Ireland

Department of Housing ‘crossed the line’ in criticising asylum seeker plans, O’Brien says

Junior minister responds as department calls accommodation proposals ‘not workable’

Minister of State Joe O’Brien has criticised the Department of Housing response to proposals to replace the direct provision system. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Minister of State Joe O’Brien has criticised the Department of Housing response to proposals to replace the direct provision system. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The Department of Housing’s criticism of proposals to end the State’s direct provision system are “very unconstructive” and have “crossed the line”, a Green Party Minister of State has said.

Calls to offer asylum seekers own-door accommodation in lieu of the direct provision system are “not workable” and threaten the State’s ability to house homeless people, the Department of Housing warned last week.

Last month, a Government expert group led by former top European Commission official Dr Catherine Day recommended that local authorities should be required to house all asylum seekers in own-door housing by mid-2023.

The group’s findings will inform a White Paper due before the end of the year, but the three-party Government has already committed to ending direct provision during the Coalition’s lifetime.

Saying that it has “significant concerns” about the Day recommendations, the Department of Housing said local authorities would not be able to find enough accommodation for asylum seekers and asserted that warnings it had given in June on the issue had been ignored.

Pitting against each other

However, Green Party Minister of State for Community Development Joe O’Brien accused the Department of Housing of “not being very collegiate” and warned that its language would pit vulnerable people against each other.

“Of course it’s their job to flag barriers and difficulties with [the Day report], but I think they’ve crossed the line in going further and pushing back against the proposed policy. What they’re doing is very unconstructive,” he said.

Saying he was “surprised and disappointed” by the department’s opposition, Mr O’Brien said the Programme for Government calls for “annualised” spending to pay for changes to asylum seeker housing.

The Department of Rural and Community Development is eager, the Minister of State said, to engage with local communities ahead of going ahead with plans to house asylum seekers.

“There has to be an understanding that we have 8,000-plus people whose situation is urgent. Society as a whole accepts the way they’re being looked after right now is not good enough. Everyone has to play their part in changing that.”

However, there were complaints about a lack of communication in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, after it emerged that currently-disused student apartments are to be used as an accommodation centre for 60 asylum seeker families.

The Port Road accommodation centre, which is currently being renovated, is expected to receive families from the end of January. It will be managed by a company called Bridgestock Care.

Full supports

While the Government is moving closer to ending direct provision, Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman said, accommodation must be ensured for asylum seekers who arrive in the meantime. Full supports will be offered, he added.

Each family will have their own apartment, in line with the National Standards for Accommodation Centres that were adopted in 2019 and which come into effect on January 1st next year.

Saying that Letterkenny is a “welcoming town”, Mr O’Gorman said a “friends of the centre” group will be set up to promote integration between residents and the local community.

Claiming that no consultation has taken place on the issue, however, Letterkenny-based Independent councillor Michael McBride said questions had been asked months ago when rumours first spread, but no reply came.

Putting a figure of 350 on the number of people likely to arrive, though this is not confirmed, Cllr McBride questioned whether schools and medical services can cope with such extra numbers.

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