Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Questions (159)

Michael McNamara


159. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason election canvassers are prohibited from canvassing at direct provision centres around the country; if she will outline any domestic legal provisions and any international legal obligations in that regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23886/14]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Reception & Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department is responsible for the accommodation of asylum seekers while their applications for international protection are being processed. Currently, RIA is providing accommodation for approximately 4,300 persons in 34 centres located in 16 counties throughout the State. All centres are managed by private entities under contract to RIA. Seven of these centres are State owned - that is to say, the land and buildings are owned by the State - while the remaining centres are privately owned.

It has been the policy of RIA not to allow political canvassing in centres since its inception and this policy was formalised in 2008 by a RIA circular to centre managers. In 2014, this policy was modified to allow candidates in the then forthcoming local Government elections to drop off election leaflets which could be placed in a common area in the centre where they could be picked up by residents. Candidates could provide on the leaflets contact details or times of political meetings outside the centre which residents could attend. The RIA circular stresses the importance of RIA centres operating in a politically neutral environment given the particular nature of the accommodation provided in those centres.

This policy reflects a number of factors - the communal nature of the direct provision system, the desirability that they operate in a politically neutral environment, the many practical and logistical difficulties that would arise for centre managers in providing unsupervised access in circumstances where families and children live together.

The RIA policy does not breach any national or international legal obligations. No restrictions are being placed on residents’ voting rights, or on their rights to access whatever information candidates wish to convey to them, or on any rights to meet with candidates, albeit outside centres. The policy derives solely from the practical issues involved in the particular circumstances of the direct provision system. The policy is kept under continuous review and, to that end, RIA has invited a number of interested NGO's to submit their views as to how its concerns on the practical issues involved, as outlined in this response, could be reasonably addressed in future local Government elections.