[UPDATE 16th May 2014 at 9:05am]
The Dr Liam Thornton on the Human Rights in Ireland blog has summarised arguments put forward by the State in an ongoing legal challenge to the system of Direct Provision in Ireland. These arguments include the rationale behind the introduction of the system of Direct Provision.
Not least because it seems that the Circular issued by RIA purports to maintain a prohibition on election candidates speaking with residents; nor due to the fact that RIA continues to insist on imposing a designation of “politically neutral environment” upon every Direct Provision centre in Ireland.
More fundamentally, there appears to be precisely zero basis in law for RIA’s missives.
The headline in TheJournal.ie remains a true statement: Politicians are not allowed to talk to people seeking asylum in Ireland.
The Circular which was issued within 24 to 48 hours of Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire’s initial tweets makes one change to existing RIA policy. Election candidates “may be allowed to drop off election leaflets to be picked up and read by residents if they so wish,” which “may be left in a suitable designated area” within the Direct Provision.
This is the only explicit change in RIA policy. Everything else remains as it was.
Fundamental problems remain, however.
The Direct Provision system has no statutory basis whatsoever. It was established in November 1999 by a government decision:
A central directorate (is) to be established immediately to deal with matters relating to the dispersal of asylum seekers throughout the country and preparation of plans for a system of direct provision of housing, health needs etc. – each Department to nominate a representative to this unit.
Last year, the then Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, summed up the circumstances of that decision:
The DP arrangements, though in operation for more than twelve years now, have never been given a statutory basis. They derive from a government decision of 9 November 1999 that a central directorate be established to deal with matters relating to the dispersal of asylum seekers throughout the country and to prepare plans for a system of direct provision of housing, health needs and so on. The decision appears to have been a reaction to what was perceived as an emergency situation created by a significant increase in asylum applications. But what is acceptable as an emergency short-term solution often becomes unacceptable where it becomes long-term. As Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman put it, though in a different context, the cry of emergency is ‘an intoxicating one, producing an exhilarating freedom from the need to consider the rights of others and productive of a desire to repeat it again and again’.
RIA was established in 2001. It is an agency which exercises devolved functions of a government department. According to itself, “RIA is a functional unit of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), a division of the Department of Justice and Equality”. One can only assume therefore that RIA, too, is without any statutory basis. It has no executive powers, which are solely in the gift of the Minister for Justice and Equality.
As much as government ministers may not sideline the legislature and govern the country through executive decisions, nor may unelected civil servants. That’s the theory, at least.
The notion of “politically neutral environments” is a complete fiction, invented by one or other civil servant(s) at some time after the year 1999. (The attempt to conflate direct provision centres – where people are required to reside – with the workplace of public servants is, if nothing else, insulting.)
The idea that any civil servant, whatever their rank (Principal Officer or otherwise), is permitted to arbitrarily impose spurious designations on any “environment” is disturbing in itself. That it should be done to curtail the full and free exercise of the right to vote, equally with other voters – which necessarily includes the right to have one’s views canvassed where we reside – is, in my view, dangerous.
This latest reaction by RIA, through issuing another Circular, does precisely nothing to alter a deeply troubling aspect of the thoroughly flawed system of Direct Provision.