The Irish Times view on direct provision: maintain the momentum
Any attempt to deter new arrivals by making life more difficult for those in direct provision would be wrong
A demonstration in Dublin, in 2017, calling for the end to the direct provision System.Photograph: Tom Honan
In the mid-1990s, when there was a large increase in the number of asylum seekers coming here, the State was hopelessly unprepared. Each annual increase in the inward flow – from a few dozen in the early 1990s to a peak of over 11,000 in 2002 – exposed new shortcomings. Applicants faced unreasonable delays.
There were inconsistencies in how cases were dealt with. At times the appeals system barely functioned. The Department of Justice gave the impression that it regarded as its primary function not adherence to Ireland’s obligations but the reduction in that inward flow. Its fixation with eliminating “pull factors” informed the design of the direct provision system. Countless reports underlined the negative effects of that system, in which adults were not allowed to work or access education, but it remained in place, virtually unchanged, for more than 15 years.
Only recently have steps been taken to fix the system. A more streamlined application process has brought long-overdue improvements. The appeals system is more transparent. The right to work, introduced by the Government last year after the Supreme Court ruled that the absolute ban was unconstitutional, has made life better for applicants. The system still has major flaws – too many people are still waiting far too long for decisions on the cases – but progress is being made.
That’s why the Department of Justice must not respond to the latest increase in asylum applications by reverting to its default defensive posture. Newly-released figures show that the number of people seeking refugee status here rose by a third last year and is on course to exceed 3,500 for the first time in a decade – a significant increase, but far below the peak. Georgians have overtaken Syrians as the biggest group of applicants.
Certainly, the authorities must examine the figures and analyse emerging patterns. But any attempt to deter new arrivals by making life more difficult for those in direct provision would be wrong. The focus must remain on improving the asylum system so as to ensure it meets the needs of those Ireland is obliged to protect.