Interculturalism and Immigration Reform? Integration Policy in Ireland

Migration Nation1It has been an interesting time for asylum and immigration policy in Ireland. Last week saw the publication of the MacMahon Report on Direct Provision (read Liam Thornton’s analysis here), then, at the weekend, leaked documents  provided some insight into Ireland’s “hands-off” approach to early EU negotiations on search and rescue in the Mediterranean. Yesterday, the Immigrant Council of Ireland published research on the experiences of young migrant men, which suggests that the Gardaí and other public servants should undergo anti-racism training.

Against this background, the following post addressing the long-term question of Ireland’s approach to the “integration” of migrants may be of interest. It was written as a guest column for “Immigrant News”, the ICI’s daily epaper.

In May, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) launched the MIPEX 2015 findings for Ireland, which involved a comprehensive measurement of policies to integrate migrants and the outcomes of these policies. We did not fare well, ranked 19th of 38 countries surveyed and below all Western European countries except Austria and Switzerland. These results came only a short time after census figures suggested that the Irish school system is becoming increasingly segregated and ghettoised.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland is now calling for (among other things) the development of a comprehensive National Integration Strategy. So where does Irish integration policy currently stand, and where should we go from here?

The Rise and Fall of Integration Strategy in Ireland

To date, integration policy has been largely piecemeal, with various government departments and public bodies producing diversity and intercultural strategies (for example, intercultural strategies in the areas of education and health, and a diversity strategy for An Garda Síochána). The first formal strategy for integration was produced in 2008 by the newly-established Office of the Minister for Integration. This document, called “Migration Nation”, outlined the principles intended to underpin Irish integration policy.

The central features of the policy statement are its mainstreaming approach to the provision of services for new communities; its situation of integration policy in the context of the general social inclusion and equality framework; and its insistence on a two-way model of integration. Other notable features include the emphasis placed on respect for cultural differences and the lack of emphasis on identity or “values” issues.  The practical areas of language education; interpretation and translation; information provision; and funding arrangements information are identified as the key areas crucial to integration success, rather than areas relating to culture or values.  This was welcome, especially when seen in the broader European context of a retreat from multiculturalism and an exclusionary focus in integration policy on “shared values”.

While, broadly speaking a mainstreaming, intercultural approach drawing on EU integration policy is endorsed in the policy documentation, a more developed specific vision of integration still seems to be lacking.  Aside from Migration Nation, the only integration-specific document to emanate from the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration (“OPMI”) related to the specific group of resettled refugees.

Since its establishment, the OPMI’s role has been centred on facilitating integration at grassroots level through the funding of sporting groups, NGOs and faith-based community groups rather than developing an overarching integration framework which could be used to inform the action of other state bodies.  It also has “a cross-Departmental mandate to develop, lead and co-ordinate migrant integration policy across other Government Departments, agencies and services”. The decentralised approach taken to date to integration is reflected in the focus on the development of integration strategies by local authorities rather than by the OPMI.  This is a rather narrow approach to integration which suggests a political reluctance to tackle the deeper issues, particularly those which might require public spending.

The main reason for the lack of progress in the field of integration has been the impact of the financial difficulties which Ireland has been experienced since late 2007.  The financial crisis and dramatic rise in unemployment resulted in April 2009 in a return to net emigration for the first time since 1995.  These developments have meant that integration is no longer as immediate an issue as it was between 2000 and 2007 and it slipped down the political agenda.  The harsh budgetary measures accompanying the financial crisis have impacted on the equality and integration infrastructure through, for example, the closing of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism and the cuts in funding for the Human Rights Commission and Equality Authority (now the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission).

The plans set out in Migration Nation to establish new integration structures, including a standing Commission on Integration and a Task Force to establish future policy needs, were shelved, and the Ministerial Council on Integration is defunct. The provision of language teaching was hit hard by budget cuts, and immigration reform under the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 was abandoned. In 2011, the position of Minister for Integration itself was abolished. The combined effect of these measures has meant that integration policy has effectively been on “pause” for the last number of years.

