Tag Archives: Direct Provision

From top: Protest outside Leinster House earlier this month calling for the end of Direct Provision; Imran Khurshid

As the new government is formed, we all have an opportunity to set forth; what matters to us, what kind of society we are and above all ask, do we treat others equally.

Ireland has a troubled history with its own identity for generations. There’s no denying that. The cultural divisions from the civil war are only now perhaps being laid to rest with this new government. The national division of families who prefer rugby over GAA (and vice versa) is potentially ending as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil enter a coalition government.

What was once thought of as unthinkable, has now changed and ‘changed utterly’. Indeed, change has to be accepted before you can change anything else. That’s life and well… politics.

One aspect of Irish life that can and must change, is our immigration policy. It’s wasteful and at times, unjust. I’d like to address a few issues we can and should change in the near future.

Direct Provision

Across Ireland, there are approximately 47 ‘Direct Provision’ (DP) centres to house and feed over 7,000 who seek international protection within Ireland.

Adults and children within them get a state allowance of €38.80 and €29.80, respectively, a week along with medical care. As well as those in ‘DP’ there are over 1,600 in emergency accommodation. It’s expensive.

Hotels, B&Bs are all included in the bill which cost €129.4 million last year. Even then the total costs of providing legal and other state supports must be quite high on top of that.

That said, for those in need and considering the wider problems of affordable accommodation, it does have its advantages as a stop gap for those awaiting their decision. The problem is that applicants are caught within the system for years unable to progress in their lives as a result of this system.

While only recently the Supreme Court did decide that those in direct provision could work after waiting for nine months if they hadn’t received a decision on their asylum application, albeit in a highly restricted manner designed to limit employment opportunities.

One of the positive takeaways from the Covid crisis is that the former government sought recommendations from the former secretary general of the European Commission, Dr. Catherine Day.

She proposed extending the right to work, reducing the application process times, a move to alternative housing and funding models among many other potential changes. Proposals no doubt welcomed by so many caught within the system.

Sadly during the past while, most of the conversation in the media was taken up by a substandard Kerry DP centre becoming a cluster of Covid cases.

Unfortunately, the former Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar merely conceded that there was some substandard accommodation within DP centres during a recent Dáil debate about the matter.

Now, let’s change that conversation.

At the heart of it all, let’s think long term about this. Let’s ask, what do we want as a country? Do we want genuine integration and diversity within Irish society to strength it with a sense of empathy versus sowing the seeds of division and nativism?

Is it fair for the Irish Government to lobby for Irish immigration reform in the USA while millions of other nationals there would become ‘others’ in the political conversation about immigration policy?

If Ireland adopts alternatives to the current system and work proactively at integration efforts from day one, we would reduce the overall cost of the system and create opportunities for applicants to share their skills and expertise within our economy.

While the current accommodation crisis means it would be unfeasible to end DP immediately, there is a lot we could do.

For instance, compulsory language and culture classes within DP centres, the right to work from the date of application, registration with relevant authorities for employment and volunteer opportunities can and, in my opinion, should be done. In many other countries similar programmes take place and it is time we accept that we can learn from such expertise.

Work Permits

As our offices, bars, hotels and restaurants slowly reopen as we enter Phase 3 of our reopening plan, we must consider the wide variety of workers who depend on our work permit system. There are two procedures, the work permit application and the visa application on top of it, if you are so required.

A work permit begins with an application to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) which requires a number of application documents. If they’re successful, they then apply for a work visa if so required by their nationality. A work permit alone may cost an employee a non-refundable €1,000.

Though if a work visa application from the Department of Justice and Equality gets denied: they are caught short. Often in my legal practice, assisting clients in such cases they are repeatedly informed that their employer’s reference letter is not sufficient on the basis of the quality of the paper or that the use of a Hotmail or Yahoo email account for the business are not accepted.

