Minister warns against ‘unrealistic expectations’ on direct provision
Sinn Féin TD says there is no accountability from private service-providers paid by State
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald: “I have made it clear that we will do whatever we can to improve conditions and to ensure that human rights are protected.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
The Minister for Justice has warned against what she called “unrealistic expectations” in dealing with asylum seekers and direct provision. “This is a Europe-wide problem in terms of the demands in Europe,” Frances Fitzgerald said, “particularly in southern Europe and the number of refugees as a result of unrest internationally.”
It was a complex issue that was placing huge demands on EU states. “I have made it clear that we will do whatever we can to improve conditions and to ensure that human rights are protected.” However, she told TDs: “I caution against unrealistic expectations.”
She repeated that new arrivals would be dealt with within a year or 18 months maximum once new legislation was implemented at Easter next year.
Ms Fitzgerald was responding during justice questions to Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who raised concerns about direct provision for asylum seekers and the delays in dealing with their cases.
Mr Mac Lochlainn said those in direct provision were “trapped in this situation and impoverished for a significant period”. Highlighting concerns about the impact on children of living in direct provision, he said there should be accountability from centres through the Ombudsman, but there was no accountability because private businesses provided the services.
Pressure has increased on the Government to act where some asylum seekers waited for up to nine years for a decision on their applications. Length of stay, accommodation and cooking facilities have been criticised internationally and allegations have been made that some women in direct provision have been forced into prostitution.
Mr Mac Lochlainn acknowledged Ms Fitzgerald’s concern but said it was “the inevitable outworking of a long-term situation when people find themselves trapped”. He called on the Minister to move speedily.
Cautioning against unrealistic expectations in relation to direct provision and warning of the EU-wide problem, Ms Fitzgerald also said she did not accept it was inevitable that women in direct provision must resort to prostitution. She had asked for Garda reports on any harassment that might be taking place.
“If there is information available to show that women are being solicited or put under pressure, that must be examined and managers in local centres must be highly sensitive to is. Certainly I do not see it as inevitable.”
Ms Fitzgerald said 4,330 people were housed in 34 asylum centres and she said the issue should be put in “some context”. There was a 40 per cent increase in the number of asylum seekers to date this year “although obviously from a low base in recent years”. She said this was a reflection of the European-wide demand in respect of refugees as well as unrest in many countries.