What a slap on the face from Leo Varadkar, just days after coming to office. This not what we, as people living in poverty under the system of Direct Provision, want. Is he really serious, how can our lives improve from this, realistically speaking?
From top: Lissywollen Direct Provision centre for asylum seekers in Athlon Fr Paddy Byrne, of Portlaoise
Further to the Supreme Court decision earlier this week.
In which it unanimously decided that the ban prohibiting asylum seekers from work is unconstitutional.
Mags Gargan, in The Irish Catholic, writes:
Pope Francis has been called on to visit a direct provision centre during his expected trip to Ireland next year, in order to highlight the treatment of asylum seekers.
Fr Paddy Byrne, a curate in Portlaoise parish who ministers to the residents of the Montague Hotel, a direct provision centre in Emo, said the system is a “scandal” but it is “not on the mainstream political agenda because it is not popular”.
“The culture in Ireland, that was so vociferous in relation to the scandals of the past and how we treated our citizens in mother and baby homes, seems to be taking absolutely no cognisance of the fact that this remains a reality in this Republic in 2017.
“There are mothers and babies imprisoned in horrific conditions, and in the parish where I minister, four miles out the road you have 140 people imprisoned up to 10 years by direct provision,” he said.
“I call upon Pope Francis when he visits Ireland for the World Meeting of Families next year, to visit a direct provision centre. We have to challenge this with dramatic gestures and it would be in keeping with tradition of the Church, our theology and our pastoral care – we need to be out there on the frontline.”
During the fourth and final Fine Gael leadership hustings, a man called Joseph (top) asked about direct provision. He said thousands of Irish people can see the direct provision system is an act of disrespect to humanity.
He then asked how either Simon Coveney or Leo Varadkar would address this, if they became Taoiseach.
He also said:
“The [Bryan] McMahon Report recommends safeguards to ensure that no one is left in the asylum system longer than five years. What are your intentions regarding the people who have been in the asylum system for over five years, especially those who are not eligible to have the single application accessed under the new single procedure or people who are on deportation orders?”
From their responses:
Simon Coveney said:
“First of all, in relation to people who’ve been here for many years and who are essentially in limbo, because they are, because for many people, it’s actually almost impossible for the Department of Justice to establish a number of the facts that they’re trying to establish around people who are here as to whether they should be eligible for asylum or not.
“And so people just are here in that state of unknowing what the future holds and I do think if we advocate, as we do, for undocumented Irish in the US, to have a path to be able to regularise their own position. I believe, also in Ireland, we should allow for an opportunity for people to regularise their position over time if they’ve been here for many years.
“I also think that it is no way to actually cater for people who are waiting for asylum decisions here, beyond a certain period of time, for people to be in direct provision. People who want to make a contribution, people who are essentially living with very small amounts of money per week and with the State subsidising their lives, but really unable to make any positive contribution to society for various different reasons in terms of barriers that are put in place.
“And I do think we need to move away from that. In a way, of course those, that ensures that we make decisions firmly and fairly in relation to asylum applications and of applications in relation to refugees.
“But I do think what we have at the moment is a system that takes far too long to make decisions and therefore we’re asking families and individuals to stay in conditions which are not conducive to contributing in a positive way to society. And I know Joseph well, he’s a great guy. But there is change in this area that’s needed and of course that puts more pressure on a minister like me, in terms of social housing provision which is why we’ve committed €5.5billion to a social housing build programme that’s going to add 47,000 social houses.”
Leo Varadkar said:
“I suppose the idea of direct provision, when it was first established, I think it was probably back in the 1990s at this stage, was that people would be in direct provision for a couple of months while their applications for asylum or refugee status would be decided on and if they got status, they would then leave direct provision. If they didn’t, then they’d obviously would have to leave the country if they were found not to be eligible for refugee status or asylum status.
“The real problem is that people are now staying so long in direct provision. And there actually are people who have status, who’ve been given leave to remain, who’ve been given refugee status, but are still living in direct provision because there is no housing available for them. That’s a terrible situation to be in for people, they are still living in Mosney for example, the old Butlin’s camp, who have been given status but there is no homes for them to go to and I think that’s really, really difficult for us as a society to stand over.
