The Direct Provision Files provide an insight into responses to institutionalised living within direct provision accommodation centres. Given low weekly allowances, who should cover costs of items such as nappies (diapers) for children, the cost of school books, school tours etc? What if a person seeks a move to a direct provision centre to be close to his child? Would the Department of Social Protection stop weekly payments for asylum seekers who were protesting their removal to another direct provision accommodation centre? How would asylum seekers rights to be informed of local election candidates policies in direct provision centres be upheld?
As noted in a previous post, some community welfare officers expressed concern with the poor quality of direct provision accommodation. This resulted in some officers granting asylum seekers full rate supplementary welfare allowances and rent supplement. This was a significant concern for the Department of Justice, who along with the Department of Social and Family Affairs, who after Government approval, introduced legislative changes to social welfare law in 2003 to prevent the grant of rent supplement to asylum seekers. So post these changes, shelter would (generally) only be provided to asylum seekers in direct provision centres.
This legislative change had other impacts. Throughout 2004 and up to 2012, the Direct Provision Files evidence a significant lack of planning within Government Departments regarding the precise services that needed to be provided in direct provision centres. In 2004, one health board stopped providing payments to asylum seekers for nappies for children. This occurred when many asylum seekers would have only had an income of €19.10 per week per adult and €9.60 per week per child. From the documentation, it appears that different health boards/sections of the Health Services Executive, adopted different approaches, with some making exceptional needs payments to ensure children were provided with nappies, while some centres provided nappies to children. The fact that weekly payment rates were not raised (with the first raise for children not coming until 2016), meant that often community welfare officers made payments to cover costs of medicines, which were not covered by the medical card scheme, educational supplies and books for children, payments for asylum seekers to travel to interviews, medical appointments and legal fees for the Legal Aid Board. During the recession, practices in different areas of the country meant that at times, asylum seekers were not granted exceptional needs payments, and had to somehow cover these costs from their weekly allowances. The onset of the recession in Ireland, meant that the Health Services Executive/Department of Social Protection stated to Justice that it would no longer cover any such costs. A 2012 Report on Exceptional Needs Payments from the Department of Social Protection concluded that creche costs for asylum seekers, and payments for kids education (school tours, books, school activities) should not be paid to asylum seekers. The Department also stated that the Reception and Integration Agency should ‘take over’ providing nappies to children in direct provision centres.
A further issue that emerged, although only in one set of documents, is what happens when an asylum seeker requests a move to a direct provision centre so as to be nearer his child. An Appeals Officer in the (then) Department of Social and Family Affairs contacted officials in DSFA requesting their insights in to how to resolve an appeal. The appeal related to whether a father of an Irish child could move to Donegal, where the Reception and Integration Agency were unable to provide a transfer. The move was to enable more sustained contact between father and child. The outcome of this appeal is not known but raises significant concerns that an independent appeals officer contacts DSFA to ask them how she should decide a case. On a human level, there was significant disregard for the right of the child to have a relationship with her/his father. In other situations, the (now) Department of Social Protection refused to accede to a request by the Department of Justice to stop payment of asylum seekers weekly allowance, where the persons seeking asylum had been protesting at their proposed removal from Mosney direct provision centre.
The nature of institutionalised living also raised issues with political engagement by asylum seekers in the 2008 and 2014 local elections. In 2008, the Reception and Integration Agency issued a circular, preventing the placement of any local election literature in direct provision accommodation centres. A then Sinn Fein local election candidate, now TD, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire (represented by KOD Lyons and Patrick Dillon-Malone SC), threatened legal action against the Reception and Integration Agency due to the contents of Circular 01/04. This Circular prohibited any election literature for the 2014 local elections in direct provision centres. In response to this threat of legal action, on 14 May 2014, Circular 02/14 was issued, permitting local election candidates to leave literature at designated points within direct provision accommodation centres.
All in all, these documents show the ad-hoc manner in which issues were dealt with, a clear lack of respect for legal rights of persons seeking asylum, and at times the rather cruel nature of discussions on rights to private and family life of children and their parents.
Liam is a socio-legal human rights academic in UCD School of Law.