The Government was defeated in the Seanad as a Private Member's Bill allowing refugees bring their extended family to Ireland passed its committee stage.
The International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill was introduced by Independent Senators Colette Kelleher, Lynn Ruane, Alice Mary Higgins and others.
It is supported by several Independents as well as Fianna Fáil, Labour, Sinn Féin and the Green Party.
The Bill paves the way for refugees to bring grandparents, cousins, nephews, nieces and siblings to Ireland by expanding the reunification programme.
The International Protection Act currently allows those granted refugee status in Ireland to apply for “family reunification” to bring their spouses, parents or children under the age of 18 to Ireland.
Minister of State for Justice David Stanton told the Seanad on Wednesday the Government was working as hard as it could to improve direct provision.
“I have yet to see an alternative which will work and which will ensure that a person who comes to Dublin today and looks for asylum will be guaranteed a bed, food, heat, safety and comfort tonight,’’ he added.
Mr Stanton said the system was under ferocious pressure.
He said if there were other ways of doing things that would work and would be practical, Senators should let the Government know and it would pursue them.
“The direct provision centres are filling up very fast,’’ he added.
“I am extremely concerned about what will happen in the winter if people arrive here and we have no physical places for them to go.’’
As the committee stage was passed, the Government was defeated by 29 votes to 17.
The Seanad will consider the report and final stages of the Bill next week.