It’s time to end Direct Provision

Posted: November 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

On October 11th the residents of the Towers Direct Provision Centre in Clondalkin received some very bad news. The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) informed them that the centre was closing on December 3rd. Fazyard, the company in charge, was not in a position to extend their contract.

On the same day, Fazyard director Sean Lyons posted on the Towers notice board. He took issue with RIAs claim. He was willing to extend the contract but his offer was rejected.

The big worry for the Towers residents was not the dispute between RIA and Fazyard but that they now had just seven weeks before they would have to move.

For the majority this would mean going to another direct provision centre. But with no spare capacity in Dublin this meant moving further afield, possibly to Mallow or Monaghan.

Their children would have to change schools mid way through the year. Access to medical and social services, including some specialist services only available in Dublin, would be lost. University places or jobs could be jeopardised. And crucially, hard won links with the wider community would be broken, forcing people to start the difficult process of building stable lives all over again.

But there is also a significant number of residents who are no longer asylum seekers. 65 adults and children had already secured their leave to remain. Unable to secure private rental homes they have been using direct provision as a form of emergency accommodation.

They now face the imminent possibility of becoming homeless, moving from one institutionalised setting to another.

Having visited the Clondalkin Towers many times as a local TD I can unequivocally say that it is no place for people to be living. Whole families cramped into a bedroom for years on end. Single adults forced to share rooms with no privacy. There are only the most basic communal facilities with families unable to cook for themselves.

But faced with the enormous uncertainty of being forced to move far away or becoming homeless, the Towers residents future, always uncertain, was now even more so.

The sudden ending of the contract between Fazyard and RIA had a number of causes. The contract for this and other centres was coming to end in October and a new tender process was open. RIA wanted higher standards in the new contracts. Existing providers would have been looking higher fees. Undoubtedly the increasing property prices in Dublin was encouraging RIA to reconsider all of its Dublin based contracts.

The tender deadline for the provision of 500 bed spaces within a 40km radius of Kildare was October 17th. Uncertain of the outcome, RIA wanted Fazyard to agree a six month extension to their existing contract to get them through the tendering process. Fazyard wanted eighteen months.

Meanwhile, caught in crossfire of this competitive business negotiation between a public body and a private company were hundreds of real people many of whom have fled war, persecution or extreme economic hardship.

In the end the tender deadline was pushed out to October 31st. Fazyard agreed to an extension of the existing contract through till mid July 2019.

While the immediate emergency was averted residents don’t know if Fazyard bid for the new three year contract and even if they did whether they will be successful.

Minister of State or Integration David Stanton has confirmed that the successful bidder(s) will be announced in January. This means that the 250 adults and children in Clondalkin Towers face a very uncertain and worrying December.

On the positive side residents have received huge community support from TDs, Councillors, schools, service providers, community groups and local residents. In a widely supported e-mail campaign to the Minister the people of Clondalkin made it clear that the residents of Towers are part of our community and we want them to remain.

There are also great support services provided directly to the residents by organisations including the local Intercultural Centre, the Peter McVerry Trust and the Jesuit Refugee Service. To his credit Minister Stanton played an important role in securing this funding for these projects.

But the very real crisis that has gripped the people living in Clondalkin Towers is just another example of our broken direct provision system. It is a system derived by private profit that is bad for residents, for communities and for the taxpayer.

From 2006 to 2015 (the only years the Department of Justice will release figures for) the Towers direct provision centre cost the taxpayer €27.5m. With an average of 250 residents this works out at a cost of €13,591 per person per year.

While for single people this is arguably cheaper for the state than accommodation in the private rented sector funded through the Housing Assistance Payment the same can not be said for families. A parent with two children in direct provision costs the state €40k per year. The same family living in HAP accommodation costs just €15k. That’s a difference of 63%.

The excessive cost of direct provision is even worse when you look over the long term. Clondalkin Towers costs the state €3m per year to run. It’s its 12 years of existence it has cost a total of €36m. This is a recurring cost every single year indefinitely into the future.

