Local election candidates have been left in limbo over whether they are allowed into direct provision centres to canvass.
Calls have been made on Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to ensure candidates are allowed meet people living direct provision centres ahead of May’s local elections.
Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire is concerned that those seeking asylum, who are entitled to both run for and vote in local elections, will be denied the right to engage fully with the political system. Mr Ó Laoghaire, who was denied access to canvass in a direct provision centre when he was a local candidate in 2014, said Mr Flanagan now needs to put clear guidelines in place.
There are more than 6,000 people living in Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) provided accommodation centres across the country. Responding to a parliamentary question on the topic Mr Flanagan highlighted a number of issues around canvassing in asylum centres.
“Given the particular nature of the accommodation provided in centres, there are a number of factors that limit unrestricted access by candidates to the private living quarters of residents.
“These include the communal nature of the accommodation system and the many practical and logistical difficulties that would arise for centre managers in providing unsupervised access in circumstances where families and children live together.
“The general policy ensures that there are no restrictions placed on residents’ voting rights, or on their rights to access whatever information that candidates wish to convey to them, or on any rights to meet with candidates in the public areas of centres. It also ensures privacy in the residential units and the on-going protection of children in the centre,” said Mr Flanagan.
Mr Ó Laoghaire said there is still a lot of confusion and called on the Justice and Equality, through the Reception & Integration Agency (RIA) to put a clear system in place.
He said many of those seeking asylum are not even aware of their right to vote and having candidates provide leaflets or call into centres would help to inform them of their rights.
“There has to be some ability to go and visit these people in their place of residence, if it’s a public part of the building that’s fine.
“I do realise it is complex, especially in some of the smaller direct provision centres. But we have to figure out a way that some place can be made available to facilitate local election candidates.”
Mr Flanagan said both the Department and the RIA have taken steps to ensure that residents in direct provision centres are being advised of their right to vote in local elections in May 2019; and the way in which contact with candidates will be facilitated in order that residents can engage fully with the democratic process.
“Multi-lingual material has been developed for Voter registration information and for local and European election. This information is accessible and available on the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government website,” he said.