In November 1999, a government decision was taken to establish a central directorate “to deal with matters relating to the dispersal of asylum seekers throughout the country and preparation of plans for a system of direct provision of housing, health needs etc.“ The decision that the state would provide directly for the needs of asylum seekers has given rise to a system that has become known as ‘Direct Provision’: full board and lodging with a nominal personal allowance in centres funded by the state but run (and largely owned) by private companies and dispersal on a ‘no choice’ basis around the country. The system was created out of a crisis due to the sharp increase in the numbers of people seeking asylum. From the outset, the system was criticised, not least by civil society, and that criticism has been persistent and particularly focused on the impact on children being brought up in an institutionalised setting. A review by the Reception and Integration Agency, situated within the Department of Justice, considered alternatives but concluded that, principally on the basis of financial cost, Direct Provision was the best form of support available. 

The Irish Refugee Council (IRC) has consistently urged a more humane approach to the accommodation of those seeking international protection, arguing that the human and the financial cost of Direct Provision is too high and is failing to meet Ireland’s international obligations towards refugees and those who face a risk of “serious harm” if returned to their own countries. This included producing a document in 2011 for the NGO Forum on Direct Provision setting out what an alternative system could look like. 

This proposal builds on that document. Following the publication of ‘State sanctioned child poverty and exclusion: the case of children in state accommodation for asylum seekers’ by the IRC in September 2012, criticism has broadened to a point where there is a need to engage in wider consultation on replacing Direct Provision with an alternative system that is both
humane and reduces the financial burden on the state.

This proposal addresses reception conditions in a manner that embodies the values of respect for human rights and protection for vulnerable and at risk individuals that lie at the heart of international protection. It is a contribution to the debate that needs to take place between all of those interested in the welfare of those in need of international protection. It attempts to balance the obligation that Ireland voluntarily entered into when it became a party to the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees (the ‘Refugee Convention’) and when it signed up to the EU Qualification Directive with the need to ensure that public funds are used appropriately and in a way that reduces the potential for harm.

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