In 2017, the Supreme Court in NHV v Minister for Justice and Equality2 found that Ireland was in breach of the constitutional rights of a man who had spent nine years in Direct Provision (DP), during which time he was prohibited from accessing the labour market under Section 9 (4) (b) of the Refugee Act 1996. The prohibition was absolute, the penalty for breach being a fine or imprisonment. In NHV, the Supreme Court found that this absolute ban breached the man’s personal rights under Article 40.3 of the Constitution. Rather than immediately striking down Section 9 (4) (b), the Supreme Court opted to suspend its declaration to give the State time to put in place a legislative response within the terms of its judgment. The State’s response was to introduce a temporary scheme of access to employment and self-employment. This was so restrictive in practice that no employment permits were issued.3 The State also indicated its intention to transpose the Reception Conditions Directive (RCD) which included an effective right of access to the labour market. 

Alongside labour market access, the RCD sets down minimal standards for a suite of material reception conditions. The RCD introduces a range of new measures which differ from the current methods and practices followed by the State. Many of the guarantees contained within the RCD are not currently in place. The procedures in the RCD, if implemented fully, would improve the reception conditions for people seeking asylum. These include a minimum threshold of a dignified standard of living for all recipients of reception conditions in Ireland. The RCD commits to an ongoing vulnerability assessment which would ensure the special reception needs of people applying for international protection are identified and acted on. The provision of adequate information would remove the bewildering sense of uncertainty which causes people significant distress, particularly when they first arrive in Ireland. An appeals process and the opportunity for a review of certain decisions would introduce fair procedures and give people the opportunity to engage with decision-makers and speak to their situation.

The RCD provides a framework for a system which should function in an orderly, transparent, and predictable manner. Despite the opportunity presented by transposition of the RCD, a year on from the date of coming into force, this change has not occurred in practice. This means that the State is not living up to its legal obligations in many respects.
This paper outlines the experience of the Irish Refugee Council (the “IRC”), helping people in the asylum process in the 12 months since the coming into force of the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 20185 (the “Regulations”). The paper is informed by the issues emerging from our direct work with people in the asylum process, delivered via our Drop-in Centre, outreach services and Independent Law Centre.

The paper also contains Case Studies which are histories of people we have assisted and recommendations for improvements in service delivery and the vindication of rights for people applying for international protection. The paper is further to the commitment contained in the our strategic plan that the organisation monitors the implementation of the RCD and ensure that it is implemented as fully as possible. The paper does not include reference to other policies of the Irish Refugee Council, including our long term aim of ending Direct Provision and developing an alternative approach to accommodation for people seeking asylum in Ireland. See our submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality and our Irish Times op-ed for further information.

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