Oughterard withdrawal latest example of direct provision’s flaws

Department reliant on private contractors to find accommodation for asylum seekers

Some of the people taking part in the silent protest walk in Oughterard on Saturday against a direct provision centre at the former Connemara Gateway Hotel. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Some of the people taking part in the silent protest walk in Oughterard on Saturday against a direct provision centre at the former Connemara Gateway Hotel. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

On Tuesday morning, following weeks of protests in Oughterard, the developer of the former Connemara Gateway Hotel announced he had withdrawn his tender to turn the premises into a direct provision centre. It’s understood the centre was set to house “less than 250” asylum seekers.

However, developer Sean Lyons’s decision to back out of the project leaves the Department of Justice facing yet another roadblock in its increasingly fractured system of reliance on private contractors to find accommodation for asylum seekers.

Had the development gone ahead, residents would probably have come from the 34 emergency accommodation centres which have opened over the past year. There are currently 1,389 men, women and children staying in these B&Bs and hotels in addition to the 5,966 people, including 1,749 children, living in 38 direct provision centres. This form of temporary accommodation, which costs the State €99 per person per night, has been widely criticised for its failure to meet required EU standards.

Charity groups

In August, a group of Limerick volunteers criticised the Government for relying on the generosity of local people and charity groups to ensure asylum seekers in emergency beds received basic supports such as laundry services, baby formula, medical supplies and transport options.

And the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) has called for children to be removed from these emergency accommodation centres as a “matter of urgency” and has also accused the Government of breaking international law in its failure to carry out vulnerability assessments on asylum seekers as soon as they arrive in the country.

More than 60,000 people have passed through the system since it was introduced nearly two decades ago in response to a sharp increase in the number of people seeking asylum. It was envisaged at the time that people would spend no longer than six months awaiting a decision on their asylum application. The wait time on decisions for applications rose to between eight and 10 years in certain cases by the start of this decade.

Processing time

However, the average processing time for new applications is now 15 months with people waiting between eight and 10 months for an interview with the International Protection Office. If a person is successful in their application they will receive a recommendation from the office followed by a final decision letter from the Minister for Justice.

When it was first introduced, adults in direct provision received £15 (€19.05) per week with children getting £7.50 per week. This payment has slowly risen over the years and, since March 2019, adults receive €38.80 per week and children get €29.80, in line with recommendations laid out by former High Court judge Justice Bryan McMahon in his 2015 working group report. Some 855 people currently in direct provision centres have received refugee status or permission to remain but are unable to leave because of the lack of available housing.

Some 2,680 claims for international protection have been made so far this year, up 36 per cent on the number of applications made during the same period in 2018. However, current numbers remain far off the 11,634 peak in applications in 2002.

Spending on direct provision and related accommodation is set to reach €120 million by the end of 2019, up 54 per cent from €78 million last year.