‘Groundbreaking’ direct provision report backs State-owned centres

Three-month accommodation and longer-term housing run by local authorities recommended

A group calling for the end of direct provision gathered outside the Dáil earlier this year. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

A group calling for the end of direct provision gathered outside the Dáil earlier this year. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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A “groundbreaking” accommodation scheme and asylum process forecast to cost millions less than the current direct provision system has been proposed to replace it by a Government expert group, The Irish Times has learned.

A detailed list of recommendations, including the introduction of State-owned temporary accommodation centres where applicants would spend their first three months in the country and a new housing model led by local authorities, will be published today following an investigation by an expert group appointed last year.

The group’s findings will inform the Government White Paper on ending direct provision which is scheduled to be published by the end of 2020. The expert group, led by former secretary general of the European Commission Dr Catherine Day, has called for the new system to be fully implemented by mid-2023 and for the transition period to begin as soon as possible. It’s understood the proposed model will cost €35.9 million less than what direct provision cost in 2019.

While the Government has committed to ending direct provision, the new recommendations are not legally binding and thus the Department of Children, Disabilities, Equality and Integration, which now leads the direct provision portfolio, is not required to include all the suggested measures in its White Paper. However, it’s understood the report calls for the introduction of binding targets, including some legislative changes.

Six months

It proposes that first instance decisions on asylum applications be made within six months, as is required under the European Communities recast Reception Conditions Directive, which Ireland opted into in July 2018.

Under the new system, asylum seekers will spend up to three months in a State-owned reception centre where they undergo a vulnerability assessment, receive legal advice and begin their application for international protection.

Applicants will then be transferred to own-door accommodation which will be overseen by local authorities through a separate housing budget. This rental scheme should be modelled on the homeless assistance payment (HAP), the group has advised.

The report stipulates people should not be housed in remote areas but in towns and cities where they have access to employment and educational opportunities, a source confirmed, while the number of people housed in each area should be proportionate to the size of the town or city.

Initial decision

Asylum seekers will spend six months awaiting an initial decision on their application and another half year if they need to appeal this decision. If residency is refused on appeal, the applicant should be able to remain in this housing another six months before leaving the State.

The source close to the report described its contents as “groundbreaking” and underlined the group’s desire to see the Department of Housing take over the accommodation portfolio for asylum seekers as soon as possible.

The report specifies that single men and women be given single room accommodation in shared houses and calls for specific accommodation for victims of trafficking.

The recommendations also note that asylum seekers should be entitled to work within three months of entering the State. Those who cannot find work, or are unable to work, should be means tested for “social welfare-type” support, the source said.

An announcement on bank accounts and drivers licences is to be made on Wednesday in conjunction with the release of the report.

Unaccompanied minors should remain under the care of Tusla when they turn 18 and not be transferred into shared accommodation with adults and should also be given legal support to file for refugee status as early as possible so they have the best chance at success, the group has said.

‘Discrimination’

A spokesman for the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, which engaged with the expert group during deliberations, welcomed the proposed changes but warned that relying on a HAP rental model did not “provide a realistic alternative” as it would “allow for discrimination against asylum seekers”. He cautioned against the creation of a separate housing model for asylum seekers and called for applicants to be integrated into the existing housing policy. MASI also criticised the Government for failing to implement any of the interim recommendations around vulnerability assessments, drivers licences and bank accounts.