It’s clear: The direct provision system is utterly unfit for purpose (Voices, TheJournal.ie)

Opinion piece by Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, which appeared on TheJournal.ie on 7 May 2015.

Earlier this year, I met with counterparts from the Welsh Assembly, who said that petitions for a parliament or an elected assembly are often the ‘canary in the coal mine’, the metaphor for an early warning of serious danger ahead.

It is a phrase that has remained with me over the course of detailed work on Ireland’s Direct Provision System by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, which I have the privilege of chairing.

In recent months the Committee has visited four direct provision centres nationwide and hosted a series of meetings in Leinster House on the topic. I believe that the resulting report, published this morning, on the Direct Provision System is a ‘canary in the mine’ moment.

The report pulls no punches in criticising the application system for being unnecessarily complicated and lengthy. That current fractured process responsible for the delays in issuing decisions has been criticised by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

It was a system that was designed and resourced to be a short term solution. With one in five residents being in the Direct Provision System for seven or more years, the Direct Provision System is no longer a short term solution. This and this alone is more than sufficient to justify the statement that the system is utterly unfit for purpose.

The heightened media coverage in recent months and resulting increase in public awareness of the inadequacies of the current system is to be welcomed. Our cross party Committee report adds weight to the emerging consensus on the grave deficiencies in the current system.

The report finds the delay in processing the applications of residents is inexcusable, perpetrates inequality and ill-treatment at a state level and leads to a systemic problem with the provision of public services.

Another key finding is that the weekly allowances of €19.10 (per adult) and €9.60 (per child), which have not changed since they were introduced 15 years ago, are insufficient, derisory and have been eroded to the point of being insulting to residents. We are calling for the allowance to be raised significantly.

Ordinary Irish citizens have access to the Ombudsman to advance concerns on public service delivery, while those in the Direct Provision System do not. A section of Irish society is being neglected and quite possibly being discriminated against because, at the very basic human level they are being treated differently to other citizens in not having the ‘system’ they are a part of open to the Ombudsman and the application of the Freedom of Information Acts (FOI).

So we are saying that, while the current system is in place, the respective jurisdictions of the Ombudsman for Public Service and the Ombudsman for Children must be extended to include the Direct Provision System. We also call for the FOI Acts to be extended to include the Direct Provision System and the Reception and Integration Agency.

Given that robust independent oversight is required, the RIA should also establish a pre-Ombudsman independent complaints system for residents.

Our cross party Committee also has particular concerns in relation to Ireland opting out of EU rules laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers. We are deeply concerned that the Oireachtas never had the opportunity to express its view on Ireland’s approach to opting out of both Directives 2003/9 and Directive 2013/33.  The Directives compel Member States to ensure that applicants have access to the labour market not later than nine months, and we are calling for the restriction on applicants’ right to work to be lifted as soon as possible.

Having visited four centres in Galway, Foynes, Mosney and Clondalkin and heard first-hand the complaints, the Committee calls for greater access to health services and childcare. Resident after resident pointed to access to appropriate health services as a major issue so we are requesting the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children to follow up on these concerns.

As a parent, I am deeply disturbed when I think that one third of the 4,360 residents in the Direct Provision System are children. How will they in the future regard our failure to stand up now and say a wrong is being committed? In the name of the people who elected us, now is the time to say ‘stop’.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn is Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions and a Sinn Féin TD for Donegal North East.