Former president Mary Robinson has said that while direct provision may be necessary in the short term, it should be used as the exception and not the rule when dealing with refugees.

Speaking in Tipperary after she was presented with the Tipperary International Peace Award, Ms Robinson also said that human rights and climate justice campaigning is "not getting any easier" and that populism, autocrats and "bad examples of bad leaders" make it difficult for those working on the ground.

The former UN Commissioner for Human Rights and current chair of The Elders, the international group of campaigners for justice and peace, told RTÉ News that the narrative needs to change on the issue of refugees and migrants: "We want countries to recognise those who come are often the most courageous among their population, they have an awful lot to contribute.

"It is important that we make the conditions as good as possible. I'm not in favour of direct provision, if we can manage to let people have access to work, access to the dignity of managing their own affairs. I know that direct provision may be necessary in the short term, in certain circumstances, but it shouldn't be decided that that’s the way to deal with the problem, it should be the exception rather than a rule of how to address the question."

Asked if there is a better system, she said: "Direct provision is a start of providing the accommodation and then I think, as quickly as possible, people should be enabled to work, enabled to look after themselves and their families. If you don’t have a capacity to use your skills, your energies, your own sense of dignity is undermined and that’s the most serious thing for refugees and migrants, they feel dependent and helpless and bottled up and cannot actually show what they can contribute to the society."

In relation to her campaign work, she said "it’s not getting any easier" and activists for human rights and climate justice are finding it more difficult.

"We're in a bumpy time, we have a lot of populism, we have autocrats, we have bad examples of bad leaders and that makes it very difficult for people trying to work on the ground, but we’ve been through bad times before.

"I think actually the thing that I’m most concerned about, climate crisis, is also an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to change the things that are causing the bumpy time, the disillusionment about globalisation, etc. I think if we actually implement the sustainable development goals, we have to have solidarity, we have to leave no-one behind, we have to have much, much better human relationships, and that’s a great opportunity."

Ms Robinson said she was "very moved" to have been honoured with the Tipperary Peace Award, "that has such an international reputation and yet is so local, so warm, so friendly".

She joins previous winners of the award which started in 1983 including Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Adi Roche, Malala Yousafzai, Benazir Bhutto, and George Mitchell.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he does not believe that Direct Provision is inhumane, however he said it was not a perfect system.

He said that the Government has not yet come up with a better system, but he said it is open to finding alternative solutions that are viable and affordable.

Referring to protests against Direct Provision centres in some areas, he said he was concerned that some people were opposing accommodation centres in their area under the guise of "humanitarianism and opposition to direct provision".

He said the alternative is what happens in France, Greece and Italy, which are camps and containers, and he said he was determined that it would never come to that point in Ireland.


Watch: Asylum and Direct Provision explained