The Government is to replace the Direct Provision system with an international protection system over the next four years.

A new two-phased approach was set out in a White Paper published today.

Under the plans, it is anticipated that all existing Direct Provision centres will close by the end of 2024.

The Direct Provision system was established to house asylum seekers entering the Irish State in search of international protection.

But what began as an interim measure, over 20 years ago, still exists. It has been criticised by human rights organisations, NGOs, and those in the system.

The Government's White Paper will propose a new two-phase approach.

Phase one is expected to take four months. In this phase, accommodation will be provided in reception and integration centres.

Six reception and integration centres will be established, which will be in State ownership and operated by not-for-profit organisations.

According to the plan, under this new system, people who are applying for protection will be helped to integrate into Ireland from day one, with health, housing, education, and employment supports at the core of the system.

Vulnerability assessments will be carried out to determine accommodation and service needs and help define suitable supported pathways for the most vulnerable.

People who are trafficked, fleeing violence, sexual violence, who are LGBTQI, disabled, or who are older will be directed to an appropriate setting.

It is proposed that necessary supports will be in place depending on the relevant needs.

A health assessment will be provided for all new international protection applicants in this phase and there will be a particular focus on the needs of children who come to Ireland with their families.

Comprehensive information about the international protection process that applicants are undertaking will be made available to all applicants. It will be linguistically accessible in the most common language.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Watch: Asylum and Direct Provision Explained

Applicants will be entitled to seek paid work after six months. According to the white paper, they will be encouraged and supported to do so.

They will be able to apply to open a bank account and will be provided with information on how to do this. They will also be able to apply for Irish drivers' licences at this stage.

This is something for which the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has been calling for some time.

Following phase one, applicants will be offered accommodation through a number of strands in phase two.

The plan says after their first four months in Ireland, people whose protection claims are still being processed will move to accommodation in the community.

It says this will be own-door or own-room accommodation, for which they will pay a means-tested rent.

All accommodation will be own-door, self-contained houses or apartments for families to provide privacy, agency and independence.

Single people will be housed in either own-door or own-room accommodation.

Homes will be situated within the community, with supports to encourage interconnections.

According to the plan, these will be built or acquired through approved housing bodies or such organisations.

Step towards more compassionate Ireland - O'Gorman

Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman said the Government is taking a step towards a fairer, more compassionate Ireland.

Asked how targets would be met for the plan if it was not on a statutory footing, Mr Gorman said his sense was that he was aware of how long legislation takes from drafting to passing.

He said it was important to get the paper out now and begin this process because so much, particularly on the accommodation side, was going to take a number of years to implement.

But he said he was open to look at the issue of potentially putting elements on a statutory basis. He said the key focus for him was to get the implementation team in his own department up and running.

Asked what they would do to counteract any attacks on new accommodation, he said there would be information campaigns on a national and local level.

As to how much it is going to cost, he said they estimate the current cost per year will be €175m across all departments.

He said the capital the cost is going to be significant. They had set out a range of capital costings over the lifetime of the new system of between €440m and €670m.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Mr O'Gorman said he is "confident" that the six reception centres in the new system, can be built within the timeframe.

He said engagement will take place with city and county managers and local authorities to allocate the centres.

He said measures will be put in place to avoid local dissatisfaction with the location of Reception and Integration Centres or community accommodation.

The Minister added that this engagement has worked well recently in Letterkenny and Galway.

"When we decide to locate either a reception and Integration Centre, or community accommodation in a particular area will engage it  with the local community with the local authorities, with other state agencies and NGOs in that particular area to explain what we're doing."

He said additional resources have been put in place by the Department of Justice to speed up the processing of applications.

The Social Democrats have said that ending Direct Provision will be challenging but that the system must be changed.

Co-leader Catherine Murphy has said there were many positives in the Government's plan to end the controversial system, but she said there were a few things missing, including the speed at which people are processed.

She said that had been a source of serious concern for a long time.

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall welcomed the Government's White Paper, however, he said that implementation of its commitments will be key and he will monitor progress and feature updates in his regular reports.

'Very important moment'

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, the CEO of the Irish Refugee Council said the White Paper is "a very important moment".

Nick Henderson said it comes after a long campaign as the IRC first called for an end to Direct Provision in October 2001.

"There is a wealth of reports about what is wrong with the system. And I think this White Paper does give us a roadmap to ending it and replacing it. And we look forward to implementation," he said.

However, Mr Henderson also noted some potential weakness within it, including the processing of applications for asylum.

"What it doesn't do is take forward a recommendation made by the Catherine Day Advisory Group that was published in October, a recommendation that people who had  been in the system for more than two years would be offered permission to remain.  

"That we believe is a crucial device in reducing backlogs in the asylum process." 

He said the current system is dysfunctional with approximately 7,000 people in direct provision and people waiting up to two years for a decision on their first application.

Speaking on the same programme, a retired High Court judge who published a report on Direct Provision over six years ago, said he hopes the White Paper signals a commitment by all three parties in Government that they will fulfil their promise in the programme for government to abolish direct provision as we know it.

Dr Bryan McMahon said that while he welcomes the report and the proposed reforms, he has some criticisms.

He said a two-and-a-half-year period for implementation was recommended, but this has gone up to four years. 

"That's a big drift," he said. "I hope it doesn't indicate a slippage in ambition."

Dr McMahon also said the Government is going forward to a new model with a backlog of 3,000 cases of people who have been in the system for more than two years.

He said a new model needs to be able to get up and running "without baggage from a previous system that was bad". 

Dr McMahon said the people who come here seeking protection "deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion". 

Also speaking on Morning Ireland, Diana, who has been living in Direct Provision with her four children for the past six months, said it has been a "very suffocating" experience.

Her dignity, independence and freedom have been taken from her, she said, and her children have lost their self-confidence.

"It is very hard for us as parents to make sure that these kids escape from this system with their confidence intact."

Lucky Khambule, co-founder of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) said 2024 is "a long time" away. 

He said that "having seen the history of this Government" he will "not get too excited" about the changes recommended until they are implemented.