Not all businesses have the capacity or time to set up their own email domain and it is frankly ridiculous to have physical paper quality determine if a willing and capable worker is denied the opportunity to contribute to Ireland’s economy.

If the DBEI accepts employment and supporting documents, why can’t Justice do the same? Are there no interdepartmental guidelines on such matters?

From my experience dealing with a diverse range of clients, I believe there are none. To change it, I suggest that one department carries out the full checks and a subsequent department is not able to object to them.

This would save applicants their fee and the considerable resources used by the state in this convoluted system. Consistency and the rigours of fairness must apply to all applicants under the law.

Naturalisation applications

Naturalisation is the process of becoming an Irish citizen after fulfilling the legal criteria. Recently, there was a change to the system and applicants no longer have to wait years for their decision.

Yet in my experience, while most applicants only need few months to hear the result of their application decision, some wait years. That’s outright unfair and unjust.

Occasionally these delays result in Judicial Review proceedings, which are challenges on the delay or process that the applicant has endured. Court orders to command the Minister of the day to make decisions in these matters, happen. However, like many other aspects of Ireland’s immigration policy in practice, it is extremely costly on everyone.

Applicants have to ‘take it on the chin’ that for years their lives, will be in limbo. This has profound financial, social and mental health impacts on applicants. For most, it means their families remain divided as the onerous financial criteria on applicants stay until they become citizens.

As the world economy adapts to many international changes after the Covid crisis, we should take stock of how we accept others in Irish society with these potential changes.

After all, we are changing our government, so let’s change this too.

Imran Khurshid is a solicitor practicing in the area of immigration law. He contested the local elections for Fianna Fáil in Dublin’s north inner city in 2019.

RollingNews

From top: Protest at The Skellig Star Hotel  on Monday evening; Ken Foxe

This afternoon.

In March, a confirmed Covid-19 case was recorded at the Travelodge in Swords, Dublin before a number of asylum seekers were moved out of the hotel to Direct Provision centres, including Skellig Star Hotel, Cahersiveen, County Kerry.

At least 25 residents of the Skellig Star Hotel have tested positive for Covid-19.

Journalist Ken Foxe has obtained – under FOI – a timeline of events contained in minutes of meetings of the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) revealing how the Department of Justice and Equality responded to the unfolding scandal…

Last Night: “I Have Verifiable Evidence”

This morning.

From 11am.

The Special Committee on Covid-19 Response will meet in the Dáil chamber.

They will discuss the Government’s response to Covid-19 in nursing homes, in the first two sessions at 11.10am and 2pm respectively, and direct provision centres, in the third session at 4.30pm.

Some 54 per cent of the 1,606 Covid-related deaths in Ireland took place in nursing homes, while there have been 13 clusters and 171 cases overall in direct provision centres. At least 25 residents of the Skellig Star Hotel in Caherciveen, Co Kerry (top) which was turned into a direct provision centre in March, have tested positive.

It’s being reported that Nursing Homes Ireland CEO Tadhg Daly will tell the committee, in his opening address, that “the dismay will live forever with us” and:

“We were exasperated. The sector required a specific plan. We knew that Covid-19 disproportionately impacts on older people. The planning and focus was almost exclusively on our acute hospitals. Multiple clusters initially emerged in our hospitals. But the numbers in nursing homes started to increase.”

According to the meeting’s schedule, those appearing before the committee include CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland Tadhg Daly, Executive Director of Sage Advocacy Mervyn Taylor, CEO of HIQA Phelim Quinn, and representatives from the HSE and the Department of Justice.

The committee meeting can be watched above or here

Meanwhile, a transcript of last week’s committee meeting can be read in full here.

Previously: Covid 19 And Older People: A Shameful Time For Change

An Uncomfortable Truth Out Of Sight

“Please Start Moving People Now”

‘Modern Problem’.

A  hard-hitting new investigative podcast hosted by Mayo-born journalist, broadcaster and writer Jane Mc Namara (above).