“I do think things will improve. We brought through new legislation, Minister [Frances] Fitzgerald, the Minister for Justice, has finally, after a lot of hard work, successfully brought through the International Protection Act. And that’s going to change things, cause at the moment you can apply for different statuses, you can apply for different types of statuses at different times. And under the new rules, you’ll apply for all types of status on day one.
“So, at the moment, you might apply for refugee status, not get that, apply for leave to remain, then not get that, then judicial review it, she’s going to streamline that whole process so decisions are going to be made a lot quicker and I think that’s a real step forward and it’s a tribute to her and Dave Stanton, in fact, for getting through that legislation.
“One thing I’d like to see examined. I haven’t studied it in detail myself so I don’t want to make a definite commitment on it but I do think people who are in the country for a long period of time, whose status hasn’t been decided on, we should consider giving them the right to work. It must be a very frustrating thing to be in a country, you’re waiting on a decision, you want to work, you want to contribute, you want to make money for your family, you want to give something to the society you’re now living in and I think that’s something we need to take a long, hard look at.”
The Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy spoke about the procurement and management of contracts for direct provision centres.
In his opening statement, he explained that €57million was spent on accommodation for asylum seekers in 2015. He then went on to criticise how direct provision management contracts were procured for the 28 commercially run centres across Ireland.
He also stated: “Contracts did not set performance measures and there was limited provision for penalties for under-performance by suppliers.”
The General Secretary of the Department of Justice Noel Waters was also present at PAC and, in his opening statement, said if direct provision had not been established in 2000, there “simply would not have been even the most basic shelter available” for people seeking asylum in Ireland.
He also said “there are no cheaper alternatives to direct provision”.
From Mr McCarthy’s opening statement:
“At December 2015, there was a total of 35 direct provision centres in operation — seven State-owned centres, and 28 centres provided by 22 commercial suppliers. Almost 4,700 individuals were being accommodated in the centres at the year end. The Department also operates two emergency reception and orientation centres to cater for persons who already have refugee status.
“The total cost to the Department in 2015 of providing accommodation and related services to asylum seekers and refugees was €57 million. The level of accommodation required is demand-led and difficult to predict. It is influenced by the number of asylum seekers, their length of stay in direct provision and, because there is no obligation to avail of direct provision, the number who opt to do so.
“The report notes that in mid-2016, the average length of stay was 38 months with 450 residents, or 10% of the total, living in direct provision for more than seven years. 23% of residents or 950 people, continued to reside in direct provision even though their cases had been finalised. This included 667 people or 16% who had been granted a status permitting them to remain in Ireland; and 283 or 7% who were subject to deportation orders.
“Two commercial companies were contracted to provide services such as catering, cleaning and maintenance at the seven State-owned centres. We found that competitive processes had been used to procure those services.
“In contrast, the Department had not used competitive processes as set out in public procurement procedures to procure the 28 commercially-owned and run centres. Instead, it seeks ‘expressions of interest’, evaluates the responses and then agrees contract terms with selected providers.
“The Department’s view is that this equates to the ‘negotiated procedure’ provided for in EU procurement rules. However, use of that procedure is only permitted in certain limited circumstances that we could not see existed in relation to direct provision. The Department stated that it discussed the matter with the Office of Government Procurement but hadn’t identified a procurement method to replace the current procedure.
“The examination also found that effective management of contracts was made more difficult because not all contract deliverables had been expressed in a way that could be quantified or measured.This increased the risk that standards of accommodation and services would not meet asylum seekers’ needs or would be inconsistent between centres.
“In addition, contracts did not set performance measures and there was limited provision for penalties for under-performance by suppliers. The Department agreed to the report’s recommendation to review the standard contract, and the Accounting Officer will be able to update the Committee in that regard. Service delivery in the centres is monitored by physical inspections of premises, information clinics for residents of centres and review of complaints by residents.
