President says direct provision system ‘totally unsatisfactory’

Analysis: Higgins comes close to challenging Government during South African speech

President Michael D Higgins has come close to challenging the Government on the issue of direct provision for asylum seekers.

Speaking to a group of South African lawyers yesterday, he described the direct provision system in Ireland as “totally unsatisfactory.”

Two months ago Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald warned against “unrealistic expectations” about fundamental changes to the system. And, last week, a High Court judge in Dublin found the direct provision system did not breach the human rights of two asylum seekers.

However, Mr Higgins said yesterday that the Irish system of direct provision did not address the human rights of people seeking refuge here.


Keynote address

Answering questions following a keynote address at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on human rights and global development, Mr Higgins said Ireland desperately needed to revise the process and law in relation to asylum seekers, and that this was currently under way.

“There is an issue that arises by what we mean as illegal. I believe we are currently reviewing the situation of immigrants coming to Ireland, who might be regarded as illegal.

“In my constitutional role I don’t speak about specific legislation before the House, but I do speak about the principle.”

Syrian refugees

“Last year’s big increase [in asylum seekers] were in fact Syrian refugees, but the system of direct provision by which they are put into places of accommodation, where they may last for anything up to eight to 10 years is totally unsatisfactory, almost every aspect of it,” he said.

Mr Higgins said to a degree the Government’s hands were legally tied because of EU commitments but he added; “I believe we do desperately need a revision of the process and the law, but then you must ask yourself again what is happening at the level of the EU. It is more than just an Irish case. What is meant by the free movement of labour?

“If you take the founding treaties of the European Union, and you look at the position about the freedom of movement within [it]. To what extent then is any government free to contradict the commitment in the Act itself?” he asked.

In September Ms Fitzgerald said the issue was placing huge demands on EU states.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa