Pope Francis called to visit direct provision centre

Pope Francis called to visit direct provision centre Pope Francis at the Easter vigil mass last year
Woman tells of eight-year long ordeal

Pope Francis has been called on to visit a direct provision centre during his expected trip to Ireland next year, in order to highlight the treatment of asylum seekers.

Fr Paddy Byrne, a curate in Portlaoise parish who ministers to the residents of the Montague Hotel, a direct provision centre in Emo, said the system is a “scandal” but it is “not on the mainstream political agenda because it is not popular”.

“The culture in Ireland, that was so vociferous in relation to the scandals of the past and how we treated our citizens in mother and baby homes, seems to be taking absolutely no cognisance of the fact that this remains a reality in this Republic in 2017. There are mothers and babies imprisoned in horrific conditions, and in the parish where I minister, four miles out the road you have 140 people imprisoned up to 10 years by direct provision,” he said.

“I call upon Pope Francis when he visits Ireland for the World Meeting of Families next year, to visit a direct provision centre. We have to challenge this with dramatic gestures and it would be in keeping with tradition of the Church, our theology and our pastoral care – we need to be out there on the frontline.”

Such dramatic gestures have been a hallmark of this papacy, since Pope Francis’ first trip outside Rome saw him visit the island of Lampedusa to highlight the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

Basic needs

Direct provision was introduced by the Government 17 years ago as a means of meeting the basic needs of food and shelter for asylum seekers while their claims for refugee status are being processed. It covers full board accommodation and personal allowances of €19.10 per adult and €15.60 per child per week. It was only supposed to be a short-term arrangement, for about six months, but was allowed to escalate into an inhumane situation with many asylum seekers spending seven, eight or even 10 years in the system.

“Is the Government waiting for us to die, so that they can forget about us?” asks Mary*, who has been living in a direct provision centre for eight years since escaping Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe.

“Enda Kenny went to the US and spoke about Irish people needing citizen’s status there, but what about the people back at home?

“This hostel is not a healthy place – I need to get out of here. It is in an isolated area, a lonely place,” Mary continued, explaining she volunteers in the local parish to keep occupied. “The food is not healthy. We have chips, burgers, wraps – everything is cooked in a lot of oil. You take food from the dining room and eat it in your room, wash the plates and then sit in your room again.”

The centres, which include former hostels, hotels and a mobile home park, are run by private contractors who receive about €50 million in State funding annually.


Last month the State’s Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said there was an increased risk that the lack of set standards for private contractors running the accommodation centres could lead to those living in direct provision receiving poor quality care or services.

“These hoteliers are receiving millions of taxpayers’ money to run these operations,” said Fr Byrne. “They are the big winners. We will be the losers, because in 30 years’ time there will be an inquiry and a regress scheme and it will be the scandal of 2040 or 2050.”

In the centres single residents share a room with several other adults of different ages, nationalities and religions. Depression, isolation and loneliness are common, with residents banned from employment which would give them a sense of identity and purpose.

“Invariably these people take Xanex and Valium because of their mental health. Locked up with no opportunity to contribute and all they can do is vegetate and regress,” said Fr Byrne.

Back in 2012, Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Children, highlighted the “real risk” of child abuse in direct provision where single parent families are required to share with strangers and where families with teenage children of opposite gender are required to share one room.

According to Mary the residents have become institutionalised and “it not good for children to grow up in that situation”.

“They are born in the hostel, they grow up in the hostel – they know no other way of life. A friend of mine recently got her status and moved out to an apartment. After dinner her daughter went to wash the plates in the bathroom sink, because that is what she grew up with. She could not identify between the kitchen and the bathroom.”

A Government working group chaired by retired High Court Judge Bryan McMahon and drawing from a range of interests in the international protection area, including two religious groups, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and Spirasi (the Spiritan organisation which supports survivors of torture) made 173 recommendations in 2015 to overhaul the direct provision system.

The three key priorities in the report requiring immediate action were: Those living in direct provision for five years or more should be granted protection status or leave to remain; The weekly direct provision allowance should be increased to €38.74 for adults and €29.80 for children; Communal catering should be introduced to direct provision centres.

The Government introduced a new International Protection Procedure at the start of 2017, which aims to streamline the asylum process and produce more speedy decisions. Since the publication of the McMahon Report, there has been significant progress in resolving the situation of the more than 2,000 persons who were in the system continuously for five or more years. However, an estimated 200-300 cases remained outstanding at the end of 2016.


“Although there exists complications in many of these cases it is important that solutions are found to bring an end to their long stay in direct provision, with all its associated human costs,” said Eugene Quinn, JRS Ireland National Director

He also warned that the number of people living in direct provision, which fell in 2016, is trending upwards this year as the new International Protection system takes time to bed in.

The number of people in direct provision in November, 2016 was 4,279. By April of this year that figure had risen to 4,617. The system is at 90% capacity, with the population in direct provision continuing to grow.

“A failure to proactively resolve longer duration cases and to adequately resource decision making bodies, will inevitably lead to the re-emergence of lengthy delays that characterised the Irish protection process for over a decade,” said Mr Quinn.

*Not her real name