A New Integration Plan: The Importance of Immigration Law Reform

There is clearly a need for a more developed, nuanced and long-term approach to integration than that in existence in Ireland at present.  This has been recognised by Government, and a new integration strategy is expected later this year. The current review of integration strategy has involved a public consultation and engagement with key stakeholders.

As mentioned already, the absence of focus on “cultural integration” in Migration Nation was hugely positive and should be replicated in the general philosophy of any new strategy. However, a key element of the development of a comprehensive strategy is that it also needs to be acknowledged that “integration” encompasses core constitutional and other legal rights and issues, including a secure migration status and family rights. Any new integration strategy must expressly recognise the impact of immigration law on integration, and be accompanied by immigration reform, in order to be meaningful. While Ireland scored well in MIPEX in the areas of political participation and anti-discrimination, a particular area of weakness identified was the discretionary nature of access to family reunification and long-term residence. We currently have among the most discretionary (and least favourable) policies in the developed world in these spheres. These entitlements need to be placed on a secure, transparent, statutory footing to ensure certainty, efficiency and equality of access.

Unless the importance of migration and citizenship law to integration is formally recognised, it is unlikely that Ireland will progress beyond being a country which is, to use MIPEX’s scoring system, “halfway favourable” to the integration of immigrants.

The Direct Provision Report: A Missed Opportunity

DP ReportYou can find my preliminary analysis, including a full summary of the core recommendations from the McMahon Report on the Protection Process and Direct Provision System here. 

You can access the McMahon Report here.

From an initial reading and examination of this report, in my view, this is a report of two halves. One half of the report (Chapter 3 in particular) on the protection process and recommendations on the five-year grant of a form of residency status are clear and coherent. Clear recommendations are made as regards status determination and a substantial analysis of the rights of the child (along with other areas). That is not to say that the narrative of the McMahon Report in Chapter 3 is not without its issues (but I will leave this for another day). Throughout Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, highly qualified language and significant caveats infects the totality of recommendations on direct provision accommodation and ancillary supports.

Human Rights Obligations and Direct Provision Accommodation and Supports

From my initial reading of the report, there appears to be two unequivocal recommendations that may impact on those currently in direct provision, who are not resident in the centres for five years: an increase in direct provision allowance and the provision of a locker for each individual adult in direct provision accommodation centres. All other recommendations are subject to significant caveats as regards contractual obligations and implementation restricted in so far as reasonably practicable. For over 15 years, report after report has emphasised the significant violations of human rights that occur on a daily basis for those subject to direct provision accommodation and supports. The McMahon Report, while recommending an increase in direct provision allowance, does not recommend the payment of child benefit to those seeking protection in Ireland.

In my preliminary analysis (available here, pp. 19-26), I argue that the Working Group should have taken into account Ireland’s international obligations, in particular the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. By not doing so, the McMahon Report entrenches the notion that asylum and protection seekers are less than human, deserving of only the most highly qualified rights in highly institutionalised settings.

Embedding Institutional Living in Direct Provision (see further, pp. 26-31, here)

The recommendations on living conditions and ancillary supports leave much to be desired. The solution to greater protection of protection seekers lies in neither in law nor in strategic litigation. While these are important in achieving broader aims and seeking to use law to promote human rights; only a fundamental re-evaluation of society’s approach to protection seekers in Ireland will result in the recognition of, what Arendt terms, “the right to have rights.” To date law and administration, and now the McMahon Report, will be used to justify exclusion, separation and distancing of protection seekers from Irish society and placing people in the direct provision system. Until there is more fundamental societal introspection, on “the rights of others”, institutionalised and impoverished living for protection seekers will continue. The significant controls over living conditions, eating arrangements’, near total supervision of the parental role, are relatively unchallenged by the McMahon Report. While there are some soft recommendations “in so far as practicable, and subject to any contractual obligations” as regards family living quarters, allocation of rooms to single applicants, possibility for individual or communal cooking, no other societal group has such enforced supervision of intimate aspects of daily lives. Public support for political action in limiting social rights of protection seekers have seen the most restrictive and punitive forms of control utilised within social welfare provision in the modern era.

