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Ireland is not full and no asylum applicant is ‘unvetted’. But we need a better system

We can no longer rely on the private sector. A State-owned accommodation system is critical

Images taken by asylum seekers of their living conditions in the direct provision system.

Recently a false narrative has been circulating claiming that “Ireland is full”, and that we should no longer accept asylum seekers or give them shelter. Yet Ireland is neither socially nor spatially full. We have the means to accommodate more people – our growing population and new arrivals – provided we adapt our public policies to meet the needs and expectations of that increased population.

It is time to bring some perspective into the debate. Ireland’s population is now more than 5.2 million people, the highest number in 170 years. The 2022 census tells us that about 12 per cent is non-Irish so inward migration is now an important part of our population. The vast majority of recent arrivals have come legally to Ireland on work or study visas, making a vital contribution to our prosperity and wellbeing. In healthcare, for example, more than one-third of registered nurses and midwives are non-Irish, representing 117 nationalities.

Despite false information on social media, the number of asylum seekers is small, with just 13,600 applications in 2023. All applicants are photographed and fingerprinted, and go through a rigorous assessment of their claims. So we should be unequivocal: there are no “unvetted” people claiming asylum here.

Far from being a target destination, Ireland has been below the EU average in terms of numbers of asylum seekers for many years. In addition to our legal obligations, there is a compelling humanitarian case for helping asylum seekers.


This is not to say that there are not difficulties that need to be addressed. But these can be managed if we have the necessary political will.

The Government has committed to ending the system of direct provision, used to accommodate asylum seekers for more than 20 years. Over this period the State has depended entirely on the private sector to provide accommodation for those seeking international protection, and the limits of this approach were clearly reached some time ago.

The double impacts of Covid and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have added to domestic pressures on housing, and are squeezing available short-term privately owned accommodation. The State is evidently no longer able to provide shelter to newly arrived asylum seekers and the High Court has found the State to be in breach of its legal obligations in not providing them with shelter.

Together with David Donoghue and Lorcan Sirr, I chair an External Advisory Group (EAG) advising Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman on these issues. We have recently submitted some clear recommendations on what should happen next.

As the pressures of war, politics and climate change continue to grow, it is clear that asylum seeking is not a temporary problem. Using the private sector solution is not a sustainable way forward either. Instead, we are recommending the use of State-owned reception and integration centres built on State land, using emergency powers if necessary. This would provide a long-term stock of temporary accommodation that would be outside the domestic, privately owned and social housing sectors. It would not be in competition with homeless services or private sector prospective purchasers.

Analysis suggests these centres should provide temporary accommodation for 10,000-15,000 asylum seekers while their applications are being processed.

Integrating asylum seekers who are granted leave to remain in Ireland starts with how they are treated on arrival

There is also a need to speed up the time taken to process applications for international protection. The International Protection Office (IPO) has shown this can be done. At the end of last year it was issuing 1,000 decisions a month on applications from eight countries considered as “safe”. If sufficient resources are allocated to the IPO, it should be possible to decide on all applications within a six-month period, without infringing the rights of applicants.

The lack of a stock of temporary accommodation for asylum seekers has led to clashes over decisions to house people in emergency accommodation with little advance notice to local communities. We feel the State should do much more to allay the fears of communities about the arrival of asylum seekers. Local communities should be involved as soon as new accommodation centres are under consideration. Long before final decisions are taken, communities need to be informed and involved in discussions about how to provide for and integrate new arrivals. If local services are likely to be affected, decisions should be taken at an early stage to provide extra GP, medical, education and other relevant services.

Experience has shown that leaving notification and consultation to the last minute can be counterproductive. There is a strong case for a national campaign to provide the facts about asylum. Local politicians, the Association of Irish Local Government, the County and City Management Association and civil society groups all have roles to play. Sincere dialogue with local communities is crucial, paying attention to their reasonable concerns and acting upon them wherever possible. This does not mean giving anyone a veto on who moves into the locality.

There have been many good, but largely unreported, examples of new arrivals being welcomed and supported where clear information is provided at the earliest possible stage and where people feel their reasonable concerns have been taken seriously. Integrating asylum seekers who are granted leave to remain in Ireland starts with how they are treated on arrival.

Grasping the nettle of deciding how we treat asylum seekers at a time of housing shortage is uncomfortable but necessary. We are fortunate to live in a prosperous and peaceful country and are more than capable of treating people fleeing war and persecution decently. A State-owned accommodation system is now critical so that we treat asylum seekers with dignity, process their applications quickly, and provide them with temporary shelter while they await decisions on whether they should be allowed to remain to build new futures in Ireland.

Catherine Day is chairwoman of the external advisory group on ending direct provision