What is to be done about direct provision?

There is danger a Yes Minister fudge will be adopted, writes Mary Minihan

Exterior of Eglinton Hostel Direct Provision centre in Salthill Galway. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien / THE IRISH TIMES

Exterior of Eglinton Hostel Direct Provision centre in Salthill Galway. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien / THE IRISH TIMES

 

Politicians finally appear to be coalescing around the idea that “something must be done” about the more scandalous aspects of Ireland’s direct provision system.

With little consensus about what course of action should be taken, however, there is danger that the administration will adopt the classic Yes Minister fudge and agree that “doing anything is worse than doing nothing”.

While it is understandable that the Budget is currently dominating Cabinet discussions, there is apparently no formal or informal chance of the reform of direct provision that is so urgently required being discussed at today’s meeting of senior ministers.

A cautious approach was adopted by Minister for Agriculture and Defence Simon Coveney on his way into Government Buildings early this morning. When asked if the issue would be discussed at Cabinet, he said: “I don’t want to make any commitments but it’s certainly something we should look at.”

Mr Coveney talked about the need to “have a conversation” about what was driving asylum seekers to protest at various centres around the country, including in his own Cork constituency.

The Government should see if it “can respond to that in a way that is compassionate, humane and consistent with a modern progressive country like Ireland”, he added.

Mr Coveney’s cautious approach is in contrast to that of the new Minister of State for equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who prompted a collective eyebrow raise in Government circles when he announced recently he was “staking his reputation” on reforming the system.

With, at best, 18 months to go before the next General Election, Mr Ó Ríordáin’s declaration has been dismissed as naive by some.

With Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald remaining officially opposed to asylum seekers working, the temptation to speculate on a rift between the Government partners on the issue grows.

While it is easy for Opposition figures to exploit points of difference, real or imagined, between Fine Gael and Labour, Independent Senator Rónán Mullen deserves credit for seizing the initiative on the issue today.

Perhaps best known for his anti-abortion views, Mr Mullen has struck out from the pack with a proposal to radically overhaul direct provision.

He is calling on the Government to grant the right to seek employment (permitted in all but one other EU State) and establish female-only and family-only reception centres.

Mr Mullen speaks about how asylum seekers’ dignity is being eroded “in big ways and in little ways”.

“People in prison have a date on the door. People in direct provision do not. They don’t know when they will have the freedom to do the simple ordinary things of life like cook a meal or get a family pet,” he says.

Mr Ó Ríordáin will have to push hard to ensure that the Immigrant, Resident and Protection Bill, that fell with the last government, can be amended and brought forward in the short timeframe he has outlined.

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