The number of people in direct provision in Ireland for this month has risen above the Government's contracted capacity.

There are currently 6,355 people in direct provision, according to figures from the Department of Justice obtained by RTÉ News.

This is an increase from 6,106 in December 2018.

The Department of Justice has said that contracted capacity as of 20 January is 6,156.

The department confirmed that the Reception and Integration Agency has had to access emergency bed spaces in hotels since September 2018 due to insufficient capacity within its existing portfolio.

A spokesperson said: "The contracted capacity of an accommodation centre is not necessarily the maximum capacity of the premises.  

"It is not at all unusual for the actual number of persons present in an accommodation centre to be in excess of the contract. This does not indicate that there is overcrowding at that centre.  

"The overcapacity may be due to family configuration reasons for example where a baby is born to a family, etc."

The department has said the fact that around 10% of people in direct provision have been unable to leave the centres, even though they have been granted permission to remain in Ireland, is contributing to capacity issues.

It has said it is to open new centres in Moville, Co Donegal and Rooskey on the Leitrim-Roscommon border to meet demand.

It also said that in order to meet the accommodation needs in the longer term, it has recently began a public procurement exercise under which public tenders for the provision of accommodation and ancillary services to persons in the protection process will be advertised. 

This process is scheduled to continue throughout this year and is due for completion in 2020. 

These new figures come after RTÉ revealed last month that more than 40% of asylum seekers living in direct provision here are spending two or more years in accommodation centres.

The number of people living in direct provision accommodation centres has also been increasing over the past three years.

In 2016, there were 4,696 people living in direct provision and 5,096 in 2017. At the end of 2018, the figure stood at 6,106.

Another issue contributing to capacity issues, according to the department, is a rise in the number of people applying for asylum in Ireland.

The number of applications during 2017 rose by 30%. The department said this trend continued in 2018 with a 25% annual increase in applications.

In December 2018, 27 people were granted either asylum status or subsidiary protection. So far this month, seven people have received notification of status allowing them to remain in Ireland.