“However, the findings from this monitoring are not collated and used to assess service delivery performance. The Department committed to introduce procedures to formally record such inspection findings and complaints, which should inform discussions with centre managers and owners. Even though there was a low level of complaints by residents, information from other sources suggests that there is a significant level of dissatisfaction among residents about the quality of the accommodation and/or services provided.
“A revised complaints procedure introduced in 2015 provided for an appeal to an independent appeals officer where a person was not satisfied with how their complaint was dealt with. However, at the time of the examination, an independent appeals officer had yet to be appointed.
“The report recommended that the Department review the complaints process to identify reasons why residents may not be raising issues. The Department noted that the revised complaints procedure largely addressed this issue but undertook to examine ways to make the complaints process more open and transparent.
“Members may also be aware that, from early April this year, residents of direct provision can now bring a complaint to the Ombudsman, or to the Ombudsman for Children, if they are unhappy with how their original complaint was dealt with.”
From the Secretary General at the Department of Justice Noel Waters’ opening statement:
“From 2000 to date some 60,000 people have been accommodated in direct provision. Equally they have been provided with full access to the State’s medical and education services. The system is not perfect by any means and we are continually seeking to improve it.”
“The reality is that had the State not adopted the direct provision system, there simply would not have been even the most basic shelter available for this group of people who arrived and continue to arrive to our country.”
“At the start of this year there were 4,465 persons living in this accommodation. However, I am glad to say – and this is a significant change – that, of those, 72% have been there for three years or less since the date of their application. This compares to 36% who were there for 3 years or less when the data was compiled for the Working Group on Direct Provision and related matters in 2015.”
“To put it another way, there has been a complete reversal in the length of stay figures since the Working Group examined the matter.”
“Full board accommodation in keeping with the policy of nationwide dispersal is offered to
residents while their application for protection is being processed. It is important to note that not every person who seeks international protection in Ireland choses to accept the offer of full board accommodation and many choose to live with family or friends in communities across the country, as they are entitled to do.”
“But if this system was not in place, already vulnerable people who have sought protection in the State would join the lengthy waiting lists for social housing or enter the private rental market with little hope of finding affordable and secure accommodation.”
“That is the very situation that obtained which gave rise to the direct provision system being put in place in the first place. The offer of State-provided accommodation is a guarantee that every person who walks into the International Protection Office today will, tonight, have a bed, full board and access to medical care.”
“Moreover, their children will have access to our first and second level education system on
the same basis as anyone else.”
“Of course no system is without room for improvement and our challenge is to continually
enhance and develop the entire system so that the best possible set of facilities and services can be provided to those in our care.”
“…There are no cheaper alternatives to direct provision – we have explored the options in this respect; in fact they are much more expensive – and in any event given the critical shortage of housing in the State they are not realistic.”
Members of RAMSI and MASI (Refugee and Migrant Solidarity Ireland and Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland ) including Sophia Sharma, above, gathered outside Leinster House.
Their demonstration took place as, inside the Oireachtas AV room, asylum seekers and members of RAMSI and MASI highlighted their concerns about the new International Protection Act which came into effect earlier this year.
The IPA includes a single application procedure which is meant to bring Ireland in line with other EU countries – whereby the process of applying for refugee protection is streamlined and the length of time that people have to wait for decisions on their applications is reduced.
However, according to RAMSI and MASI, the IPA has resulted in huge confusion when more than 3,000 asylum seekers were asked to submit a new 60-page application in early February.
They also say that the IPA has resulted in a rise in the numbers of people deported and in the numbers of people refused entry at the border, including people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Eritrea.
Up to 30 asylum seekers, along with members of the groups Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland and Anti Racism Network, and others, will make a presentation on the International Protection Act (IPA) to members of the Dáil.
As this presentation takes place, supporters will gather outside the gates of the Dáil.
Organisers of the event write:
Last month, the IPO (International Protection Office) launched the single application procedure for asylum seekers in Ireland. In early February the IPO sent a 60-page questionnaire form to over 3000 people in the asylum process to be returned within 20 days, including legal counsel.
