The Irish Times view on direct provision: dismantle a broken system

The centrepiece of the State’s asylum policy rested on assumptions that were wrong from day one

A demonstration in Dublin calling for anend to the direct provision system. Photograph: Tom Honan

A demonstration in Dublin calling for anend to the direct provision system. Photograph: Tom Honan

In 1999, the then minister of state Liz O’Donnell caused a political storm when she described her own government’s asylum policy as “a shambles”. Direct provision – a system under which asylum seekers were provided with basic housing, meals and a small allowance but banned from taking up paid work – was the official response to the pressures that Fianna Fáil-led coalition faced on the issue.

Twenty years on, criticism of the State’s asylum policy is if anything even more intense than it was in 1999. Direct provision rested on an assumption that was wrong from the beginning: that asylum seekers would have their claims processed in a timely and fair manner and would only have to live in this punitive limbo-status for about six months. As the years passed, and as the numbers of applicants rose, the context changed dramatically, but the system remained the same. A byzantine, drawn-out process left people in remote hostels with no means of integrating into their community for years on end. Decisions were inconsistent. The appeals process was worse. The only people who did well out of the system were the owners of a lucrative accommodation business.

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