Modern Problem seeks to examine ‘new incarnations of old problems’.

Jane writes:

In the first two episodes (above), I cast a critical eye over Ireland’s controversial system of direct provision – now in its 20th year and currently housing over 6,000 asylum seekers and refugees…

….The podcast features testimonials from a number of people currently seeking asylum in Ireland, vox pops from the general public, as well as insights from experts such as Lucky Khambule of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in ireland (MASI) and Fiona Hurley of NASC. the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre….

Modern Problem podcast

This morning.

Kildare Street, Dublin 2.

Above from left: Solidarity-People Before Profit TDs Richard Boyd Barrett, Mick Barry, Brid Smith and Paul Murphy on the plinth at Leinster House.

Last night in the Dáil, the situation in the Skelligs Star hotel, Cahirsiveen, County Kerry (top)  was raised with Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan following an outbreak of Covid-19 after 120 asylum seekers were moved from Dublin to the hotel.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said “somebody in your department [of Justice] decided to send applicants from overcrowded conditions, to remote hotels, some of them still overcrowded where they couldn’t’ socially isolate, where they share bathrooms and shower facilities, communal bathrooms and shared meals”.

Ms Smith added that testing began on April 14th at the hotel. Four people tested positive but it was only on April 28th that a dedicated medically qualified person was appointed to the Skelligs centre.

She said the Government contracted out responsibility to a private company “with no medical experience or expertise in public health who until this week had one cleaner with no public health experience cleaning 15 rooms in which people are infected”.

Mr Flanagan told the Dáil the Department only became aware that coronavirus was an issue following their arrival.

Department ‘didn’t know’ asylum seekers had virus before moving them to Kerry (irish Times)

Meanwhile…

Michael Healy Rae

Mr Healy Rae had previously stated he had nothing to do with the hotel. He had stated that he was involved in a tourism company, the Skellig Hotel Experience (SHE), and that another shareholder coincidentally had the lease to the hotel.

However, when it was pointed out to him yesterday that the Skellig Hotel Experience company, in which he was a 25% shareholder, held the lease until last December he said he was unaware of that.

“All I can tell you is I was involved in the company and I had nothing to do with the hotel.”

Michael Healy-Rae had shareholding in Skellig Hotel Experience (Michael Clifford, Irish Examiner)

Rollingnews

One room shared by seven asylum-seeking men in a direct provision centre opened in March in Ennis, Co Clare

This morning.

In The Irish Times.

Sorcha Pollak reports that asylum seekers living in direct provision who lost their jobs due to the pandemic have stopped receiving their Covid-19 unemployment payments.

Ms Pollak also reports that asylum seekers living outside direct provision who lost their jobs due to the pandemic continue to receive the payment.

She adds:

“Asked to clarify why the payment had stopped for those in the accommodation system, a spokeswoman for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said people in direct provision already had their “accommodation and other basic needs met by the State, and the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment is not available to them”.

“Some 1,208 people living in direct provision were working at the end of 2019, according to Department of Justice figures.”

Meanwhile…

Further to the Minister for Health Simon Harris confirming yesterday evening that there have been 164 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in direct provision centres, infectious disease specialist registrar in Cork University Hospital Dr Eamonn Faller told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland earlier…

“I’m concerned about anyone living in tightly congregated settings. I suppose direct provision centres or any tightly congregated settings are an absolute catastrophe in a pandemic of a highly transmissible airborne virus.

“This virus loves having people that are in close contact, where it can spread. And we’re seeing in the settings within direct provision where people don’t have the facility to social distance, we’re seeing huge increases in the numbers of cases.

“In the last five days, we’ve seen 165% increase from the 62 figure quoted on Sunday to the 164 figure quoted by Simon Harris in the Dáil yesterday.

“That, like those numbers are in keeping with a pandemic that is unfettered, that’s the three-day doubling time that we had at the very beginning and it’s because there are these people in tightly congregated settings that have no capacity to social distance.

