Minister rules out amnesty for asylum seekers in direct provision

Former High Court judge Bryan McMahon welcomes progress but warns of refugees ‘dying before our eyes’

The Minister of State with responsibility for refugees has ruled out a blanket amnesty for those who are in direct provision for five years or more.

The move was advocated by former High Court judge Bryan McMahon who chaired a working group into the direct provision system which issued a critical report a year ago.

In response, David Stanton, who was appointed as Minister of State for Justice three weeks ago, said Mr McMahon's intentions were good, but each application would still have to be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Both men spoke at the Inclusive Centenaries 1916 conference in NUI Galway ahead of World Refugee Day on Monday. NUI Galway has unveiled a scholarship scheme to study at the university for those from an immigrant background.

It emerged at the conference that 1,500 of the 2,000 who were in direct provision for more than five years when the report was published in June 2015 now had leave to remain in Ireland.

Mr McMahon said he was “delighted” so many people now had their situation regularised but urged the Government to go further.

He renewed his call for the Government to introduce an amnesty for those long-term in direct provision, saying it would be a gesture of “real significance” and a suitable tribute to the men and women of 1916.

Those in direct provision were “hollow men and women with scooped out personalities and moving like zombies in some cases”, he said. Some, he told the conference, were “dying before our eyes”.

Mr Stanton told the conference that 140 of the recommendations in the McMahon Report had either been implemented or were in the process of being implemented.

Among those were improvements in access to education for children in direct provision and better accommodation.

He also stated that the new International Protection Act would change the anomaly which prevented refugees in direct provision centres from working.

He said the decision-making process would be sped up so asylum seekers would know within eight months if they had leave to stay, and if so they would be able to work.

Organisations involved in the working group on direct provision "strongly welcomed" the progress that had been made, according to Eugene Quinn, the national director of Jesuit Refugee Service Ireland.

But he said there were still 4,300 people within the system, including the 500 living in direct provision for over five years, who needed better living conditions.

The meeting on Thursday was held between support groups and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, Mr Stanton and Department officials.

The various parties agreed to have quarterly meetings to advance the McMahon report’s recommendations.

Fiona Finn, ceo of Irish Immigrant Support Centre Nasc, said it welcomed plans to develop "communal kitchens" in reception centres, as well as a nutrition audit concerning the food provided to residents.

The Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon has welcomed Ms Fitzgerald's commitment to extend the remit of his office to include access for children in direct provision centres but he called for urgency in bringing the change into being.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times