An interdepartmental group set up to advise Government on how to improve direct provision has recommended asylum seekers initially be housed in State-run facilities but says the use of private sector and emergency accommodation should be retained in preparation for a surge in numbers.
The Department of Justice's Report of the Interdepartmental Group on Direct Provision, which is set to be made public this week, advises that a small number of "short-stay reception and screening centres" modelled on the Balseskin centre in Finglas, Dublin be used when people first arrive in the country, while contracts be provided for "modular accommodation" at existing direct provision locations.
Housing people in emergency accommodation is the “the least efficient way of meeting the needs of applicants and the most expensive”, it notes, but advises that the State maintain access to these centres.
The report warns that a contingency plan is needed “as a matter of urgency” to manage a “major expansion of numbers” applying for international protection. The number of people seeking asylum in the State had risen by 26.3 per cent on the previous year when members of the group were meeting in 2019. However, numbers have dropped sharply since Covid-19 hit.
The group, chaired by Department of Justice deputy secretary general Oonagh Buckley, was established in May 2019 to review the implementation of Ireland’s obligations under the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive. It was set up before the appointment of the expert group led by Dr Catherine Day, which published its report last week.
The findings of both groups are expected to inform the Government White Paper which is scheduled for publication in December.
The interdepartmental report, seen by The Irish Times, notes that direct provision has been under "significant strain" since September 2018 resulting in applicants being offered accommodation in a "relatively unplanned way" and at a "much higher cost to the exchequer". Preparations should be made for a further 10-20 per cent increase in the number of asylum applicants in the coming years, it says.
It acknowledges the “sustained public criticism” of the current model and says accommodating people in State facilities can only be justified if the processing of applications is made more efficient and supports are in place to help integrate those granted permission to stay.
A “standard approach and communications package” should also be made available to communities where centres are being considered, it says.
Vulnerability assessments should be carried out when people arrive with “smaller or more bespoke” accommodation arrangements available for the most vulnerable.
Further supports are needed to ensure the estimated 1,200 people who are likely to receive permission to remain each year can leave direct provision within the “shortest possible timeframe”. Those who stay in direct provision longer than 12 weeks after receiving permission to remain should have certain supports withdrawn or be required to make a contribution to the cost of their accommodation.
The group recommends that first-instance decisions be made within nine months with a view to reducing this to six months. The International Protection Appeals Tribunal should continue to streamline its processes, while the issuing of temporary residence cards, medical cards and allocation of PPSN numbers should also be sped up.
Schools who receive the children of international protection applicants should be entitled to an additional teaching allocation, including English-language supports and SNAs.
It also recommends that the period of time a person must wait before applying to enter the labour market should be reduced to six months or less, a measure that was announced by Government last week. Under the new system, applicants may now apply for work six months after applying for asylum while their work permit remains valid for 12 months rather than six.