Justice Minister: 'Direct Provision is a guarantee of safety... there is no restriction on freedom'

The Justice Minister has issued a statement on direct provision services and supports for international protection applicants.

Justice Minister: 'Direct Provision is a guarantee of safety... there is no restriction on freedom'

The Justice Minister has issued a statement on direct provision services and supports for international protection applicants.

Mr Charlie Flanagan said that since the introduction of the system 20 years ago this month, more than 65,000 people have been helped by Direct Provision.

Speaking about the process, Mr Flanagan said: "Once a claim is made, a legal process begins and while that process is in train, we offer a range of State services to applicants without means, including accommodation, food, health services, utilities, educational provision for children and so on.

"In general, these services are offered in Centres which has over the years allowed for the swift provision of services to applicants. In the past many applicants did not avail of the services on offer but that situation has changed in recent years.

"I want to make clear that there is no obligation to accept the offer and there is no restriction on an applicant’s freedom of movement throughout the State."

Mr Flanagan also admitted that the system, when first introduced, was not perfect and "had many flaws".

Over the years, people have blithely called for its abolition or repeated untrue rumours about the nature of the Direct Provision.

He said he is "not aware" of anyone who has proposed a "workable alternative for service provision" but that he is open to engaging with anyone who does.

He added: "Direct Provision is a guarantee of shelter, food and a place of safety to a person who claims international protection on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, nationality, religion, political opinions or membership of a particular social group or where that person would be at risk of suffering serious harm if returned to their home country.

"Any credible alternative put forward to replace the system must be capable of providing the wrap-around services that applicants need on arrival.

"They are seeking protection in a strange country where they may not know the language, customs or law. Recognising the complexity of their needs, supports and services for international protection applicants are delivered under a whole of Government approach."

Mr Flanagan said he is aware of the "dissatisfaction expressed by communities who hear through a rumor mill" that a centre may be opened in their area and said he has spoken to many people in such a situation.

"I would point out that we do not spontaneously create hotel rooms or apartments or other accommodation in a location when we propose to open a centre – these accommodation facilities already exist and could be fully occupied by anyone at any time – it should not create an issue that the occupants happen to be international protection applicants.

"I want to also remind communities that Direct Provision Centres are not new – they are located all over the country – and community relations are harmonious in all of these locations."

However, Labour Leader Brendan Howlin said that since August of last year, there are 39 Direct Provision centres in operation, seven of which are owned by the state and all of which are managed by private contractors.

Mr Howlin welcomed news that the average length of stay has decreased from 48 months on average in 2013 and 2014 to 23 months in 2017.

Mr Howlin said his main concern in relation to Direct Provision is the "reported variability of standards and conditions".

"Some Direct Provision centres are clearly working well, and those living in them are well integrated into the locality where they are based...

"...But other examples have come to public attention where people have described the most depressing experience of living for years in conditions that are unsuitable and inadequate, not least for children growing up in the system."

He added that the rights oif asylum seekers to work remains restricted, as a person must be waiting for at least eight months, as per EU law.

Mr Howlin also pointed out the "unfair costs" in adopting Irish citzenships: "Descendants of Irish grandparents can gain a passport for €278, even if they or their parents never set foot in Ireland, whereas foreign nationals who are working and paying taxes here for years must pay €1,125 to complete the process of naturalisation."

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