When it first emerged that the Government was planning to end direct provision, which is contained in the Programme for Government, by December 2024, it was a move that was welcomed by many people, particularly those who are in direct provision and people who have been in direct provision in the past. But, at the same time, it is a move that will require significant work by the Government to pursue an alternative to the failed system of direct provision.
Originally, established in 1999, under the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern and Minister for Justice, John O’Donoghue, it was intended to be a measure that would be temporary and would not last for this period of time. However, by the time that direct provision is supposedly ending, in December 2024, under commitments made by Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman, it will be over two and a half decades, from the time that direct provision was originally introduced by the Fianna Fáil – Progressive Democrats’ coalition government.
Do we really trust Fianna Fáil, who are again in Government, who introduced this system of direct provision? However the cruelty of system did not end here as did the policies of the Fianna Fáil – Progressive Democrat coalition. Only 5 years after this cruel system was introduced, the Citizenship Referendum was passed by a majority of 80%, backed by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, in Government.
The referendum meant that a child born in Ireland to foreign parents, was not entitled to automatic Irish citizenship as the 27th Amendment to the Irish Constitution was inserted under the then Minister for Justice and Progressive Democrats TD, Michael McDowell.
Direct provision was explicitly mentioned under the Programme for Government in 2020. According to the Programme for Government, ‘we are committed to ensuring that Ireland provides protection to those seeking refuge from conflict and persecution, as is required under international law'
The program for government further stated that 'while people are awaiting a decision on their international protection application, we will provide accommodation for asylum seekers that has the protection and promotion of human rights at its core… We agree that the current system needs to change’.
Alongside this, the Government committed to ‘ending the Direct Provision system and will replace it with a new International Protection accommodation policy, centred on a not-for-profit approach'.
The Government committed to ‘publish a White Paper by the end of 2020, informed by the recommendations of the Expert Group, which will set out how this new system will be structured and the steps to achieving it.'
However, despite this commitment, the Government did not end up publishing the White Paper on how this new system would be structured until February 2021. According to Gov.ie, once this White Paper was published, it ‘sets out a new Government policy to replace Direct Provision, which will be phased out over the next four years… A new system for accommodation and supports for applicants for International Protection will be established'
The new system will be grounded in the principles of human rights, respect for diversity and respect for privacy and family. It will operate on a not-for-profit basis also. During this orientation period, people will receive integration supports to help them adjust to living in Ireland. Meanwhile, they will be moved into houses, after four months in Ireland and they will be able to start, paid-work after six months overall.
It remains to be seen whether the Government follows through on the recommendations set out under the White Paper. However, it still mentions that people will have to wait 4 months, before being moved into a house but it is welcome that after 6 months, they will be able to secure paid work.
Whatever happens, the Government must come up with a credible alternative to this inhumane direct provision system. It cannot stop with just abolishing direct provision, it must also repeal the 27th Amendment to the Constitution which does not give a child born in Ireland, the basic right to automatic citizenship if they are born in Ireland, to foreign parents.
Furthermore the Government must support the bill put forward by the Labour Party in 2018 which was the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2018. According to TheJournal.ie, ‘this bill proposes to amend the law to enable children who are born in Ireland and who have lived here for three years to be considered for naturalisation as an Irish citizen, irrespective of the status of their parents… It does not require a second referendum’.
Five years on from this, people will look back on whether the Government was able to successfully abolish direct provision and pursue a credible alternative to this inhumane system. Quite simply, it certainly has a long way to go before being able to successfully abolish direct provision, but it is a move that will be welcomed by lots of people and will be a success for cabinet Minister, Roderic O’Gorman, if it is achieved.