The social unrest in the Republic of Ireland, most notably in inner city areas in the last year, has been palpable and a patent by-product of political negligence. Although no less a problem, the issue of direct provision has paled in a dáil of politicians attempting to redress more burgeoning crises of their own making. The government’s ceaseless coalition pledges and various white papers regarding reform have amounted to nothing, leading to an approach akin to that of ‘filling the cracks with paint’. Little end is in sight as abolition for this dehumanising system is pushed further down a chasm of governmental procrastination. This stagnancy perpetuates the “inhumane and degrading” nature of direct provision as observed by the Irish congress of Trade Unions. Change was hoped to come with this most recent coalition but is, yet again, looking like a problem for the next referendum. This begs the question, when will we see an end to tardy reform and sloppy political initiative?
Direct provision finds its origins in section 171 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1993 which accommodated “every person…whose means are insufficient to meet their needs allowance”. By November 1999, at the time of immense national prosperity occasioned by the Celtic tiger, Minister for Justice John O Donoghue feared a “pull factor” in this act and our favourable welfare system. He sought ways to regulate the flux of asylum seekers hoping to avail of it, a number which had increased from 9 in 1991 to 3,883 in 1997. Becoming “formal policy” by March 2000 it is hard to fathom how a policy this stringent ever got off the ground. Although “basic accommodation and welfare needs” were taken care of, direct provision curtailed the social welfare payments of asylum seekers and prevented them from working all as a means of curbing the numbers. Problems were quick to emerge. By 2003, ‘Direct Discrimination’, a report published by the Free Legal Advice Centre discovered “the experience of dispersed asylum seekers living in direct provision…is one of social exclusion, poverty and hopelessness”. The 4,000 permanent spaces claimed to be speedily-constructed to accommodate asylum seekers never materialised, further saturating the system. A road of shameful inaction and rape crisis network statistics were to follow in the years after the establishment of this provision. By 2019, a third of direct provision residents had been waiting in the system two years for an update on their status, many of those with limited access to basic amenities like cooking facilities, being forced to cohabitate with strangers and with limited access to the labour market . A prevention policy for welfare fraud dressed in the guise of an anti-homelessness measure, it seems to me that the government birthed a poorly formed, assumptive policy in which economy took precedence over humanity. Spokesman for movement of asylum seekers in Ireland and direct provision resident, Bulelani Mfaco, stresses a similar point. He argues that “it is unimaginable that people…were leafing through a brochure of European countries before choosing Ireland. In reality, most of these new arrivals barely knew Ireland existed”.
The Irish government can't be said to be acting illegally or beyond the parameters of international regulations- acting in accordance with the Treaty of Amsterdam which obligates the council to take on measures on asylum in line with conventions, Ireland is only bound to the extent that it echoes the requirements of the refugee convention The right to adequate housing as detailed in UN framework is, after all, subject to limitations. EU regulations are reflective of a similar ideology. However, the governments' ability to mask their inconsistencies by exercising a tick-the-box approach and doing the bare minimum is manifest. Conforming with EU regulations and UN framework are mere groundwork, with a heed to wellbeing being another, more pertinent issue of equal significance. Claire Breen notes “if the right to adequate housing was viewed purely from the perspective of having a roof over one’s head, then the policy of direct provision would meet the basic needs of Ireland’s asylum seekers”. It is shamefully clear Ireland has taken liberties with relation to the restrictions in EU Law and UN framework, bypassing various standards of adequacy very clearly outlined in equal measure to the restrictions. European Council Directive 2003/9/EC, of 27 January 2003, for example, outlines the minimum standards expected to be conformed with regarding the reception of those seeking assylum, it has been noted by Claire Breen that “Ireland is not complying with this directive”, one which provides that “human dignity is in liable, it must be respected and protected”.
Negligence is a term that has comfortably fused itself to this crisis, an undercurrent to every positive development that cannot be ignored. The once in a generation scheme introduced in 2022 has granted over 5,000 undocumented migrants and asylum seekers permanent residence in Ireland.
This regularisation of long term undocumented migrants offers work and permits pathways to citizenship. Despite this, Many fail to reap the benefits due to technicalities- it’s noted by the MRCIs Neil Bruton that those who were ineligible continue to live in a perpetual state of fear at the likely prospect of being arrested or deported. Their unstable status means they often earn less than minimum wage and accessing state services such as healthcare or law enforcement can be extremely dangerous. To worsen matters, the government has lifted the pause on forcible deportation and visa-free travel has been halted, a development which has been coined as “regressive” by NGOs.
Direct provision no longer requires reform, it screams abolition to a government with ears unwilling to listen. Reliance on the private sector as a means of emergency housing testifies to immense governmental neglect. Had a moment's consideration been given and sense prevailed, public sector, state-funded accommodation tailored to this crisis would have been prioritised. Instead, the reality is a blatant disregard for the sanctity of EU regulations and UN international framework and a detrimental reliance on hotels and B and Bs- the cost of which burdens the state unnecessarily. Going forward, a quicker-enacted more open dialogue with the insular communities that house these minorities is essential. Speaking to cohabitees would prevent discrimination and the sense of fear incited by the unknown thus generating a greater sense of inclusion and harmony. The importance of new reception and integration centres need representation too as a means of, once and for all, humanising those who are undocumented, honouring their fundamental rights. A belief within government that this issue is one of short-term significance and not a protracted issue on a national scale can be seen in every abhorrent statistic regarding asylum seeker wellbeing. A change must come, but no vice is stronger than that of a lethargic government and blatant naivety. For as long as these press on the figurative throat of change like they have for the last 24 years, any progress is unlikely.