“And haven’t really been given the capacity to social distance.”

He added:

“When someone tests positive in a direct provision centre, they are moved out of that centre. But of course that does leave people they were tightly congregated with, that leaves their contacts, that leaves other people within the centre and just because the person who was symptomatic that was tested has been moved out of the centre, it does not mean that still aren’t people that are asymptomatic spreading the virus in this tightly congregated setting where you can’t socially distance.”

Asked if widespread testing should now take place in direct provision centres, Dr Faller said:

“Yes, it absolutely should. I think we have, so there’s nine clusters, 164 cases now. We don’t know the proportion of people who are infected with this virus who are asymptomatic and given that, given the difficulties with social distancing in these centres, I think testing of all the residents and appropriate isolation would, that would be appropriate.”

Later, he added:

“If testing and meaningfully lowering the density of these centres doesn’t happen soon, then we’re just going to see this doubling time every three days, this massive increase in cases and I mean this isn’t just, this isn’t an issue affects the people in direct provision centres.

“This affects the people in the towns and villages that these direct provision centres are in. As well as being a massive concern for the people in direct provision, it’s a huge wider public health risk. We can’t lift restrictions, if we have active community spread. And if you have any pockets of active community spread, that’s active community spread for everyone.

“In this pandemic what’s bad for any one person, is bad for everybody. This isn’t a disparate group. The virus does not discriminate between groups. So if you have pockets of active infection then that is going to spread within the community.”

Listen back in full here

Related: Problems mount at Caherciveen Direct Provision centre (Michael Clifford, The Irish Examiner)

Yesterday: 164

Previously: “I’ve Seen Some Misleading Information On Social Media” (April 1, 2020)

“Please Start Moving People Now” (March 24, 2020)

Yesterday.

Cahersiveen, County Kerry.

irate shopper asks for assistant to be quarantined following a cluster of Covid-19 cases at a nearby hotel housing Direct Provision residents..

Around 100 people were moved from centres in Dublin to the Skellig Star Hotel in March.

Direct provision residents and locals call for centre closure (RTÉ)

Meanwhile…


From top: One room shared by seven asylum-seeking men in a newly opened direct provision centre in Ennis, Co Clare; Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton

This morning.

RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke interviewed the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan about direct provision and Covid-19.

Mr O’Rourke started the interview by telling listeners that the Department of Justice has made more than 650 new direct provision beds available for the Covid-19 emergency.

The group Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland [MASI] last night tweeted pictures of some of these new beds which would appear to show the same crowded conditions as ‘old’ direct provision centres.

Asked about this, and MASI’s claim that seven asylum-seeking men were forced to share a bedroom that would suit one person in Ennis, Co Clare (pic above), Mr Flanagan mentioned that he had seen “misleading information on social media”.

Mr Flanagan wasn’t asked to specify to what he was referring.

From the interview:

Seán O’Rourke: “Are asylum seekers in a position to follow the social distancing [two metres] guidelines put in place by your own Government and its health advisors.”

Charlie Flanagan: “Good morning, Seán. And this is one of the many challenges that we’re facing as a society. Obviously myself and Minister [David] Stanton, and indeed everybody across the Department of Justice and our agencies, we’re very concerned at the situation and, indeed, the vulnerability of people in direct provision.

“People who are awaiting their applications to be dealt with as to whether or not they may be in a position, legally, to remain for he foreseeable future in our state. And I believe it’s important that the concerns that you mentioned that were met. That’s why we managed, after considerable amount of work, to procure a further 650 new beds which are now coming on stream.

“That will alleviate something of the pressure that’s on many of our centres in terms of complying with the Government and public health guidelines.”

Seán O’Rourke: “Yeah, well I see a statement responding to your announcement from the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland [MASI] saying they’re deeply troubled because, for instance, new direct provision centres, have the same congregated settings where asylum seekers, they share intimate living spaces like bedrooms, communal bathrooms, dining areas, often in large numbers.”

