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 were kept away from the centres. This sparked protests from groups such as the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Nasc and the Irish Refugee Council.
It emerged yesterday 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 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.
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.”
Sinn Féin candidate in the Carrigaline-Ballincollig Electoral Area Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire first raised the issue and law firm KOD Lyons made representations to RIA to alter the policy.
Sue Conlan, CEO of the IRC, said: “We strongly agree that people in Direct Provision should have the same access to information as the rest of us, but, if a canvasser comes knocking on my front door, I have the choice to answer it or not, or to close the door if I want to. This basic right is not there for residents in Direct Provision.”
Yesterday chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland Denise Charlton said: “The new instruction from the department to the centres is welcome and will help ensure that people who are entitled to vote can access some information and be provided with the contact details of candidates.”