Report on improving system for asylum seekers due ‘in weeks’

Minister of State tells Oireachtas commitee that 500 residents in direct provision cannot move on due to difficulties finding housing

Minister of State for New Communities Aodhán Ó Riordáin said the working group report on the asylum-seeker system would be published within weeks after Easter. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister of State for New Communities Aodhán Ó Riordáin said the working group report on the asylum-seeker system would be published within weeks after Easter. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

An independent report on making improvements to supports for asylum seekers, including the direct provision system, will be published “within weeks”.

Minister of State for New Communities Aodhán Ó Riordáin told the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions on Wednesday that the working group had decided not to issue an interim report, as he had previously anticipated.

The independent group is chaired by former High Court judge Dr Bryan McMahon and comprises senior officials from several government departments, as well as representatives of NGOs, academia and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

It is examining conditions in direct provision centres, supports for asylum seekers and ways to improve the processing of protection claims by people seeking asylum here.

Members of the group have visited centres around the country and have taken evidence directly from asylum applicants, including children, victims of torture, victims of trafficking and sexual violence and members of the LGBTI community.

Mr Ó Riordáin asked that the committee allow the process to continue and to give it a “fair wind”. Under questioning from members of the committee, he said they should not make assumptions about what was and what was not being discussed.

The minister said the right for asylum seekers to work was being “openly discussed” but he said he had not been at a meeting of the working group and it was doing its work without any political interference.

He said the Government recognised that the issues to be examined by the working group were complex and required “thorough consideration to ensure that any recommendations are practical and sustainable from a budgetary perspective and do not undermine existing border controls and immigration policies”.

Over 4,400 people currently live in 34 asylum accommodation centres throughout the State. About a third are adult males, a third adult females and a third are children.

The minister said 36 per cent of those residents had been in the overall system for up to three years, 43 per cent between three and seven years and 21 per cent for seven years and more.

Over 500 residents in the direct provision system had permission to remain in the State but could not move on because of difficulties sourcing private accommodation.

Mr Ó Riordáin said almost 600 residents had deportation orders outstanding against them and were required to report periodically to the Garda National Immigration Bureau. The vast majority of these were issued over a year ago,

“There are many reasons why orders are not or cannot be enforced – including the issuing of legal actions, the making of sequential protection applications for members within a family group, the absence of the travel documents required for the return to the country of origin, and so on.”

Last week, Ms Fitzgerald had published the General Scheme of the International Protection Bill, the aim of which was to reduce waiting times for asylum applicants, the minister said.

Earlier, the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality heard a submission from the Immigration Control Platform.

Áine Ní Chonaill, public relations officer for that group said the “fear of God, the frighteners should be put on employers who hire illegals”. That was not happening, she claimed.

In a prepared statement, Ms Ní Chonaill and her colleague Ted Neville said illegal immigration “is the modern form of invasion”.

“This is readily seen when one sees images of boats heading like an armada across the Mediterranean, but it is no less invasion when it is the more clandestine type of illegal immigration experienced in Ireland. ”

Several members of the committee disagreed with Ms Ní Chonaill’s submission.

Labour TD Anne Ferris said she believed there was a “common thread” between the opening statement and what she had recently heard on a visit to Auschwitz.

Ms Ní Chonaill said this was an “outrageous” statement and called for it to be withdrawn.

“I regretfully withdraw it because you asked me to do so but that’s the way I feel,” Ms Ferris said.

Asked by independent TD Finian McGrath how many members her organisation had, Ms Ní Chonaill said she had never given that answer to journalists and would “not allow them to get it now indirectly”.