Government called on to honour commitment to review direct provision system

5 July 2011

Government parties were called on today to honour commitments made while in opposition to conduct a review of the system whereby applicants for protection in Ireland are housed in residential institutions while they wait for decisions in their cases. Both the Labour Party and Fine Gael condemned the system while in opposition.

Although the system - known as direct provision - was designed to accommodate applicants on a short-term basis, over 50% of asylum-seekers have lived in residential institutions for more than three years, some for many more than that. The length of the decision-making process is expected to be reduced when the state rolls out a new system for dealing with claims for protection; however, this may take years and will not assist current applicants.

A coalition of non-governmental organisations gathered in Leinster House today to brief TDs and Senators about the system. Sue Conlan, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, stated that "long-term institutionalisation is harmful to asylum seekers, to their children, and to Irish society. The organisations in the Forum are seeking the introduction of a human-rights based alternative to the system known as 'direct provision' during the lifetime of the current government. We also call on the Government as a matter of urgency to carry out a review of the system as recommended by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination earlier this year."

The organisations have also called for the immediate introduction of an independent complaints system for residents, which its members believe is urgently required in order to safeguard the health and welfare of current residents. Saoirse Brady, FLAC's Policy & Campaigns Officer, stated that "The complaints system as it currently operates lacks transparency and fairness. The same Department which will make a final decision on a person's claim for protection not only accommodates the applicant but also adjudicates on any grievance he or she may have with the centre manager. Without an independent right of appeal, a fair hearing cannot be guaranteed under the current system."

The Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, has called on the Government to expand the remit of her office to include asylum-seekers, and the Programme for Government includes a commitment to do so. Claire McCarthy, Policy & Campaigns Officer for Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre stated that "the members of the Forum welcome this commitment, and we urge the Government to realise it as a matter of urgency, because we believe that the state is currently neglecting its duty of care to the individuals and families who live in these institutions."

- Ends -

Notes for editors:

1. The NGO Forum on Direct Provision is a coalition of organisations made up of AkiDwA, Barnardos, BeLonG To, Crosscare Migrant Project, Cultúr, Doras Luimní, Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC), Galway Refugee Support Group, the Integration Centre, the Irish Refugee Council, Jesuit Refugee Service Ireland, Mayo Intercultural Action, Nasc the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, SPIRASI, and Tralee International Resource Centre

2. The Labour Party passed the following resolution at its Party Conference in 2010:
Conference resolves that the current policy of dispersal and direct provision for asylum seekers be abolished on the grounds that it is inhumane, inflexible, costly and is incompatible with the State's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, stated at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice on the 7th of July 2010 that:
The direct provision system was introduced as a cost saving for the State in the context of the amount spent on social welfare. The manner in which it operates should be subject to a fundamental review. I hope within the next two years, or preferably in the next six months, we will see Fine Gael in government. That review should take place and we need to see if there is a better way to deal with people.

3. Further reading about direct provision:
a. 'Am Only Saying It Now': Experiences of Women Seeking Asylum in Ireland, AkiDwA.
b. One Size Doesn't Fit All: A legal analysis of the direct provision and dispersal system in Ireland, 10 years on, FLAC.
c. 'It was sleepless nights to be honest, then the letter came a few days later'- Direct Provision and Asylum in Ireland: The transfer system and its consequences, Doras Luimní.
d. Living in Direct Provision, Resident Voices, Elizabeth O'Rourke for Jesuit Refugee Service Ireland.
e. Links to further information and resources are available at

4. Ireland was examined by the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination in February 2011. The Committee's Concluding Observations and recommendations can be found here.

5. Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly called on the government to expand the remit of her office to include, amongst other groups, asylum-seekers, in February 2011, in a strategy document entitled Developing and Optimising the role of the Ombudsman.