Two children were intimidated by adult asylum seekers into handing back their lunch as part of a food boycott in a direct provision centre.
The boycott was carried out by residents in a number of provision centres around the country as part of a campaign by asylum seekers to be moved into houses and given the right to work.
Fresh protests are due to be launched in another centre today amid claims that assaults on staff have increased in recent weeks.
Immigration officials fear that "outside influences" are partly responsible for the growing tension within the centres.
A total of 4,500 asylum seekers are being housed and fed at 24 direct provision centres nationwide and some have been there for seven years.
They are given a weekly allowance but are not permitted to work while awaiting a decision on their asylum applicants.
Some 800 deportation orders have been signed by ministers for justice but implementation of orders has slowed down.
Many of the decisions have been held up by a logjam in a complicated appeals process, which regularly involves judicial reviews in the courts.
Successive ministers have promised to streamline the process without success.
But the current minister, Frances Fitzgerald, has promised that new legislation, known as the Protection Bill and aimed at introducing a single application procedure, will be drafted and enacted by next spring.
The plan is to dramatically cut the time spent in direct provision and some applicants will have decisions in weeks and the rest in six months. A working group is being set up by Mrs Fitzgerald and Junior Minister Aodhan O Riordain next month to review direct provision and suggest improvements.
Officials point out that the system of direct provision is not unique to Ireland and many other countries operate similar methods.
Some EU states hold their asylum seekers for lengthy periods in special detention centres. But Ireland does not operate detention centres as a matter of policy.
Despite the complaints about the direct provision scheme here, there has been a big surge in the number of asylum applications recently.
New figures show a 40pc increase in applications for the first eight months of the year, compared to the corresponding period last year, up from 607 to 854. Last July's monthly total of 131 was the highest since January 2011 and last month (126) was the second highest.
Pakistan tops the table of asylum seekers with 13pc of the applicants, followed by Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Algeria.
Based on current trends, it is expected there will be about 1,300 applications for the full year, compared with some 950 for 2013.
The food incident involved a couple of children, who were heading for a school bus but were ordered by residents to hand back food they had collected from the canteen.
The incident, captured on CCTV cameras, took place during a five-day boycott of the food available at the centre.