Asylum seekers provided with own-door accommodation in the community will not be taking housing that could go to households waiting many years for social housing, Minister for Children, Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman has promised.
He was "very conscious," he said, "that we can't allow certain groups that might want to portray this as the promotion of one category of person seeking housing against another" adding, however, that the Housing Agency had offered "great support" in advising his department on "accessing housing stock".
He said any perception that asylum seekers were “competing” for the same housing as families on council lists would be dispelled because his department would source housing for the former, while the Department of Housing would support local authorities to provide for the latter.
Addressing a briefing on Wednesday on his department’s white paper to end direct provision, Minister O’Gorman said past opposition to new centres had arisen because of their location in “very small or very rural communities” and they had been announced “without any sort of preparatory work having been done” with locals.
New centres would be in larger towns and cities, he said. Local services would be engaged to prepare for new arrivals.
The white paper, published in February, aims to end the 21-year-old direct provision system by 2024.
The system, which sees asylum applicants accommodated in institutionalised, for-profit settings, often overcrowded and with families and individuals sharing rooms with strangers, has faced harsh criticism by numerous human rights bodies, including the United Nations, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Ombudsman for Children.
Under the new system, the Minister said, on arrival into Ireland people would spend up to four months in State-owned reception and integration centres. Families would have own-door accommodation and individuals would have their own room.
After, “they will be provided with State-owned accommodation in towns and cities across the country, while they await the outcome of their application. This will allow applicants live independently, it will foster inclusion and integration between applicants and their host communities,” he said.
“The accommodation will be delivered through a multi-strand approach, in conjunction with approved housing bodies and NGOs. Some of the housing will be built, some purchased... I met with the Housing Agency recently and we will be signing a memorandum with them in terms of accessing the housing stock.”
Asked about the possible perception that asylum seekers were being housed while families on housing lists waited longer, he said: “I’m very conscious that the measures we are taking to address the housing needs of those in the international protection system are taking place in the wider context of measures the Government is taking to address the wider housing crisis.
“We have a very substantial commitment in the programme for Government to provide an additional 50,000 social housing units.
“I am very conscious that we can’t allow certain groups that might want to portray this as some sport of promotion of one category of person seeking housing against another.
"[Provision of asylum applicants’ housing] will be done by separate departments, separate AHBs [approved housing bodies], separate NGOs… We will be very clear there is not any element of competition between the provision of housing through my department and provision of social and other housing through the Department of Housing.”