PQ: Asylum Seeker Accommodation (Length of stay)

Wed, March 6, 2013

48. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to the Fourth Monitoring Report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance on Ireland which found that the direct provision accommodation system for asylum seekers is unsuitable for lengthy periods of stay and has a negative impact on family life; and his plans to change this system.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), a functional unit of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service of my Department, is responsible for the accommodation of persons while their applications for international protection are being processed. As of 17 February 2013, there are 4,819 residents in 35 direct provision accommodation centres contracted to the RIA throughout the State. I am aware of the recommendations made in relation to the direct provision system in the fourth monitoring report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance on Ireland which was published on 19 February 2013. I have explained in detail in response to previous Dáil Questions the reasons the direct provision system was introduced in 1999 when the structures in place were entirely unsuited to the situation then pertaining. A new system was necessary to prevent widespread homelessness among asylum seekers. I have also explained that residents and their children have the same medical and educational entitlements as Irish citizens and, as well as their full board costs being met, can apply to Community Welfare Officers for assistance to meet a particular once-off need by way of an exceptional needs payment under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme. The system remains a necessary feature of the State’s asylum and immigration system. I acknowledge that the length of time spent in the direct provision system is an issue to be addressed.

On the matter of application processing times and consequent length of time spent in the direct provision system, some cases can take significantly longer to complete owing to, for example, delays arising from medical issues or because of judicial review proceedings. All asylum applications and appeals are processed in accordance with the Refugee Act 1996. High-quality and fair decision-making in all cases continues to be a key priority at all stages of the asylum process. For the sake of completeness, it is necessary to point out that people who are refused a declaration under section 17 of the Refugee Act 1996, as amended, enter what is commonly referred to as the “leave to remain” process which generally has two elements to it: an application for subsidiary protection and further consideration to be given under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999, as amended. This is separate from the asylum or refugee status determination process. The processing of cases at this point is also complex and extremely resource-intensive. There are no quick or easy decisions to make. Given the life-changing consequences for the persons involved, these are decisions which must be taken with the most scrupulous care and attention.

I have taken steps to speed up the processing of applications, primarily by redeploying staff from the refugee determination bodies. The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010, which I intend to republish, provides for the introduction of a single procedure to determine applications for protection and other reasons to remain in the State. This should substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements. This reorganisation of the protection application processing framework will remove the current multi-layered processes and provide applicants with a final decision on their applications in a more straightforward and timely fashion. Further, I recently approved an initiative to put in place a panel of people with legal expertise who will assist the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service in processing a cohort of repatriation cases, thereby speeding up the overall process and reducing the time spent by persons in the direct provision system. I would expect to see significant dividends, in terms of cases finalised, from this initiative in the coming months.