The Direct Provision Report: An Overview and Introduction

DP ReportYou can find my preliminary analysis of the McMahon Report on the Protection Process and Direct Provision System here.

You can access the McMahon Report here.

The Working Group Report on the Protection System and Direct Provision (McMahon Report) report was released on June 30 2015. The McMahon Report provides a significant number of recommendations on the protection process in Ireland and the system of direct provision.[1] That changes would be occurring to the protection process and the system of direct provision were hinted at in July 2014. The Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 outlined the need to

“address the current system of direct provision…to make it more respectful of the applicant and less costly to the tax-payer”.[2]

There was also a commitment to establish a single procedure for asylum applicants. The publication of the Heads of the International Protection Bill in March 2015 (before the Working Group reported) has indicated Government willingness to move the single procedure forward. However, the Working Group seems overly ambitious in estimating that the single procedure will be in place and operational by 01 January 2016.[3]

After consultation with Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in September 2014,[4] the terms of reference and membership of the Working Group was announced on 13 October 2014.[5] The terms of reference of the Working Group were:


“Having regard to the rights accorded to refugees under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and bearing in mind the Government’s commitment to legislate to reduce the waiting period for protection applicants through the introduction of a single application procedure,

to recommend to the Government what improvements should be made to the State’s existing Direct Provision and protection process and to the various supports provided for protection applicants; and specifically to indicate what actions could be taken in the short and longer term which are directed towards:

(i) improving existing arrangements in the processing of protection applications;

(ii) showing greater respect for the dignity of persons in the system and improving their quality of life by enhancing the support and services currently available;

ensuring at the same time that, in light of recognised budgetary realities, the overall cost of the protection system to the taxpayer is reduced or remains within or close to current levels and that the existing border controls and immigration procedures are not compromised.”


The Working Group commenced work on its report on 10 November 2014.[6] The McMahon Report emerged over eight plenary meetings, with the sub-groups identified below meeting on 38 separate occasions.[7] The limitations on the terms of reference were accepted by NGO representatives at the first meeting. The McMahon Report notes that:

“organisations advocating an end to direct provision, and who may be disappointed in this limitation, had accepted their appointment on the basis of the terms of reference”.[8]

The core issue identified by the Working Group was “length of time” in the protection process and length of time protection applicants were subject to the system of direct provision.[9] An Agreed Work Programme was set out, with members decided which sub-group they would be part of (and could be part of all sub-groups if they so wished):[10]

  • Theme 1: Improvements within direct provision;
  • Theme 2: Improvements to ancillary supports for those in direct provision
  • Theme 3: Improvements in the determination process for protection applicants.

Overall, the Report contains a mix of significant recommendations on the protection process and processing of asylum claims.[11] However, I argue, there are significant concerns with the recommendations that have emerged as regards direct provision accommodation and supports for asylum applicants.[12]

Pic Credit: Merrion Street

[1] For a glossary of core terms that will be used as regards immigration status in this analysis, see Thornton, L. Glossary of Terms: Irish Asylum Law (UCD, 2013).

[2] Department of An Taoiseach, Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 (July 2014), p. 9.

[3] Working Group report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers (hereinafter the McMahon Report), paras 66, 6.17, 6.31, 6.39 and 6.46.

[4] 18 September 2014: Consultation with NGOs as regards terms of reference for the Working Group and other aspects of the protection process.

[5] Department of Justice and Equality, Terms of Reference and membership of the Working Group (October 2013).

[6] Working Group report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers (hereinafter the McMahon Report), para. 6.

[7] McMahon Report, para. 20.

[8] McMahon Report, para. 8.

[9] McMahon Report, para. 3 and Appendix 6.

[10] McMahon Report, para. 4 and Appendix 1.

[11] See generally, Chapter 3 of the McMahon Report.

[12] See generally, Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 of the McMahon Report.

Ireland goes before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

UN imageOn Monday, June 8th and Tuesday, June 9th 2015, Ireland will have its third periodic report under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), assessed by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. You can follow this examination on Twitter, using the hashtag #UNIRL

What are economic, social and cultural rights?

