A senior Department of Justice official strongly disagreed with the proposed increase to direct provision payments in last year’s budget, documents show.
The weekly allowance for asylum seekers in direct provision rose to €38.80 for adults and €29.80 for children in March 2019 following the recommendation of the 2015 McMahon working group report.
The increase came nearly six months after Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe announced in his Budget 2019 social welfare package that the stipend would go up.
However, documents released under freedom of information to UCD academic Dr Liam Thornton, and shared with The Irish Times, reveal a senior official from the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) was unhappy to see payments for asylum seekers increase.
In an email to a Department of Social Protection official dated September 25th, 2018, Brian Merriman, a principal officer at the INIS, within the Department of Justice, wrote that the McMahon rates had been recommended at a time when there was a total ban on accessing work. "We now have the most generous access, including that children will retain their allowances regardless of the parents' earnings. Have you considered such a radical change of economic circumstances and the NGO submissions point that out?"
The principal officer from the Department of Social Protection responded that “all the issues you identify have been considered and highlighted” but that he was only making the Justice official aware of potential plans. “It is by no means certain that this will be included as part of the budget package”.
Mr Merriman replied that the department should also consider the “very poor take up on the right to work (which may indicate that they are already working in serious numbers). If they are working the lack of take up of the permission may be a resistance to making any contribution towards their keep?”
A fortnight later, the increase was announced in the 2019 budget package. It marked the third payment rise since the direct provision allowance was introduced in 2000 at a weekly rate of IR£15 per adult and IR£7.50 per child (€19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child).
The McMahon working group recommended in 2015 that adults should receive €38.74 per week and children €29.80. The following year former tánaiste Joan Burton announced the child payment would increase to €15.60, the first rise since 1999.
In June 2017, then minister for social protection Leo Varadkar announced the weekly welfare payment would rise from €15.60 to €21.60 for children and €19.10 to €21.60 for adults.
In March 2019, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty announced payments would rise to €38.80 per week for adults and €29.80 for children.
According to Dr Thornton, the Department of Justice has always been "exceptionally cautious" about improving conditions for asylum seekers. "The core reason for the Justice reluctance is that it has always argued that but [for] the impoverishment of asylum seekers, Ireland would face a wave of people coming here to see asylum," he said.
The 2016 rise was to avoid criticism by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, while the 2017 increase was an attempt by Mr Varadkar to appear “caring and not altogether heartless” in life of his welfare cheats campaign, said Dr Thornton.
A Government spending review of direct provision, published in August, stated savings could be made “once arrangements are complete” to reduce or withdraw daily allowances from those in employment.
“Further savings could be achievable once the arrangement is set up to also require those earning a sufficiently high income to contribute towards the cost of accommodation,” it said.
Documents obtained by Dr Liam Thornton over recent years that are referenced in this article will soon be accessible on the website exploringdirectprovision.ie