The Programme for Government contains a commitment to ending the Direct Provision system and replacing it with a new international protection accommodation policy, centred on a not-for-profit approach. The Government has also committed to the development of a White Paper, which will set out how this new system will be structured and the steps to achieving it.
Responsibility for international protection accommodation now rests with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) and his Department following the transfer of this function on 14 October 2020. DCEDIY is currently developing the White Paper, which will set out options, together with the recommended direction, for the new model of accommodation and services for international protection applicants and the transitional processes needed to implement the model. Options for developing a not-for-profit approach are currently being examined by DCEDIY in this regard. I understand my colleague, Minister O' Gorman, will bring proposals to Government in this regard in February.
The Programme for Government also contains a commitment to bring forward a regularisation scheme within 18 months of the formation of the Government, to create new pathways for long-term undocumented people and their dependents, meeting specified criteria and bearing in mind Ireland's European Union (EU) and Common Travel Area (CTA) commitments.
Work is underway in my Department to give effect to this commitment. This work is being informed by an assessment of international best practice and having regard to our EU and CTA commitments. I intend to consult with relevant Government Departments, civil society and other interested parties, before finalising the Scheme, which I expect to be in a position to launch in the second half of this year.
In the meantime, I would encourage any person who is resident in the State without permission to contact my Department or their local immigration office and to take all appropriate steps to regularise their own and their family's status. In all cases, people must engage with the authorities if they wish to be permitted to remain here legally.
Regarding citizenship, my Department has not suspended the receipt or processing of citizenship applications at any stage during the pandemic. However, processing rates have unfortunately been negatively impacted by the attendant health and safety related restrictions.
I am conscious that a significant backlog has built up regarding the granting of citizenships due to the inability to hold in person ceremonies during Covid-19. Unfortunately, the pandemic has prevented the holding of such ceremonies, which are usually attended by hundreds of people and which have become a welcome addition to our public and civic life. Earlier this week, I opened a temporary system which will enable citizenship applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. This temporary system is in place from 18 January 2021 until citizenship ceremonies are able to recommence.
It is expected that the 4,000 applicants currently waiting on naturalisation will have been provided with an opportunity to gain citizenship by the end of March.