Ireland’s international protection system is under “very significant financial pressure” as a result of the war in Ukraine, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
Kevin McCarthy, the head of the children’s department who is responsible for Ireland’s direct delivery system, said that despite the conflict in Eastern Europe, applications for international protection in Ireland “have increased enormously” in recent months .
The International Protection Office (IPO) is an office within Immigration Service Delivery which is responsible for processing applications for international protection under the International Protection Act 2015. It is also considering whether applicants should be allowed to stay.
Speaking to the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday, Mr McCarthy said the timelines and projections in place to phase out Ireland’s direct supply system by the end of 2024 “are currently a bit stressed”.
He said that goal, along with the Department’s stated goal of removing the state’s reliance on emergency shelter for protection seekers, has proven “challenging and ambitious.”
When Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe told him that such a statement could be taken to mean that the targets will not be met, Mr McCarthy reiterated that “we are committed to achieving them”.
Mr McCarthy’s statements came amid statistics provided to the committee showing more people have applied for international protection in Ireland in the first five months of this year than expected for the whole of 2022.
These claimants do not include the more than 31,000 refugees who have arrived in Ireland from Ukraine since Russia began its attack there in late February.
Regarding the search for additional emergency accommodation places for all applicants that the state has an obligation to house, Mr. McCarthy said that 4,000 additional places will soon be provided through student housing which has been released for the summer.
However, he acknowledged that accommodation will have to be vacated once more in September and at the start of the new academic year. Despite pressure on the international protection system, the Department’s budget for direct provision has only increased by €13m for 2022 to €231m.
McCarthy acknowledged that “there is very, very significant cost pressure from Ukraine”. He said his ministry is in the process of submitting proposals for additional funding to the Ministry of Public Expenditure in order to alleviate this pressure.
Regarding the awarding of contracts for the provision of catering services for Ukrainian arrivals to Aramark, a facilities management company which already operates three direct supply centres, Mr. McCarthy said that Aramark and another company had been ” the only two facilities management companies that were in a position to meet the » short-term needs of the Ministry.
He said it is true that these contracts do not comply with public procurement laws, which is “an emergency response factor”.
The ministry, when it assumed responsibility for direct procurement from the Ministry of Justice in October 2020, estimated that all 151 outstanding direct procurement contracts, valued at €91 million, had been concluded in breach of public procurement law.
“The unequivocal position is that we want to achieve fully compliant procurement,” McCarthy said, adding that his department was “on track” to achieve that before events override process.
The committee heard how the department closed some direct supply centers for “persistent failure to meet contractual obligations,” in terms of issues such as fire safety.
He further learned that some residents of the system may have been housed in IDP centers for seven years, but anyone “going that far then likely received a negative decision along the way.”