Flanagan: “Yeah, and that’s why we’re moving to mitigate the problems and deal with the issues. Obviously, we’re dealing with people here who are in a congregated setting, some of the centres are big. Some of the centres are not so big. But I have to say we are working very positively with all of the management in the centres, right across the country and there are just about 40 centres.

“They are all of different dimensions but I’m satisfied that the new regulations are now taking place right across the direct provision stage.

“We have, for example, the provision of gels and soaps advices, often times required in different language and translators. I’m not underestimating this challenge but what I’m saying is that what Minister Stanton, myself and my officials are working very hard in order to ensure that the vulnerable are dealt with in a way that’s right and proper in the circumstances.”

O’Rourke: “These 650 beds that have been announced. Are they just being made available on a temporary basis or what is the plan?”

Flanagan: “Well, obviously, direct provision is changing. It’s a challenge that we’ve had in terms of its organisation and management even before the crisis. What we have done now is acquired hotel accommodation in Dublin, in Galway, in Cork and, at the same time, however, we are engaged in procuring new centres in Cahircaveen, for example, in Rosslare Harbour, in Tullamore, in my own constituency. So this is an ever-changing scenario because we want to ensure that our centres meet our own national standards and…”

O’Rourke: “I’m just wondering who gets these 650 beds? Are they all being put to use or are some of them being held back for use, for instance, for isolation purposes?”

Flanagan: “Oh, no. I expect that they would all be brought into use at the earliest opportunity. Obviously when we speak about vulnerable people in society, we talk about people over 65, we talk about people who have underlying or pre-existing medical conditions. In Direct Provision, for example, we have a mere 57 people of the entire 5,600 over the age of 65.

“I’m assuming that these will be the prime candidates for relocation. Similarly people who are vulnerable and obviously looking at areas, for example, where there may be small rooms in centres, that they would be smaller…”

O’Rourke: “Yeah because, I don’t know if you’ve seen the statement form MASI…”

Flanagan: “Yeah, I see them on a daily basis Seán. And…”

O’Rourke: “Yeah, they’re talking, for instance, about the centre in Ennis. A new direct provision centre in Ennis where seven asylum-seeking men were forced to share a bedroom that would suit one person?”

Flanagan: “Yeah, well, I don’t know the size or dimensions of the room. I have seen some, some misleading information on social media. What I am saying, however, and what both Minister Stanton and myself are really keen to ensure is that, for example, social distancing, which obviously is a vital tool in protecting good health, ensuring that we save lives, ensuring that we stop the spread is if we can have our rooms in our centres confirm to these particular standards. And that’s what we’re working towards. And that’s what we will achieve.”

O’Rourke: “And what about health workers who have been living in direct provision. We’ve come across cases of that as well.”

Flanagan:Many of these are working. Many of their talents have been put to good use. And I believe again that is one of the advantages of…”

O’Rourke: “So why didn’t you prioritise for this new accommodation for instance?”

Flanagan: “Yes, well, well, there will be people who are vulnerable, there will be people who are in centres where we are not in a position to comply with the social distancing and I would expect over the next few days you will see a relocation. Firstly, the more vulnerable and then people who are in conditions that might require attention.”

This morning’s interview with the minister follows hundreds of academics in health, law, human rights and migration yesterday publishing an open letter in which they called for own-door accommodation and individualised access to sanitation and eating facilities to every family unit and single person in the international protection system.

They say the the necessary accommodation is available to provide for this and, to not do so, could see the State falling foul of its legal requirements.

It also follows a campaign by refugee and asylum seeker support groups calling on the Government to move out “at risk” residents from the crowded centres where social distancing is, they say, impossible.

Listen back to the interview in full here.

Previously: “Public Health Measures Must Apply To All”

No Room To Isolate