A file photo from some years ago of the direct provision site in Lissywollen, Athlone.

Direct provision provider paid over €9.5m in five years

Aramark, a worldwide corporation involved in the provision of food and property services, was paid in excess of €9.51 million over a five-year period to run Athlone's direct provision centre in Lissywollen (pictured above).

The figures were revealed a short time after the government confirmed that a White Paper on replacing the hugely controversial direct provision system will not be ready until February 2021.

As of December 13 last, the direct provision centre in Athlone was home to a total of 248 people, 97 of whom were children.

Latest figures up to and including 2018, shows that the cost of the Athlone Accommodation Centre to the State has been rising since 2014 when €1.615 million was paid to Aramark, who employ over 4,000 people in Ireland across 980 locations across food services, facilities management, property and environmental services.

A year later that figure had risen to €1.724,830.28, and twelve months on it had increased again to a total of €1.837 million.

By 2017, the cost of the centre in Lissywollen to the State had breached the €2 million mark – with the final bill coming in at €2.194,675.68. In 2018, it was marginally lower coming in €2,138,938.07.

In all, payments to Aramark from the State for the five year period from 2014 to 2018 inclusive hit €9.51 million. Figures are not yet available for either 2019 or 2020.

A spokesperson for the direct provision provider said: “Aramark is proud of the work of our employees who go above and beyond to serve and support the residents while their application for asylum is being processed.

Our commitment to quality and safety standards has been independently, internationally accredited and regularly checked – and the dedication of our operators to uphold this standard has never been more evident than throughout the current pandemic.”

Ending direct provision was included in the Programme for Government agreed between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens but despite a commitment to producing a White Paper on replacing the system which deals with those seeking asylum or international production in Ireland by late December, this has now been delayed until February.

The paper is expected to chart how direct provision, which has been the subject of sustained criticism since it was introduced in 1999 to deal rising numbers of asylum seekers arriving in Ireland, can be phased out and what kind of measures will replace it.

The Movement for Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) said from the beginning, the system of direct provision in Ireland has served to enrich operators who have shared over €1 billion in the past 20 years. And the organisation said the system stripped asylum seeker of their right to privacy and human dignity.

MASI believes that there should be no distinction in how the Irish State treats its citizens and asylum seekers when it comes to accessing public services such as housing, work, education, healthcare and the like, something they say actually costs less than the current regime as shown in an advisory group report earlier this year.

Back in October, the advisory group's report to the government on how Ireland processes asylum-seeking applications recommended the complete abolition of the current direct provision system by 2023.

In its place, the 215-page study recommended the introduction of a new permanent reception system with a three-stage process which it's estimated would actually save the State over €36 million.

This would include an initial reception stage, with people accommodated in State-owned centres for up to three months before moving into own door accommodation in stage two.

Stage three would be for people who receive international protection or permission to remain in Ireland. Under the new regime, they would continue to benefit from supports for up to 18 months after their permission to stay in Ireland is granted.

Former secretary-general of the European Commission, Dr Catherine Day, led the advisory group, along with the Movement for Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), Nasc and the Irish Refugee Council.

The group stated that first instance decisions should be taken within six months of the date of application. It also said there should be a six-month deadline for the appeals process.

The Department of Justice said it could not confirm the average length of stay of residents in Athlone “and to estimate would require a diversion of resources which cannot be justified at this time.”

There are 28 residents with status in Lissywollen, however, the department was unable to confirm the reason they haven’t yet moved on. Supports are provided to those who get status, it added.

Of the 248 residents in the Athlone direct provision site, the largest percentage came from Nigeria (43) and South Africa (33), followed by Albania (28), Zimbabwe (25), Georgia (23), Pakistan (15) and Malawi (14).

Among the other groundbreaking recommendations are making labour market access permission available to everyone who has been in the system for three months, the ban on asylum seekers accessing driving licences to be addressed immediately, and a one-off simplified case management approach to clear the current backlog of cases awaiting a decision.

While the report was given a qualified welcome from many quarters and NGOs, the department of housing called the proposal to house asylum seekers in own door accommodation provided by local authorities as “unworkable”, “unimplementable” and “unrealistic”.

The other direct provision centre in the area – Temple Accommodation Centre in Horseleap – is run by Townbe ULC but payment figures to this provider are not currently available until a two-year period after it first opened has elapsed.