This month saw two damning reports from the Houses of Oireachtas Joint Committee of Public Service Oversight and Petitions and the Health Information and Quality Authority on the Direct Provision system* in Ireland.
Both reports come at a particularly crucial and important time for the system as Aodhan O Riordain, Minister of State for Equality, New Communities, Culture & National Drugs Strategy, confirmed that the report of the Working Group on Direct Provision is to be presented to Government shortly.
*IF YOU ARE OR HAVE BEEN DETAINED IN THE DIRECT PROVISION SYSTEM WHILST SEEKING ASYLUM, YOU CAN COMPLETE THIS CLAIM ENQUIRY FORM HERE. YOU MAY BE ENTITLED TO COMPENSATION FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL, EMOTIONAL AND OTHER INJURY THAT YOU MAY HAVE SUFFERED.
Both reports condemned the current state of the Direct Provision system with the Houses of Oireachtas report stating that:
“[t]he Direct Provision System is not fit for purpose and [they] recommend that it should be replaced with a reception system that respects the dignity of all persons in line with best international human rights practice.”
The Houses of Oireachtas report of 7 May 2015, although ostensibly investigating the extension of the remit of the Ombudsman and Freedom of Information to cover the Direct Provision system, amongst other things recommended that;
- the Direct Provision centres be inspected by HIQA
- that the Reception and Integration Agency, the body coordinating the provision of services to refugees and asylum seekers
- establish a pre-Ombudsman independent complaints system
- and that the remit of the Ombudsman for the Public Service and the Ombudsman for Children, as well as Freedom of Information be extended to cover Direct Provision.
However crucially, the Joint Committee was extremely critical of the conditions facing those placed in the system and that there was a ‘lacuna’ due to Ireland’s failure to opt in to EU minimum standards for asylum seekers.
The committee described the living conditions of four centres in Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Meath visited as ‘intolerable’ and ‘cramped’, with little private space for parents with children.
They found the average stay to be five years, with the longest stay lasting as long as 11 years, with as many as 21% spending over seven years in Direct Provision. The report found the delay in processing the applications of residents as ‘inexcusable’.
HIQA REPORT IS ALSO DAMNING
The report of the Health Information and Quality Authority of 25 May 2015 (embedded below) was just as damning.
It showed that evidence or claims of physical or mental illness of parents, exposure to domestic violence, physical abuse, and neglect were very common in children in the asylum system who were the subject of referrals to the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, about which HIQA said it had very grave concerns.
The report found that 14% of children in Direct Provision were referred to Tusla, in contrast with 1.6% of children in the general population. There were about 1,600 children living in direct provision accommodation in Ireland, of these there were 209 referrals of child protection and welfare concerns relating to 229 children between August 2013 and August 2014.
Like the Houses of Oireachtas Joint Committee report, HIQA found that “there were significant delays in completing assessments and sharing information, which placed children at risk.”
Both reports follow the decision of the High Court in the Sinnott Solicitors led case of C.A. and T.A (a minor) v Minister for Justice and Equality  IEHC 532, which challenged the constitutionality of the Direct Provision system and examined human rights infringements involved.
It was the first time the Direct Provision system has received any level of judicial scrutiny. Although the Court ruled in favour of the Government on the facts of the case, many positives can be taken with the Court noting how Direct Provision was not an ideal environment within which to raise children.
Both reports show the current wholly unacceptable condition of the Direct Provision system in Ireland; not only of centres and living conditions, but also of the extraordinarily long delays in processing applications.
It is clear that the system is deeply flawed and this is a position that hopefully the long overdue Working Group will adequately and definitively address. Certainly the sentiments of the Minister of State on the 15th anniversary of direct provision in April stand; the system remains a regrettable part of Irish history.