If the state had the foresight to provide accommodation directly they could have built 125 self contained units for €27m (at todays prices) meeting the temporary accommodation needs of all of the people who passed through Clondalkin Towers since it opened. This would have generated a saving of €9m to date and a further €3m for every year that the units were used into the future.

When you look at the full cost of direct provision across the state since its inception the numbers are staggering. Housing asylum seekers in substandard, inhumane accommodation has cost the taxpayer €1.25bn since 2001. This year the cost of direct provision is expected to overrun its voted allocation by 13% at €76m. A significant portion of this has gone in profits to private property owners.

If the state provided the accommodation directly it would have cost just half this figure to date with even greater savings year on year. Given that we need approximately 3000 units of accommodation at any one time to meet the needs of people seeking asylum, at current prices this would cost €684m. For this price you could get high quality own door accommodation in apartments and homes, giving individuals and families the privacy and dignity they deserve.

Direct Provision is a scandal. Future generations will look back and view it with the same horror that today we view industrial schools and Magdalene laundries. When they hear that the state could have provided proper accommodation for families fleeing war, persecution and extreme economic hardship for half the price they paid for direct provision they will wonder if we were stupid as well as cruel.

In last weeks Sunday Business Post Minister of State for Integration David Staunton challenged those of us who oppose Direct Provision to come up with an alternative. So here is mine.

Government should announce its intention to phase out the use of Direct Provision over five years. They should commit €129m in additional capital spending per year from 2020 to provide 600 units of accommodation each year with planning and approval to commence in 2019.

The accommodation could be provided by Approved Housing Bodies in partnership with reputable NGOs already working with asylum seekers. The units could be provided in appropriate sized clusters with communal facilities for support and advice services. The delivery of units could be timed to coincide with the ending of existing legal contracts.

This would not be a more humane form of direct provision. These would be high quality temporary homes for people seeking asylum, with on site supports. The long term cost to the taxpayer would be considerably less. People could live in dignity and comfort while their applications were processed. When they secure their leave to remain they would then transition into mainstream housing again supported by existing services.

David Stanton is a decent man. I believe he fully understands the scandal that is direct provision. He may even get the fiscal absurdity of a system that has all the stench of the Galway Tent. If he is willing to work with others, on the opposition benches, in the NGO sector and with those living in direct provision, he could be the Minister that finally puts in place a humane and human rights compliant accommodation system for asylum seekers. Now that would be some legacy.

First published in the Sunday Business Post 25.11.18

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Comments
  1. Mike Hall says:

    No other way to contact you, so doing so here?

    For God’s sake get better economics advisers than that ‘PositiveMoney’ clown Josh Ryan-Collins.

    He not only has no understanding of either banking or the monetary system, but he is utterly clueless on the housing crisis.

    The present crisis is nothing to do with banks’ loose credit provision, as Ryan-Collins claims – even the dogs on the street know the CB’s (Philip Lane’s) mortgage to income rules are highly limiting, and mortgages not easy to obtain.

    Contrary to Ryan Collins drivel, it is now entirely a supply problem – not enough social housing has ever been built in Ireland, and it is as bad now as at any time.

    50%+ of house sales last year were to cash buyers. Landlords jumping in to get rich off inflated rents because no where near enough houses are available any where remotely near their jobs.

    I cannot believe Sinn Fein are falling for this charlatan’s nonsense. 😦

    • Mike, I think you misunderstand JRCs argument. He is not arguing that banks lending to the household mortgage market is the problem. Rather quantities easing has increased the supply of investment funds seeking out secure yields. This has led to an increase in speculative investment in property driving up land prices and the wrong kind of supply, ie expensive homes, high end student accommodation, co living etc etc. The argument he and others, myself make, is we need greater levels of public investment in affordable homes plus greater regulation of speculative finance to constrain the cost of land and finance.

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