By Noel Baker
Migrant rights groups today welcomed news that asylum seekers will be allowed to receive election literature - even though direct provision centres are still no-go zones for candidates.
The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), which oversees the asylum seeker system, had issued a circular in April in which it stressed that Direct Provision (DP) centres had to be “politically neutral”.
DP centre managers were instructed to ensure party political leaflets and other election activity was kept away from the centres.
This sparked protests from groups such as the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Nasc and Human Rights in Ireland.
It emerged today that a new circular, also written by RIA Principal Officer Noel Dowling, had been issued to DP centres, stating that centres could now receive election leaflets, but residents of DP centres cannot be canvassed by candidates in the upcoming elections.
The circular stated: “Candidates who call into centres may be allowed to drop off election leaflets to be picked up and read by residents if they wish. This material may be left in a suitable designated area of the centre such as the reception desk. Candidates may, if they wish, place on their leaflets their contact details or details of political meetings outside the centre to which residents can be invited.”
Dr Liam Thornton, a law lecturer in University College Dublin and an author on the humanrights.ie blog, tweeted: “The Reception and Integration Agency rarely do U-Turns”, adding that the change in policy from RIA was a “little victory” even though there were still “serious concerns on policy” regarding access to the electoral process.
Writing on humanrights.ie, Dr Thornton said: “I would argue that such a blanket ban on allowing asylum seekers receive (if they wish) election candidates is a disproportionate violation of freedom of expression as protected under the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003.”
The Chief Executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Denise Charlton, said: “This is an important first step – however the situation remains that this group of voters, who have limited if any access to media, are still being treated differently to everyone else in that they cannot be canvassed or engage with politicians in their residence.”