Roderic O’Gorman TD
Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration
Green Party, Dublin West Constituency
31 July 2020
DIRECT PROVISION SYSTEM
Dear Minister O’Gorman TD
I hope this letter finds you well and I like to wish you every success in your plans to end the Direct Provision System.
As you know, many campaign and anti-racism groups are closely following the developments in direct provision and unlike a decade ago, direct provision is a significant item in the national political agenda.
I compare the campaign to end the Direct Provision System to the great Repeal and Marriage Equality campaigns; movements that struggled for decades, sometimes with great difficulty and painstaking efforts, but in the end popular mass movements achieved the wonderful results we all celebrated with great joy.
I hope you give your time to this letter and read it in full. I hope this will give you a perspective that would be useful in your plans about the Direct Provision System.
As a politician in opposition – and now in charge – I am sure you will agree with me that people-power will push the leaders to act and implement the policies that are needed. Politicians cannot ignore the will of the people. The recent events in Skellig Star in Cahersiveen were a proof of this.
POLICY OF DISPERSALS
Needles to point out but there was an ongoing ‘policy of dispersals’ of asylum seekers to remote and in many cases unsuitable locations across the country. A number of direct provision centres in more developed urban areas, including centres in Dublin, were closed and residents were moved to other places, in many cases disrupting their life arrangements, the school and medical needs of their children. Hatch Hall, The Clondalkin Towers, Georgian Court are some of the examples (The Clondalkin Towers eventually stayed open for another while)
In November 2019, the Irish Times reported the tender of long tern private contracts for new direct provision centres: “Nearly 5,500 asylum seekers to be housed in new direct provision centres across Ireland. The Government is planning to house nearly 5,500 asylum seekers in new direct provision centres across the State at a cost of more than €320 million over the coming years. Tender documents show the Department of Justice is seeking providers to operate centres in eight regions covering the 26 counties. (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/nearly-5-500-asylum-seekers-to-be-housed-in-new-direct-provision-centres-across-ireland-1.4091325)
These are very specific and tangible steps in widening the network of privately operated direct provision centres. At the moment there is great uncertainly in relation to the specific actions of the government and the steps planned. Many of these contracts are long term and financially binding. Is the Direct Provision System and the current private tender system ongoing as we speak, or are there steps taken to stop them?
Although the private, for profit nature of the direct provision business is a particularly concerning issue, the problems in this system do not get lesser by the state running these centres. Direct provision and its meanness continue to exist so long the system exists – regardless of the operators.
So far the ongoing government policy of uprooting asylum seekers and their families, sometimes just as they got settled, and forcibly dispersing them round the country, deliberately placing them in areas that are massively under resourced, is cruel and provocative.
SKELLIG STAR – REVERSAL OF A LONG RUNNING DISPERSAL POLICIES?
Since the beginning of the COVID19 outbreak the residents in Cahersiveen have been subjected to unnecessary misery and dangerous health and safety shortcuts. In the end, they had no choice but to go on hunger strike to get their voices heard. The latest promise by the government officials to relocate the residents in Skellig Star is indeed – at least in words – a reversal of the previous policies of dispersals, but only in one place in one occasion. Skellig Star is not the only place.
What about many other centres with numerous other problems?
Will the Government now put a hold on all ongoing tenders and initiate a review in order to reverse the mistakes of the past, or will the tender processes continue as normal?
In the case of Skellig Star there was no process of care, or indeed much of a concern for COVID19, children, families and personal lives. Will there be another Skellig Star somewhere else? Will the residents of another unsuitable centre have to go on hunger strike to get their voices heard?
DIRECT PROVISION – 20 YEARS ON
20 years on, each and every government since 2000 have presented ‘reasons’ or ‘complexities’ or ‘difficulties’ that prevented them from bettering the lives of asylum seekers in direct provision. There was no radical action taken.
- Today, Leo Varadkar and others in FF/FG blame the ‘housing shortage’ for not ending the Direct Provision System
- 5 years ago ‘lack of jobs’ was presented as a reason
- 10 years ago it was the ‘economic crisis’
- 15 years ago there were ‘too many asylum seekers’, we were told.
- 20 years ago Ireland was an ‘easy destination’
Will we have another explanation on the 25th anniversary of this system?
During all these years, the governments took over a backlog of direct provision issues from their predecessors, made this backlog bigger and simply handed it over to their successors. Every government used the policies and actions of the previous government as an excuse. In many cases these were the same parties in charge.
Let me be frank with you Dear Roderic (As a fellow local activist in Dublin West, I hope you don’t mind me referring to you as such,): The policies and actions of the former coalition governments of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats made the problems of the direct provision today even worse.
The Direct Provision System has done enough damage on lives of people and created unimaginable upset. Furthermore, it has crossed many lines of human rights, justice, care and dignity. It is not simply a system with some mean aspects. It is a system of meanness in its core and it must end.
It is a shame that it took a court order to allow capable asylum seekers to have access to jobs. It was a taboo even to discuss the right to work for asylum seekers. The county didn’t fall apart by giving people the right to work. Today we hear our fellow workers – asylum seekers working in a pet food factory – being exposed to COVID19. Last month we spoke about people in direct provision caring for the sick and the elderly.
Right to social protection, suitable housing and better opportunities for higher education should not be a taboo either. Great cities, great social/economic developments are achieved by the collective efforts of diverse people.
