The final cost this year of providing direct provision accommodation for asylum seekers will be up to €60m over budget – almost double the original allocation set for 2019.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, David Stanton said the “dramatic increase” in costs was driven by a 53% jump in asylum applications this year and the additional cost of providing emergency accommodation, with direct provision centres full.
At a press briefing on the Justice Vote in Budget 2020, Minister Stanton said the extra demand placed on the asylum system this year meant that the State “could be looking at an extra €60m, €50-€60m” depending on the rest of the year.
He said this money was on top of the €70m allocated in Budget 2019 for this area.
“The year is not over, it has been increasing in the last number of weeks,” the minister said. “Our accommodation is full and we are using emergency accommodation, which is more expensive.”
Asked about the effects of the local opposition to a proposed direct provision centre in Oughterard, Co Galway – resulting in the hotel owner deciding against the move – Minister Stanton said:
“Hopefully, we will open centres before the end of the year – we should, we need to.” He said a procurement process was underway and that an inter-departmental group was currently examining the matter and would report shortly.
He said the allocation for 2020 was more than €80m - €10m above the original allocation for 2019.
Also at the briefing, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he was confident the Government target of having 15,000 gardaí by 2021 “will be met” despite a second year of lower than planned intake of garda recruits.
Budget 2020 allows the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to recruit “up to 700” trainee gardaí next year, on top of the 600 recruited this year.
These figures compare to the estimate set in 2016 of 3,200 recruits between 2017 and 2020, or, on average, 800 annually over the four years.
“We are very much on target, the Government target by 2021, to have 21,000 in all – 15,000 sworn gardaí, 4,000 civilians and reserves,” said Minister Flanagan.
Asked can the target be met given the reduced allocation this year and next year, he said he was “confident” it would. He said there were 14,200 gardaí currently and 14,400 by the end of the year.
He said this allowed for retirements of 250-300 per year, an intake of 700 next year and “something similar” the following year.
Garda bosses last month said there were around 330-350 retirements annually recently, with a possible “slight increase” in 2020.
The Minister confirmed that An Garda Síochána would not be shouldering the cost of the US presidential visits and that by the end of the year the monies would be paid back to the Gardaí.
The Gardaí had been told last July that the costs would have to come from the Garda budget, prompting the commissioner to go public on it.
Minister Flanagan estimated the cost of President Donald Trump’s visit last July at just under €12m, including €7.5m in overtime, with the anticipated cost of Vice President Mike Pence’s visit in September to be something short of €3m.
The minister said the overtime budget for next year would be unchanged from the allocation for this year, at €95m.
Commissioner Harris welcomed the overall budgetary allocation, which he said illustrated the “ongoing commitment” to Gardaí.
“We can recruit a further 700 garda members next year and that’s very positive and that's within our planning assumptions for next year and planning assumptions for reaching 15,000 members by the end of 2021,” he said.
The commissioner was speaking at the launch of the new Garda Diversity and Integration Strategy 2019-2021, which includes a new definition of hate crime.
Elsewhere, Mr Flanagan highlighted a budget of €75m for ICT in the Gardaí, as well as €9m for the Garda fleet and €32m for capital building.
There was also an extra €2.6m for the construction of the new Forensic Science Laboratory and €1m set aside for the Judicial Council, which he expected to be up and running by year’s end.