This new procedure was supposed to increase the efficiency of Ireland’s asylum process. It has, according to those affected, been a ‘shambolic disaster’. Lack of clarity about the deadline, the paralysis of the swamped Refugee Legal Service, the difficulties of retrieving documentation, poor translations of of the form are just some of the obstacles people have had to deal with as they complete a form determining their future and the futures of their children.
The IPA has introduced sweeping changes to Ireland’s immigration law. Many of its provisions seem designed to undermine the internationally recognised right to seek asylum. While the Department of Justice insists that the single procedure will speed up the asylum process, fears that this will be achieved through accelerated deportations, unmonitored refusals, and defective, erratic assessment processes are being proven all too accurate.
Vicky Donnelly of Galway One World Centre observes: “While Trump’s ‘travel ban’ has, quite correctly, been criticised by politicians here, Ireland has been quietly deporting people at the border before they can even make a proper case for asylum. At a time of unprecedented crisis, when a focus on human rights is most needed, the IPB appears purpose-designed to facilitate and speed up deportations. History will judge us harshly unless we recognise these issues and act to correct them.”
From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking in Capitol Hill last Thursday; former High Court judge Bryan McMahon
You may recall how Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave a speech in the presence of US President Donald Trump at a Friends of Ireland lunch in Capitol Hill, Washington last Thursday, concerning the estimated 50,000 Irish who are living in the United States illegally.
The speech prompted an article in The New York Times headlined, ‘Irish Premier Uses St Patrick’s Day Ritual to Lecture Trump on Immigration’.
At the beginning of his speech, Mr Kenny mentioned that he would be presenting a miniature replica of Arrival, a bronze sculpture of a famine ship by John Behan, to Mr Trump.
In 2000, the then Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Bertie Ahern unveiled the original 26-foot by 26-foot Arrival at the UN headquarters in New York.
“This sculpture celebrates the Irish people who traveled the world in search of a new life and all the nations and countries which welcomed them and offered them a chance for that better life.”
During the speech, Mr Kenny said:
I haven’t had the opportunity to present you with a particular piece of sculpture which is entitled “Arrival,” by John Behan. It’s a miniature — but it’s quite large — of what stands at the United Nations in New York of the tale and the story and the history of Irish immigrants after the famine years.
… I just want to say, I had a very good meeting this morning with the Vice President and with General John Kelly. Sitting at the table, we were hosted by the Vice President in the traditional breakfast in the Naval Observatory. Didn’t get much chance to eat the breakfast, I have to say; it’s one of the difficulties in politics — it’s in front of you but you can’t get near it. We did discuss the question of immigration, which is so important to the fabric of our people. And I know that in this country, this is an issue that the administration and the President are reflecting upon. And that’s something that, again, we will work with you diligently in this regard in the two sectors that we used to have a facility for E3 visas for young people who want to come to America and to work here. We discussed that very constructively this morning.
And secondly, as a part of the overall immigration reform that the Irish have contributed so much, it would be part of that. And we look forward to the works that will take place at the time ahead.
You might say that when Mike Pence’s grandfather landed here in Ellis Island in 1923, that the contribution had been made by so many Irish for so many years. It was in 1771 that the friendly Sons of St. Patrick were put together in Philadelphia, and one of their first honorary members was a young man called George Washington.
And seven years later, he handed the first commission to a naval officer called John Barry, who was co-founder of the American Navy. And he was joined later by John Holland, who designed the first submarine. And he was followed by Louis Brennan, from my hometown, who had a major impact on the navigation systems for torpedoes.
And so many others, from Henry Ford, through music and culture, and so many other areas, that 22 members of the American Presidents who sat in the White House had either Scots or Irish blood in them. And you follow in that line, sir. And I’d just like to say in finality, this is what I said to your predecessor on a number of occasions: We would like this to be sorted. It would remove a burden of so many people that they can stand out in the light and say, now I am free to contribute to America as I know I can. And that’s what people want.
I know you’ll reflect on this, but I’m always struck by the American National Anthem when it’s sung before the great occasions. And I suppose being an emotional Irishman, the hairs tingle at the back of your neck when you hear your own national anthem.
