.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said he wanted to see it reformed, but imperfect as it was it had met the housing and other immediate needs of more than 51,000 asylum seekers.

“No one has ever been turned away and no one has been left homeless. The difficulty is that a short term emergency measure has become long-term policy.”

He added that the system had “shown itself capable of responding in a flexible way as the numbers of asylum seekers arriving in the State has ebbed and flowed”.

The Minister said Ireland was playing its part in dealing with immigrants fairly, humanely, expeditiously and in accordance with Irish and international rules.

“Over the past 14 years or so, close to 40,000 immigrants who came here and utilised our protection and related processes have been allowed to remain in the State on a permanent basis.”

But introducing the motion to abolish the direct provision system, Independent TD Thomas Pringle said 4,300 plus asylum seekers, more than one third of them children, were living in “inhumane conditions not fit for the 21st century in the 34 direct provision accommodation centres throughout the country. This system must end.”

The Donegal TD highlighted the costs of the system, saying it had been extortionate, but was “providing little in terms of a decent standard of living. The State has given more than €850 million to private firms for the provision of accommodation and food since direct provision was established.”

“Many of these companies are large firms involved in the property, hospitality or catering business. Several have moved to shield their company accounts from public scrutiny and, in some cases, their beneficial owners include companies in offshore jurisdictions such as the Isle of Man or British Virgin Islands.”

Independent TD Finian McGrath said everybody had relatives in the US, Australia and throughout the world. “They had to emigrate as well. We are part of the process. Only in the past week we saw the great Galway man, Marty Walsh, home on a visit to Ireland, Galway and Dublin.

“He was elected mayor of Boston. I listened to the details of his interview and how he got elected by a cross-section of Boston society. He got a good deal of support from different communities and used his vote in a very positive way. It is important that we use these examples because as I speak there are children in the centres who could be doctors, scientists and leaders of tomorrow.”