At this stage most of us are familiar with the national failure that is Direct Provision; the State's accommodation for asylum seekers set up in 1999 as a temporary measure which is now nearly as old as I am.
This is a system that has brought international criticism of the State, seen grassroots mobilisation against its treatment of people, and has had numerous studies into it to show the harmful impacts it has on those that have to go through the system. It has been found the negative impact it has on children who have and are going through the system particularly devastating.
Direct Provision is not fit for purpose, it is inefficient, it is expensive, but most importantly, it fails to afford dignity to the people who live in the system.
A first step forward
I welcome that, after 20 years, the Government is admitting what many politicians, experts, and activists have been saying for years; that Direct Provision should go. The Programme for Government finally recognises that the current system needs to change: “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 new asylum centre in Dominick Street is a step forward, the first one in a long time'
I genuinely welcome the progress that has been made and the report lead by Catherine Day, former secretary-general of the European Commission, on the future of accommodation for people within the international protections process was received by the Minister for Integration and Equality this week. The Programme for Government commits to a white paper informed by Catherine Day's report by the end of the year.
Decades of opposition to Direct Provision has gotten us to this point; let's keep the momentum going.
Replace Direct Provision with a community style housing system
My motion to the Galway City Council this week called for an end to Direct Provision and for it to be replaced with a community style housing system. It was an opportunity for the Galway City Council to lend its support to our TDs and Senators to finish this task. I am grateful to my fellow councillors for their unanimous support of the motion.
Now is the time to move beyond politics. We must push aggressively for the abolition of Direct Provision and for cross-party efforts to build a non-partisan consensus for afterwards. We cannot let people suffer due to immature and inactive politics.
Recently we had news of a new asylum centre in Dominick Street. There are obvious criticisms with this location and I believe the secretive approach by the Department of Justice only serves to make people defensive and paranoid. As such I helped set up a meeting for local councillors of the centre last Friday. The centre is certainly not perfect but it is a far, far cry from the overcrowded conditions in standard Direct Provision centres. It is a step forward, the first one in a long time.
Resilience of Direct Provision residents
It would be wrong to paint the residents in Direct Provision centres as solely people in misery. The gratitude and resilience of residents in Direct Provision centres is always apparent whenever I have met with any. It is important to remember the huge diversity in residents within our asylum process, who have left behind full lives of their own. They might be a farmer forced off their lands, an accomplished scholar or academic, skilled professionals, or children with their whole lives ahead of them.
'We must challenge racism in our society that can make life hostile for asylum seekers'
We would be wise to embrace them. I have no doubt we will, as is the welcoming nature of the Irish people. Every asylum centre has a 'Friend of the Centre' group which brings in local residents for support and friendship. There are countless examples of Irish communities rallying together to become the glue of the asylum and integration process. If you take the example of the Eglinton Hotel in Salthill you will see their community garden as a sign of the hope that can be offered to some.
Ending Direct Provision and replacing it with a more humane housing system is not going to fix everything in our asylum process. Waiting times remain a core issues that have seen improvements but still have a long way to go. The way asylum seekers are treated which sees them moved about the country with 24 hour notice must end. Detailed and intrusive examinations of asylum seekers sexuality in an attempt to "prove" someone's status as LGBT+ must change. And we must challenge racism in our society that can make life hostile for asylum seekers.
Denying people their dignity and humanity
After I finished my masters in human rights law in 2018, I contemplated doing a PhD on the experiences within Direct Provision in Ireland. Particularly for LGBT+ residents as the Galway LGBT+ community mourned the passing of friend who was a resident in Direct Provision. But for me Direct Provision is more than just a theoretical to be studied, it is a harsh reality that politics must face up to.
'Can any of us image going through lockdown, for five, six, seven years?'
The entire country right now holds its breath, worriedly waiting to see if we will be returned to lockdown again. And we are worried for good reason. While we know the sacrifice we are making is for public health; there is also a toll associated with it. A mental health toll. A community toll. A social toll. But for people living in Direct Provision centres that toll is a daily reality. But worse. They have less space. Less privacy. Less freedom. Can any of us image going through lockdown, for five, six, seven years? Raising an entire family from a hotel room in the meantime. It is no way to live.
Direct Provision is an institution that denies people their dignity and humanity. It denies people their human rights. It cannot continue and we will not stand for it.