The decision to transfer responsibility for direct provision from the Department of Justice to the Department to of Children, Disability, Equality and Integration is a welcome first step in the overhaul of our international protection system.
The failure of the system has been evident for years and has been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, most notably in the town of Caherciveen, Co Kerry.
In a tweet, Roderick O’Gorman, the Green Party minister who will assume responsibility for the service, acknowledged that the situation concerning direct provision in Caherciveen is just a single component of a much broader and more fundamental problem with the system.
Nevertheless, the situation there is growing more fraught daily and residents at the centre in the Skellig Star Hotel in the town have begun a hunger strike to draw attention to ongoing problems there.
The centre was opened in mid-March, when more than 100 residents were moved there by the Department of Justice.
Up to 30 residents of the Skellig Star have walked out in recent weeks. It is hard to blame them because, apart from conditions there, they have had to deal with a serious outbreak of coronavirus at the centre.
They now fear that a second outbreak could put them in even greater danger.
Back in March, while the Department of Health and the HSE were guarding against clusters of coronavirus emerging, the Department of Justice was creating one, assessing the hotel as suitable, without any proper inspection.
The first asylum seekers who moved in to the centre on March 19 included two pregnant women and a number of children. Within less than a month, the folly of the department’s decision became all too painfully evident.
The first cases of coronavirus among residents were confirmed on April 14. Since then there have been around 20 further cases among residents.
In May, the then justice minister Charlie Flanagan apologised to the people of Caherciveen for the manner in which the direct provision centre was opened there. However, he rejected calls for it to be closed.
The reality is, though, a direct provision centre should never have been located at the hotel or, indeed, in Caherciveen in the first place. The Department of Justice has never justified fully the reasons for moving asylum seekers from Dublin, where the cases of Covid-19 have since been the highest in the country, to a small rural town with an extremely low incidence of cases.
It should be recalled that this decision was made at a time when it was clear that exceptional and draconian measures would have to be introduced in Ireland to prevent a disaster.
On March 13 the World Health Organization declared Europe to be the pandemic’s new epicentre, forcing lockowns in Spain and France. Within a fortnight, Ireland was in full lockdown, with the majority of people confined to their homes.
It was not until the beginning of May that people who had been cocooning were allowed leave their homes.
To his credit, Minister O’Gorman accepts that trust is broken between the State and people in direct provision and has pledged to rebuild that trust.
He must deliver, and be seen to deliver, for that to happen.