By Conor Tormey
On Friday 26 February, Green Party TD and Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman, released the White Paper on the abolition of Direct Provision. This news has been greeted with support from the majority of the parties in the Dáil, however, the Socialist Party believes that this paper does not go nearly far enough. It fails to address key problems with the system of DP and amounts to a repackaging of this inherently unjust system.
What is direct provision?
Direct provision was put into effect by the Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrats government in 1999. It was set up as a supposed short-term solution to a rising number of asylum seekers coming to Ireland, with almost 8,000 arriving in 1999. Refugees and migrants are forced to seek asylum or leave their home country for a number of factors: wars, famine, political persecution, economic deprivation and increasingly, the impact of climate change. These are all the by-products of the brutal reality of capitalist and imperialist exploitation and oppression.
Direct Provision was operated by the Reception and Integration Agency of the Department of Justice using private accommodation centres, such as former hostels and hotels. The government promised to build 4,000 permanent houses, however, these houses were never delivered. The lack of housing led to people being in these inhumane centres for years. There are currently 7,400 people living in 38 centres, and the total number of people having gone through the system since 1999 is 64,594. The average time spent in DP is 24 months, although there have been many cases of people spending far longer, with some instances of people spending 10-12 years.
These centres were outsourced to private companies. One of the largest providers, Millstreet Equestrian Services, made profits of over €8.6 million last year, and over €1 billion has been paid to private contractors and businesses since the system was established.
DP has been widely condemned as being inhumane, unethical and a violation of human rights and many grassroots refugee groups have organised to highlight this and demand its abolition. They have called for DP to be scrapped with demands for the government to provide proper housing and the right to work for refugees. An expert advisory panel was set up and its report came out in October last year. This report advocated for DP to be replaced with a new system and also advises giving asylum seekers the right to work immediately. The Irish government decided to disregard the advice, despite countries such as Sweden already allowing asylum seekers to look for work immediately after they apply.
The White Paper plan
The White Paper involves a two-phase system. The first phase includes moving people into “Reception and Integration Centres”. Families will have “own door” accommodation and single people will have “own room” accommodation. According to the paper, the emphasis will be on “an approach that seeks to encourage integration from day one, to place people on the most successful pathway possible towards an independent life in Ireland”, should application “prove successful”. Of course if they don’t prove successful they’ll be deported, regardless of how where they are on this ‘pathway’.
Community healthcare teams will be set up to support asylum seekers, these teams will include GPs and referral to mental health services based on assessment. However, they will continue to receive a pittance allowance, €38.80 a week, or just a little over €2000 a year
These centres will be public and in-state control and will be run by the International Protection Accommodation Service formerly the Reception and Integration Agency, the same agency that ran the direct provision centres and contracted private companies to provide accommodation.
It is said that phase two will be to try and get permanent homes, which was the supposed intention when DP was founded. The plan outlines that buildings will be repurposed through “urban renewal initiatives”, “rent a room schemes” will be used to source some of the accommodation for single people and “private tenancies” will be used to source accommodation for families as necessary.
Although these are the plans the government has set out, it is unlikely that phase two will happen for many people in DP. The ruthless profiteering of developers, land speculators and landlords (both corporate and non-corporate) has made housing provision totally unaffordable and the housing crisis is going from bad to worse. Meanwhile, successive governments have refused to invest in public housing on the vast amount of public land that they have at their disposal.
Other problems with the White Paper:
– Children with mental health difficulties will be assessed and referred to CAMHS, however, the lack of funding put into adolescent mental health clinics means that there are already over 2,229 children with serious mental health issues awaiting their first appointment. Capitalism prioritises economic success over the wellbeing of children. Children and adolescence are living through a mental health epidemic and the government didn’t prepare enough when they should have and have continued to not prepare for future generations.
– The government is promoting the idea that people will be housed after four months, however this would require adequate funding for housing — something that Roderic O’Gorman has already rejected as he said that a “cost-effective model that responds to the needs of asylum seekers is achievable within the “ambitious” timeframe”. Cost-effective really means underfunded when it comes to this government.
– The same agency that oversaw direct provision and used exploitative for-profit companies is now overseeing the reception and integration centres. It can’t be trusted.
– Deportations will continue under O’Gorman. Most of those who are ‘unsuccessful’ in their asylum applications are still facing extremely difficult economic, political and military situations in their home country. There is a need to give them a status in this country rather than deportation.
– The health services for trans and women are already extremely backlogged, especially for trans people as many people now have to go up to the North to get essential healthcare. Of course these problems are not because of asylum seekers, they are because of consecutive governments underfunding since 2008, while bailing out the banks to the amount of €62.8 billion.
A rotten system
Roderic O’Gorman and the Fine Gael / Fianna Fáil / Green Party coalition should not be given praise for this plan. They have all overseen the brutal DP system since its inception, and stood by and defended it whenever they were in government. The White Paper proposes a reformed DP with a new name, but it’s still DP in essence.
Ultimately, DP is a by-product of the inherent racism of the Irish capitalist state, the victims of which are Travellers, refugees, migrants and people of colour. Like the Mother and Baby homes, Magdalene Laundries and Industrial schools of the past, it is yet another example of its oppressive nature and how the ruling class treat the most vulnerable sections of our society.
Direct Provision must be abolished, as should all racist immigration laws. Deportations should immediately end and the right to asylum must be defended. Irish and migrant people should not be in competition for the scarce resources the system is willing to concede. We need a common struggle that unites all sections of the working class and the oppressed to fight for social and affordable homes, decent jobs and top quality services for all. The wealth is there to fund this, it is just in the wrong hands—the 16 billionaires in Ireland have €30 billion in wealth that they have amassed at our expense.
A united working-class movement based on fighting racism with solidarity, can end the oppressive capitalist system that ensures such inequalities exist by fostering division wherever it can.