The Government's Rationale for Direct Provision Housing
The sole legal basis for the creation of direct provision was a Ministerial Circular (04/00) by the Department of Social and Family Affairs (DSFA), according to Quinn and Joyce (2014, 2). The government promotes the system of direct provision as a more “humane” housing alternative for asylum-seekers, especially those with families, when compared to prison detention. Unlike other European countries, Ireland does not have detention facilities specifically intended to house asylum-seekers and other migrant groups. Rather, asylum-seekers are held with convicted criminals and those awaiting trial in one of six penal institutions run by the Irish Prison Service: Castlerea Prison; Cloverhill Prison; Cork Prison; Limerick Prison; the Midlands Prison; Mountjoy Prison; Saint Patrick’s Institution; the Training Unit, Glengariff Parade; and Wheatfield Prison (Jesuit Refugee Service 2010, 237).
Asylum-seekers (commonly, adults with children) assigned to direct provision housing are usually accommodated in hostel-like arrangements clustered in enclosed areas dispersed across rural parts of Ireland or in areas outside Dublin (Christie 2000, 13). Because direct provision housing is not prison detention, it is promoted by the government as supporting Article 37 of the CRC, which forbids the punishment of children in a cruel or harmful way—that is, in the context of detention. Direct provision also is promoted as supporting Article 9 of the CRC, which discusses a child’s right to live with his or her parent(s) (UNICEF 2013). Proponents of direct provision argue that the incarceration of children and/or the separation of children from the incarcerated parent (s) are avoided through this accommodation system.
Because of the aforementioned Child Protection Policy, the government argues that child asylum-seekers in direct provision are also better protected from harm; such protection measures would almost certainly be unavailable in instances when adult and child asylum-seekers are housed in the Irish prison system (Reception and Integration Agency 2005, 17). The government notes that added RIA oversight is intended to protect children from the sexual abuse they could face in environments without the presence of specially trained staff (Ibid.). Such child protection initiatives can be considered as being in-line with Article 22 of the CRC, which states that children have the right to “special protection” and to help if they are refugees— broadly defined by UNHCR to include asylum-seekers—as well as all of the other rights listed in the CRC. The abuse that asylum-seekers often faced while being housed in mainstream Irish prisons originally led migrant rights groups to advocate for the development of nonprison housing alternatives.
Additionally, because meals and utilities are provided for residents, direct provision is promoted by the government as accommodation on a “full-board” basis. The government also provides an allowance of €19.10 per adult and €16.60 per child per week to help pay for childcare items and other needs (Quinn 2016). Additionally, two exceptional needs payments of €100 are given each year (Thornton 2007, 89). Direct provision was intended to fulfill the basic dietary and accommodation needs of asylum-seekers, thereby the state would not be obligated to provide supplementary welfare benefits, which arguably would be costlier (White 2012, 315). There are 34 reception facilities throughout Ireland, all operated by private companies contracted by the Reception and Integration Agency (Quinn and Joyce 2014, 7); direct provision benefits contractors handsomely, with more than €650 million being paid to those companies over the past decade (Deegan 2013). Despite the costs associated with direct provision, former Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter argued that there was no less expensive alternative to the program (Department of Justice and Equality 2013).