Ending the Direct Provision System in its entirety and normalising the lives of people does require economic actions but more importantly a political will to do so.
Now is the time to end this system.
ARE THERE NO ALTERNATIVES?
10 years ago a Reception & Integration Agency Report (2010), titled “Value for Money & Policy Review Asylum Seeker Accommodation Programme” – a 78-page report with a lot of details and facts outlined the options for asylum system in Ireland.
(The report is attached for your convenience)
In the executive summary of this report, it says,
“This Value for Money (VFM) Review examines expenditure on the provision of full board (“Direct Provision”) accommodation services for asylum seekers by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) – a functional unit of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Review had a number of purposes. It had to examine (with particular concentration on 2005 to 2008) the aims and objectives of the Programme and determine if these aims and objectives remain relevant and warrant the continued allocation of public funds; to determine whether the Programme is providing value for money; to make recommendations as to how the value for money of the Programme can be improved; to examine alternatives to the Programme and to determine whether these alternatives would provide better value for money.”
The report examined different alternatives to direct provision:
- Allow Asylum Seekers to claim Social Welfare and Rent Supplement
- Provide Self-Catering Accommodation
- Local Authority Housing
“The Review found that “these options would be significantly more expensive than Direct Provision and concluded that using Direct Provision has proven to be the correct choice in providing for the accommodation needs of asylum seekers.“
The reason for this conclusion was cost! Today, the cost of Direct Provision System is much higher than anticipated.
Former Minister Charlie Flanagan repeatedly said,
“I have yet to hear a credible alternative being proposed in almost two decades to the current system”
The system he had defended has failed miserably, not only in terms of duty of care but also on the economic front. I urge you Minister, to review the past studies. It seems the department officials are not willing to recognise these failures and re-consider their own options as alternatives.
POLITICAL WILL… PULL FACTORS AND ASYLUM SHOPPING!
Reading an economic ‘value for money’ based report should be about facts and figures, not about political views or unproven – in many cases proven to be wrong – opinions.
Sadly – and shockingly – the report drills into some other arguments and reasons to maintain and widen the Direct Provision System
On Page 58 the report reads:
“Granting entitlement to Social Welfare and Rent Allowance could also be a ‘pull factor’ and the numbers of new asylum seekers could rise significantly.”
It continues to say:
“Even if the potential ‘pull factor’ is ignored, this ‘welfare supports option’ is likely to more than double the cost of providing for the accommodation needs of asylum seekers.
What scientific, historic, academic proof is there for “pull factors” – a phrase that mainly emerged within anti-refugee, mostly right-wing, far-right political circles of Europe!
On Page 60 we see a reference to “pull factors” again:
“A solution which involved a mix of social welfare payments and local authority housing would also be expected to prove an attraction for asylum seekers currently not availing of RIA accommodation. As stated previously there are 16,000 people in the asylum process who could avail of such a solution. This would mean more than a doubling of the numbers that would be likely to seek state assistance with their accommodation and a projected social welfare cost of €123.5m in addition to the true cost of providing the required number of housing units.
In addition, as with all options that offer access to cash payments, this option is likely to become a ‘pull factor’ and would lead to a significant increase in the number of new asylum seekers entering the country.
These are not economic facts, analyses or projections but myths of a particular world view
And the report admits the policy of economic dispersals (Page 60) that has no respect for peoples personal, educational, health and social and family needs.
“Asylum seekers are likely to opt for particular locations and it would be difficult to disperse them to areas where large numbers would not put significant pressure on local medical and educational services. There are no current legislative provisions in Ireland that can restrict the movements of asylum seekers to a particular geographical area;”
I am sure the direct provision plans for Rooskey, Oughterard and similar places were not by accident but by design. These not only created anxiety for asylum seekers but also gave some racist elements the chance to exploit the situation for their political gains.
The Report concludes (Page 70)
“From comparison with a number of options including social welfare and self-catering, the chosen policy of direct provision was found to be the best choice for a number of reasons. It is less costly, it is less likely to act as an incentive to new asylum seekers (asylum shopping) and it allows the State to manage the challenge of asylum seekers in a way that reduces pressure on local services.”
What exactly is “asylum shopping”?
Is this not a political admission that the Direct Provision System is a deterrent – and hence and admission that it is in fact a system of oppression?
Is Ireland proud of labelling people fleeing wars, political and gender oppression, torture etc. as “asylum shoppers” and put a system in place that will – only by its mean nature – deter these people?
Are refugee policies of the state run by phrases such as “bogus asylum seekers”, “pull factors”, “asylum tourists”?
What about the push factors people are fleeing from?
20 years on, the Direct Provision has steadily grown to become the monster today, while private companies have made millions in profits from it.
For 7 years, I have worked as voluntary teacher in a place providing mental/medical care to asylum seekers, mostly victims of torture. I had hundreds of students. None of them were here for “shopping”; none of them came for the “pull factors”.
Their stories – some horrific push factors – deeply influenced my view of the world and my sense of solidarity. There are many more activists, community groups, campaign groups that have had similar human contact and engagement of solidarity.
Given the slightest chance people go on about building their lives and making this country their home. The proof is out there.
Is the same true for the political will of those in charge?
You said, you “want to take the ‘meanness’ out of direct provision”. The system is the true definition of meanness.
There are alternatives to this system. There are always alternatives to horror.
There are all the means to end it, for once and for all.