Rollout of white paper on direct provision ‘already behind schedule’

Implementation of the Government’s white paper on direct provision is “already behind schedule”, the State’s human rights watchdog will warn an Oireachtas committee on Thursday.

Pointing to a failure to implement new legislation enabling those in Direct Provision to apply for driver’s licences, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Ihrec) will warn that some commitments made by Roderic O’Gorman “are slipping”.

Any delays, Ihrec chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney will tell the committee, “will see people continue to languish in this system, which deprives them of so much”.

There are 4,430 international protection applicants awaiting interview by the end of the year, a “substantial backlog” exacerbated by Covid restrictions, Ms Gibney will say.

The white paper set out that legislation granting the right for international protection applicants to apply for a driving licence was to be introduced before summer 2021, but Ihrec will tell the Oireachtas joint committee on public petitions that none has come forward so far.

Ihrec is involved in a High Court case pursuing the issue, and is involved in several other cases, including that of a mother living in a rural direct provision centre, who held a full licence in her country of origin and applied for a learner permit here so she could access work and childcare.

The woman’s employers had offered to buy her a car if she could secure a driving licence.

However, despite having paid €100 for an eyesight exam and passing her theory test, she was told she could not apply for her permit, she could not as she wasn’t a permanent resident.

“Let us be in no doubt. Being barred from even being able to apply for a driving licence is a massive State-built barrier to seeking and securing employment,” Ms Gibney will say.

A so-called “vulnerability assessment” of new applicants, which is a requirement under EU law, is proceeding on a pilot basis since last December.

However, Ihrec will say figures provided to the Oireachtas show a total of 268 applicants had entered into the process with 161 completed, and 107 ongoing. But 886 applications have been received this year alone.

“This obviously needs to be significantly scaled up,” she will say. “At the moment we run a serious risk of people who have suffered immense trauma slipping through administrative gaps and not getting the specific supports that they need.”

New research published this week by Ihrec shows 70 per cent of direct provision residents had been there for one year or more, and one quarter of all residents had been there for three years or more.

There were 1,957 children living living in direct provision at the end of July 2020.

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