There have been calls for the abolition of the Direct Provision system in which all essentials are provided to asylum seekers but they are given very little money and are not allowed to work.

The Direct Provision service was introduced by the state in 2000 providing accommodation costs, meals, heat, light, laundry and maintenance for asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers are entitled to the same payments from the Department of Social Welfare as Irish citizens, such as Child Benefit, One Parent Family and Disability allowance. Children who are asylum seekers are entitled to attend school.  Adults receive a payment of €19.05 per week, and children receive €9.52 per week. 

However, it is believed that Direct Provision does not give asylum seekers real control over their own lives. They are not allowed to work, and the effects are increasingly being seen by doctors, like Conor Fanning in Ennis, who are charged with their care, 

Not alone would they be better off working, and be able to look after their own healthcare and be able to provide for their own children, for example, being able to afford over the counter medications.  There’s a lot of benefits I think to the Irish people, because they would be able to contribute and be able to get to know each other, and I think that any negative fears would be quite quickly abated.

Under Direct Provision, each centre accommodating asylum seekers is obliged to provide an appropriate mix of ethnic dishes, and have reasonable regard to the needs of young children, like providing infant formula and food.  A recent study by the Irish Refugee Council noted a lack of choice and control in preparing food and providing necessities in some centres. 

Austin O’Carroll, a Dublin-based doctor, says that many of his patients have health problems as a result of the type of food provided in Direct Provision centres, and would have a better quality of life if they could buy their own food and cook their own meals, 

There needs to be a variety of food provided.  Whether that’s done through their purchasing, which I think would be the more efficient method from their point of view, obviously more costly from the central purchasing point of view, or whether it’s done through a more innovative approach to the way the actual facilities are provided within the dispersal centres...it does cause health problems...from a general humanity point of view, I believe they should.

Peter O’Mahony from the Irish Refugee Council says there are many misconceptions surrounding asylum seekers.  

Many Irish people presume that asylum seekers are happy to be dependent on the state, and happy not to have to work.  In fact the vast majority of them do want to work.  That creates, obviously, misunderstandings, it creates a feeling that people are spongers.  If they are not paying their way, if they are dependent on welfare, it’s dependent on government policy.

There may be a genuine and sincere commitment to provide support to asylum seekers, but it seems the policies have little benefit for all communities, in the long term.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 22 April 2002.  The reporter is Deirdre MacCarthy.