State-owned land may be used for direct provision

Emergency accommodation is costing about €500,000 a week

David Stanton, Minister of State for Immigration, says there is no appetite here to go the way of some other countries that  provide accommodation in ‘sleeping bags and tents’. Photograph: James Forde

David Stanton, Minister of State for Immigration, says there is no appetite here to go the way of some other countries that provide accommodation in ‘sleeping bags and tents’. Photograph: James Forde

 

State-owned land could be used to provide direct-provision accommodation for the growing number of asylum seekers arriving in the country, Minister of State for Immigration David Stanton has said.

The Department of Justice is considering such a move as pressure mounts to find suitable accommodation for those seeking international protection after recent efforts to provide it in community settings sparked protests.

One such protest in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, was stood down at the weekend after the High Court granted an injunction against the demonstrators for preventing the completion of work on the proposed lodgings. The court was told there was an attempt to burn down a Tesco store attached to the 25-apartment development and that workers had been subject to threats and intimidation.

The State has become increasingly reliant on emergency options for accommodating asylum seekers at a cost of €500,000 a week, according to a departmental spending review. It currently costs about €100 per person per night.

Applications

There were 3,762 asylum applications in the first nine months of the year, the highest level since 2008. There was a 20 per cent increase in demand for direct-provision accommodation last year and this is expected to rise to 40 per cent this year.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Stanton said he was eager to get away from that approach and is considering alternatives.

“We are exploring every eventuality and every possibility at the moment including any State land that’s out there that we can use,” he said. “The State does own a number of centres already and probably if we were to use some State land we would have to go and get planning permission as well, which would be a more transparent system [than the current private tendering process].”

A senior source familiar with asylum policy confirmed that such an approach was under consideration.

Total bill

The total bill for accommodation for asylum seekers last year came to €78 million, 17 per cent more than initial estimates and the highest outlay since 2010. The operation of State-owned centres is about 44 per cent cheaper than paying private operators, the spending review states, but these come with a substantial upfront cost to the exchequer.

“While completely moving to State-owned accommodation may not be feasible, increasing the number of these types of centres could lead to a reduction in current operational costs.”

Some of those protesting against the proposed opening of direct provision centres in their areas have criticised a lack of consultation before locations are selected, and the building of accommodation would make the process more publicly transparent. However, such developments would still likely provoke disquiet in communities.

“At the moment we have opened up a tender nationally,” Mr Stanton said. “Because of the pressures on the system we need this for people who are seeking international protection.

“I want to get away from the emergency hotel and bed-and-breakfast set-up because I’m not happy with that at all. We can provide the full range of services to people who need those services.”

Broader housing crisis

Mr Stanton said there was no appetite to go the way of some other countries that have provided accommodation in “sleeping bags and tents”.

The difficulty in finding accommodation has been added to by the State’s broader housing crisis, with some of those who are given permission to remain in the country often having no option but to remain in direct provision.

The department has set up a “high level” committee to “reconsider” the State’s response, including alternative “models of service provision”.