Editorial: 'It's time we reviewed how we care for asylum seekers'
Ireland's system of direct provision for asylum seekers is with us for 20 years. That of itself is good reason for a rethink and a real discussion of its merits and shortcomings.
Recent controversies surrounding the location of some reception centres, and ill-judged and intemperate comments by a small number of public figures, make such a reconsideration absolutely imperative. There are a number of given facts which must inform any such review.
It is clear that Ireland cannot accept all the world's misery. But we have always acknowledged the need to take our share and do what we can.
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In discharging that obligation we must provide basic services of a good standard to those we welcome into our care. In real terms, the numbers are small and it is wrong to portray meeting obligations as depriving others dependent on State support.
Not everything about direct provision is wrong. There are many places where the people were welcomed and in the greater scheme of things flashpoints and tensions have been few.
But there were two persistent bugbears which need to be addressed. First is the non-delivery of the pledge that asylum seekers would have their claims processed quickly, and that the people would only live in these direct provision centres for as little as six months.
The second related difficulty was that asylum seekers were banned from taking up paid work from the outset. They were instead given a very small weekly allowance along with housing and meals. As time went on, family life became more difficult as children could not enjoy the basic daily right of having a parent or guardian cook for them.
Over the years, there has been a slew of reports detailing deficiencies and problems. The application system was criticised as being too complex and drawn-out, delivering sometimes inconsistent determinations. The appeals system was equally criticised. Supporters of the various practices pointed to the need not to make Ireland seem too attractive to migrants coming from stricken lands. But critics could also point to large sums of taxpayers' money being spent on a system which left serious questions about basic value for money.
There were some eventual signs of hope. In 2014, a compassionate and probing report by former High Court judge Bryan MacMahon did lead to improvements. The judge fearlessly advocated on behalf of people who for too long had been left without a voice.
In 2017, the Supreme Court struck down the blanket ban on asylum seekers taking up paid work. In this era of full employment it makes good sense to institute a system where at least some of these people could get the dignity of earning an income and caring for themselves and their families to some degree.
The Government has also now agreed to engage with local communities as it decides on the location of new direct provision centres. That is long overdue, but to be welcomed just the same. It should alleviate misunderstandings and avoid local divisions on an already delicate issue.