The right to work, just conditions of employment, the right to social security and social assistance, the right to health, housing, food and water, encompass core aspects of socio-economic rights. Cultural rights include the right to participate in the culture of one’s communities and to enjoy the benefits of scientific and technological endeavour. These rights (and others) are protected in ICESCR.

Ireland before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

To date, Ireland has had two periodic reports (1999 and 2002) considered by the UN Committee. On both occasions, the Committee have expressed concern that Ireland has not incorporated ICESCR into domestic law, and the lack of reference and utilisation of ICESCR by the superior courts. Ireland has failed to adopt rights based frameworks in areas of anti-poverty, disability provision of health-care, rights of members of the Traveller community, housing and the low rate of social assistance payments. CESCR identified some core issues with Ireland’s compliance with its obligations under ICESCR in December 2014, and the list of issues to be discussed bear striking similarities to concerns previously expressed by CESCR in their 1999 and 2002 Concluding Observations. (See, Ireland’s response to these issues here). Continue reading Ireland goes before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

From the Mediterranean to the Emerald Isle: Ireland’s Role in Upholding the Rights of Refugees and Asylum Seekers

MedNancy Roe is a Social Work and Masters Graduate from Trinity College Dublin (TCD). Graduating with a BSS in Social Work, she went on to complete a Masters in Race Ethnicity and Conflict (TCD) in 2014. She has since worked as a Social Worker and as an Intern with the Irish Refugee Council. This short reflection was written during this Internship.

Every day, refugees flee war, poverty and persecution and make long dangerous voyages over sea, often on make-shift boats, smuggled below deck, in the hope of reaching safety in Europe.

The recent refugee humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean has received much media coverage. The exposure of the atrocities in the Mediterranean (20 April 2015), where 800 refugees died, men, women and children, including Syrians, Eritreans and Somalia’s, has generated a platform for discussion, whereby Europe’s borders, policies and humanitarian responses are under scrutiny on the international stage. UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards noted that approximately 1,300 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean in the month of April alone (the total figure this year is approximately 1,776).

Political leaders and representatives in Europe, and elsewhere around the world are being forced to publicly address the issue. Irish President, Michael D Higgins condemned the European response to the crisis. He suggested that we can have a generous Europe based on human values, or one that has within its borders, racism, xenophobia and exclusion.

Two days after this atrocity, Mr Higgins visited Turkey and Lebanon, attending the 100th anniversary commemorations of Gallipoli. Reflecting upon the deaths and victims of World War I, Mr Higgins described “the enormous tragedy of war” as being “linked to “the outrageous aspirations of empire”. He also stated that the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East were still trapped by the “detritus of empire”. A hundred year after Gallipoli, clear parallels can be drawn with regards to the value and respect placed on human life across borders.

Shane O’ Curry, Director of ENAR Ireland advises that the crisis did not begin with the deaths in the Mediterranean, rather “that this crisis is borne out of years of instability in sub-Saharan Africa, north Africa and the Middle East, instability for which some EU countries bear significant responsibility”. O’ Curry urges the Taoiseach in his discussions with other European leaders to show leadership, offer concrete responses, and (quoting Amnesty International) to put people before borders. Continue reading From the Mediterranean to the Emerald Isle: Ireland’s Role in Upholding the Rights of Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Maynooth University to Host Seminar on the Rights of Minority Groups on 20th April 2015

Maynooth-University-with-loThe Centre for Rights Recognition and Redistribution, Department of Applied Social Studies & the Department of Law at Maynooth University will run a seminar entitled ‘Promoting & Progressing the Rights of Persons from Minority Groups’ on Monday, April 20th 2015.  The seminar will run from 13.30- 17.00 in Renehan Hall, South Campus, Maynooth University.