But for us, when Old Glory waves, and you put your hand on your heart and you say, “The land of the free and the home of the brave,” ours is still as brave as ever, but maybe not as free. Because of the 4,000 Congressional Medals of Honor given out to the defense forces, over 2,000 go to the Irish Americans. So they fought in the Revolutionary War. They beat the daylights out of each other in Fredericksburg and Gettysburg and Yorktown, and other places, in Atlanta. They fought every war for America and died for America — and will continue to do so. All they want is the opportunity to be free.
And this administration, working with Democrats and Republicans, I hope, can sort this out once and for all. And for future years, you determine what it is that you want to do. As George Mitchell said last evening, you can’t return to open immigration, but for the people who are here — who should be here, might be here — that’s an issue that I’m sure your administration will reflect on. And we in Ireland will give you every assistance in that regard. There are millions out there who want to play their part for America — if you like, who want to make America great. Heard it before? Heard that before?
Further to this…
Readers may recall there are an estimated 20,000-26,000 undocumented migrants living and working in Ireland.
In addition, readers may recall how Direct Provision is the system by which asylum seekers are accommodated in Ireland and it is overlooked by the Reception Integration Agency. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work or go to college while the majority of people living in Direct Provision have no facility to cook their own food.
Adults receive €19.10 per week while children receive €15.60 per week.
In April 2016, retired Judge Bryan McMahon spoke at an event in the Jesuit Refugee Service.
Criticising the length of time asylum seekers have to live in direct provision, Mr McMahon called for a blanket, one-off amnesty for the 3,500 people who had been in direct provision for more than five years – in the spirit of 1916.
“That would be a great start, in my view, just to take the 3,500 people and say, ‘it’s not going to happen again, it’s a one-off and it’s a gesture to 1916 and the men in the GPO’. No one, in my view, would object, that’s my instinct on it and, in fact, au contraire, most people would applaud us for doing something like that.”
The junior justice minister David Stanton, of Fine Gael, subsequently ruled out the idea.
Graphs from the Reception Integration Agency report for January 2017
Some details pertaining to asylum seekers in Ireland…
According to the most recent report from the Reception Integration Agency, as of January 29, 2017, 57,644 people seeking asylum in Ireland have been accommodated in direct provision centres since April 10, 2000 – the year direct provision was set up as an interim measure.
This figure of 57,644 does not include the 2,838 unaccompanied minors – children who have arrived in the country without a parent or guardian – who have sought asylum over the same period.
Between 2000 and 2010, 513 separated children went missing from State care and 440 were still unaccounted for in 2011.
In 2009 – when, as of 2008, 454 separated children had gone missing and just 58 were subsequently accounted for – in a report on separated children, the Ombudsman for Children wrote:
“This large number of missing children is alarming as is the apparent lack of further investigation into incidents.”
A mechanism to allow asylum seekers make formal written complaints about the centres was only introduced by the Department of Justice in 2011 but it has been criticised by asylum seekers and advocacy groups for not being independent of the RIA.
In 2014, the High Court found that the lack of an independent complaints mechanism was unlawful.
Just last month, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon announced that the Ombudsman for Children’s office plans to start accepting complaints from children in Direct Provision from April 2017.
As of January 2017, 4,427 people – including 1,139 children aged under 17 – were living in 32 direct provision centres across Ireland. This number of people represents 0.09% of the population.
Just two of the 32 centres are self-catering centres – Watergate House on Usher’s Quay, Dublin 8 and Carroll Village in Dundalk, Co Louth – where a total of 118 people lived, as of January 2017.
Children protesting at the Kinsale Road Direct Provision Centre in Cork in September 2014
Kitty Holland, in The Irish Times, reports:
Over 1,000 asylum seekers will get their Christmas “bonus” this week – of €16.23 for adults and €13.26 for their children.
These asylum seekers are among 1.2 million welfare recipients who will get the “bonus”, worth 85 per cent of their weekly allowance, along with their regular payment, between now and Friday.
According to figures from the Department of Social Protection, some 1,170 recipients of the direct provision allowance – of €19.10 per week for adults and €15.60 for children, will be entitled to the “bonus”.