A leading priest has criticised as “morally reprehensible” government reluctance to allow long-term direct provision users access to rent supports because of concerns that a more inviting system could draw asylum seekers to Ireland.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said there were no cheaper alternatives to the current arrangements and that changes to the system could double its cost.
A more attractive system, she maintained, “would amount to a major pull factor which in turn would give rise to further costs, which based on patterns would likely to be very significant”.
Portlaoise Parish Priest Msgr John Byrne, however, has said there are “serious moral implications” to this approach, expressing concerns about long-term consequences for children of life in direct provision, and rejecting the idea that “we can’t make the situation humane because we can’t afford it”.
Caroline Reid, communications officer at the Irish Refugee Council, which has called for an end to the direct provision system, dismissed the Minister’s excuse. “They bandy about the term ‘pull factor’ an awful lot but are never able to produce evidence for it,” she said, adding, “the reality of the situation in Syria and Eritrea is that nobody is moving because of ‘pull factors’ – if anything there’s a ‘push factor’”.
Greg Straton, Executive Director of Spirasi, agreed, saying he’s unaware of any evidence that changes in Ireland’s reception conditions would have an effect on numbers. Migrants and refugee seekers don’t appear to be in search of comfort. “They want protection,” he said.
“We have to wake up, as a western country enjoying the fruits of the First World, to the plight of poor nations,” said Msgr Byrne. “We have a wonderful reputation as a nation for extending a helping hand to the poor of the world,” he added, continuing, “it’s hardly true that we can’t afford to do so now”.
While the refugee crisis is a huge challenge to the whole western world, he said, it is a challenge Ireland should be facing, rather than hiding from. “It’s always been in the Irish spirit to lead in humanitarian help,” he said, “and it’s a core value of our faith to recognise all humanity as brothers and sisters”.
‘Ireland has a “wholly unfit reception system” according to the Irish Refugee Council’s Caroline Reid, noting how the working group on direct provision argued that the “lack of a single procedure is the main problem”, which has “fed into a lot of other problems”.’
The Oireachtas committee on public oversight and petitions said this May that the direct provision system, currently accommodating more than 4,300 people, should be abolished or transformed as it is no longer fit for purpose.
Direct provision users, the report found, should be allowed work and even access State aid for housing.
Some reforms to improve the system were announced earlier this month, with the backing of Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, but Greg Straton, Executive Director of Spirasi, says Ireland’s “emphasis on reform should be less on provision than on processing”.
“If we get the processing right, other things will resolve themselves”, he said.
Currently, he told The Irish Catholic, it takes four to five years to make decisions, and “we need to get that below 12 months”.
For this to happen, he said, Ireland will need to “resource the decision-making bodies and the people who provide legal representation”.
Ms Reid agreed, saying regardless of how the government may have sincere intentions of streamlining the applications process, “without putting in resources I don’t see how they’ll get through it quicker”.