International Guest Speakers:

  • Prof. Patrick Thornberry Emeritus Professor of International Law, Keele University (UK) & Former Member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  • Prof. Francesco Palermo Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law, University of Verona (Italy) & President of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

The seminar seeks to bring together civil society, government & local authority officials and academics to explore issues and concerns for minorities in Ireland and globally with the foremost international experts in the field. It will provide a framework for international experts and academics to contribute to that discussion, through dialogue with those directly concerned.  The event will be a unique opportunity to:

  • Gain an overview of current Irish, European and Global discourses regarding minorities
  • Discuss different perspectives and strategies to address emerging issues
  • Network and dialogue across all sectors concerned with minority issues

To indicate your interest in attending and to receive further information on the event, please email: or

#DirectProvision15: The Start of Year 16

DP15_logoCaroline Reid is the Communications Officer, Irish Refugee Council. Liam Thornton is a lecturer in law in UCD

This post concludes the #directprovision15 week long online events. You can access all the blog posts here and can see the Tumblr page here. We would like to express our deep appreciation to all the contributors, in particular those in the direct provision system, for sharing their stories with us. Today marks the start of the 16th year of the direct provision system.

End Direct Provision.

#DirectProvision15: Proximity Mouth at Dublin Castle

DP15_logoThis contribution, from Dominic Thorpe, UCD College of Humanities, artist in residence. This was originally published here

This performance was made in the former children’s court at Dublin Castle. During the performance audience members were given a short tour of the former court by tour guides who have personal experience of the current Direct provision asylum system in Ireland.


DT3Audience members were brought into the room one at a time and had to hold the hand of their tour guide, who told them the history of the court room.


DT1There was a young girl sitting in the part of the room where the judge used to sit. She gave each audience member a sheet of paper containing a list of all the direct provision asylum centres operating in Ireland at the time of the performance. She folded the sheet of paper into an origami aeroplane or boat, depending on the choice of the audience member.

DT2Dominic Thorpe repeatedly made a clicking sound by biting the edge of a large mirror. He used the mirror to make visual reflections of the room and to show people themselves in the room. He also intermittently opened and closed the shutters leaving the room in light or darkness at different points during the performance.


#DirectProvision15: The Need for Comprehensive Protection

DP15_logoThis guest post comes from Mehari Fisseha.

Asylum seekers and refugees are one of the most demonised and marginalised social groups in Europe. Ireland’s current agenda for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers is inadequate. The government of Ireland is aware of the inadequacy of response and has proposed to make a number of changes that will improve the standard of living for those who chose to apply for inclusion in Ireland. However, many of the issues that are discussed in the Core Policy Objective: Intercultural & Migration Issues have already been addressed in the set of directives, regulations, and guidance provided by the EU on the topic of immigration and refugee policy. Ireland has opted out of participating in several of these programs, choosing instead to establish its own policies of caring for the disenfranchised who seek refugee status. While change in legislation in Ireland is taking place, it is evolving slowly, and many of today‟s greatest issues are being addressed very cautiously. As a result, many of the humanitarian provisions adopted by the EU are just now being considered by Ireland. This project examines the need for a Comprehensive Refugee Protection and Asylum Seekers Policy in Ireland today.

#DirectProvision15: IASW DP Working Group Submission

DP15_logoThe Irish Association of Social Workers is the national organisation of professional social workers in the Republic of Ireland. The IASW is also an active member of the International Federation of Social Workers.

Throughout the country social workers encounter asylum seekers on a daily basis in their work within hospitals, mental health teams, child protection & welfare services, disabilities services, primary care teams and other settings. Recently, the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) endorsed a submission to the Working Group on the Protection Process based on research conducted by Maeve Foreman (TCD) and Muireann Ní Raghallaigh (UCD). Some of the views of social workers can be read here [insert hyperlink to HRI blog by Foreman & Ní Raghallaigh]. In this blog the IASW summarises the submission’s suggestions for change to the DP system. (It should be noted that while many of the research respondents were of the view that direct provision should be abolished, the abolition of DP is outside of the terms of reference of the working group)


  • Ensure that interagency and interdepartmental collaboration between state and non state actors occurs to enable the development of onsite services that could focus on prevention and family support.


  • Employ a Principal Social Worker to work in RIA’s Child and Family Services Unit in order to order to further develop their support services in collaboration with existing agencies.

Continue reading #DirectProvision15: IASW DP Working Group Submission