Government commitments to end direct provision are “slipping”, the State’s chief human rights and equality commissioner has warned.
Sinéad Gibney, chief of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), said slippage meant delays and “people continue to languish in this system which deprives them of so much”.
She was addressing the Oireachtas committee on public petitions on progress implementing the Government's White Paper on ending direct provision. Published in February by Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O'Gorman, it envisages closing all direct provision accommodation centres by the end of 2024 and replacing them with a new system of accommodation and supports.
Ms Gibney said “relatively simply fixes”, such as ensuring asylum seekers had the right to apply for a driving licence, were “already behind schedule”. The White Paper had promised legislation would be introduced before summer 2021.
“As we appear today the commission is not aware of any specific legislative amendment having been introduced to allow applications for driving licences . . . Being barred from even being able to apply for a driving licence is a massive State-built barrier to securing or seeking employment,” she said.
"The right to seek employment was hard won for asylum seekers in a Supreme Court case by a determined Burmese man . . . That victory is made hollow by such administrative barriers as access to driving licences."
IHREC, she continued had “concerns” that an independent inspection regime of accommodation centres had not yet begun.
Before the White Paper the State had been in breach of EU directives by not ensuring vulnerability assessments were conducted on every asylum seeker on arrival.
These were now happening but at far too low a rate. “Figures provided to the Oireachtas in April this year show that 258 applicants had entered the vulnerability assessment process with 151 assessments completed and 107 then ongoing. This obviously needs to be significantly scaled up given there had been 886 applications received this year alone,” said Ms Gibney.
Stephen Kirwan of the Law Society's human rights and equality committee, described "frustrations" among colleagues that clients in the asylum process were often not getting legal advice until "a very late stage".
One of the "most significant obstacles to the White Paper being realised" was delays in the processing of international protection, or asylum applications, said Ihrec commissioner Colm O'Dwyer SC.
At the end of July there were more than 5,000 people awaiting a “first instance” decision on the applications and the median time to get a decision was 26.9 months, he said.
Ms Gibney called for a “mindset change” in the whole international protection system.
“It’s about moving towards informing our system with a mindset that we are lucky to welcome in many of the aspirant citizens . . . We need to invite them. We need to offer them integration from day one. We need to see and value the contribution they can make to our society and I think when we do that we do start to then see a system that is informed by trauma, that understands the trauma that some of the people have been through [and] that provides wraparound supports tailored to their needs.”