A Prison by Any Other Name - The fight against direct provision


 Here in Ireland over the past eighteen months asylum seekers have been organising protests against the conditions they are compelled to live in, including blockading the ‘hostels’ (effectively for-profit open prisons) where they are forced to live in appalling conditions, which some have been made to endure for over a decade.


For the past several years, Anti-Deportation Ireland, a political campaign run by both asylum seekers themselves and by their supporters has been pushing for three demands:

1/ An immediate end to deportations.

2/The immediate abolition of direct provision

3/The rights to work and to access 3rd-level education




In June 2013 a group of African women, residents at Drishane Castle direct provision centre in County Cork took control of the hostel. The unpopular manager locked herself in her office, the rest of the staff left, and the protestors were able to allow the national media in to see and film conditions (Access to hostels is usually strictly controlled). Five of the women entered  negotiations with the owner and won improvements in the food provided, a safe play area for children and the removal of the unpopular manager.

The fightback begins

On Sept 2nd, Asylum seekers in Athlone Accommodation Centre, a mobile home park which is one of the biggest direct provision centres in the State stopped accepting food from management in protest at conditions at the facility. On Sept 12th 2014 Some of the 160 residents at the former Montague Hotel, outside Portlaoise, Co Laois staged a sit-in demonstration and refused to allow staff into the centre.

At 5am on Sept 14th at Kinsale Road accommodation Centre in Cork City, a committee of residents (called KRAC ) began an occupation of their hostel, blockading the entrance and excluding the staff. The blockade lasted 10 days and 10 nights and ended in a negotiated settlement which saw significant improvement of their conditions. Blockading staff out of the hostel meant they had no access even to the shit food they are usually given, but Cork people including the left-wing organisations dropped over with food and financial donations.

After ten days concessions were won including 2 rather than 3 single people sharing a room, extra buses into town, more say over the menu and no more signing in every night. The day after the blockade ended KRAC and their supporters held a march in Cork City Centre calling for abolition of  direct provision, an immediate end to deportations and the rights to work and 3rd-level education. A 2nd asylum centre in County Cork held a one day protest during the KRAC blockade

At 6am on October 8th, Some 160 asylum seekers at  Birchwood House direct provision centre in Waterford began a protest against conditions at the centre and the whole direct provision system. They locked out staff and prevented deliveries.

The background

Before the millenium, asylum-seekers were allowed to rent their own homes, and get financial help from the state to do so, on the same basis as other people. They were entitled to the equivalent of unemployment assistance, and to child benefit, and some asylum seekers were allowed to do some work

In the year 2000 this situation was replaced with a system called “direct provision”. Under direct provision, people are effectively forced to live in one of 34 “hostels” run for profit by private companies (A few are owned by the state but all are run privately and receive funding from the state).These hostels are distributed throughout the Irish Republic and are usually located well away from local communities. People are provided with food not of their own choosing, and are unable to cook their own food. They are given only 19 euros to live on and are subject to many petty regulations. Some people have lived in those conditions for over a decade, including some children who were born in those hostels.Several single adults are often forced to share one room and families with children are only allocated one room.

Before direct provision was introduced in 2000, the state was often confronted by solidarity from neighbours and friends when it attempted to deport someone. Direct provision hostels are usually situated in very geographically isolated places, with very limited access to transport and that deliberate policy of preventing  peoples integration in to local communities makes deportations easier.

The racist referendum

In 2004, a racist amendment was made to the Irish constitution, having been passed by referendum. It means that a child born in Ireland no longer has the automatic right to Irish citizenship and may be deported unless one of its parents is an Irish or UK citizen.

Before the 2004 racist referendum was passed, Article 2 of the Irish Constitution, (which had been enacted by referendum in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 with a vote of more than 94 percent), determined the citizenship of all children born in Ireland.

‘It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland.’

The referendum  inserted the following racist obscenity into the Irish constitution:

‘Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, a person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, who does not have, at the time of his or her birth,at least one parent who is an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen is not entitled to Irish citizenship or nationality, unless otherwise provided for by law.’

NGO’s no solution

The underlying reason why direct provision exists is to make it easier to deport people. Deportations are the fundamental way in which state racism operates. Deportations and other restrictions on migration are important to capitalism as tools to maintain global inequalities of wealth which themselves are a major source of profit.

Migration-related NGOs in Ireland are largely state-funded and are provide a “compassionate” face to brutal state racism. They have historically called for reform form of, rather than the abolition of direct provision and never criticize the policy of deportations.

They are the first to try and bring an end to direct action by asylum seekers by a process of mediation. In recent months NGOs have called for faster streamlined process of deportations called “the Single Application Process”

The government response to the 2014 wave of direct actions by asylum seekers has consistently been that people should wait for the report of a working group which it has set up. The “working group” consists of government politicians and around 20 NGOS. It is not yet public knowledge exactly which NGOs are what the terms of reference are, but the government and several of the NGOS have been arguing for a Single Application Process.

It is likely that the NGOs will be the same ones who have been part of the NGO Forum on Direct Provision, established in 2010. AkiDwA, Barnardos, BeLonG To LGBT Youth Services, Crosscare Migrant Project, Cultúr, Doras Luimní, FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), Galway Refugee Support Group, Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference Refugee & Migrant Project, The Integration Centre, The Irish Refugee Council, The Jesuit Refugee Service, Mayo Intercultural Action, SPIRASI, and Tralee International Resource Centre.)

Asylum seekers themselves will be unrepresented on the working group. Instead the NGOs claim to speak on their behalf (One asylum seeker is likely to be part of the working group, but only because he works for one of the NGOs, not because he has been chosen by asylum seekers as a delegate or representative).

Closing the door

The Single Application Process will mean that legal processes of resistance to being deported will be dealt with at one time. At the moment if you are unable successfully to argue that you should be granted refugee status because of your circumstances as an individual, you can then apply for subsidiary protection because a community you belong to is collectively subject to persecution. If you are unable to prove your case for either of those types of protection, it is possible to apply for compassionate leave to remain based on the extent to which you have contributed to and integrated into the community in Ireland.

With the SAP you’ll only have one chance to argue for all three and can be deported more quickly if you aren’t successful. Nasc advocates the replacement of the current protection system with a ‘single procedures mechanism’. Under this, the three forms of international protection (refugee status, subsidiary protection and leave to remain on humanitarian grounds) would be reviewed concurrently. As all challenges to decisions must currently be made through judicial review to the High Court, this would significantly reduce the burden on the State, the courts and also shorten the length of time spent living under the Direct Provision system.”

The NGOs also often argue that a time-limit of either 6 or 18 months should be placed on the length of time someone spends in direct provision. Anti-deportation Ireland argues that direct provision should be abolished, not kept in a slightly reformed state.

The government has also been careful to damp down even the modest expectation that people who have already spent long periods in direct provision should receive residency as part of an “amnesty”

There are several things which are problematic about the involvement of NGOs in campaigning about  direct provision:

                   1/  Some of their funding comes from the state which limits their ability to challenge government policy None of the NGOs oppose the policy of deporting people. Most of them call for a time-limit of 6 or 18 months in direct provision rather than its abolition. (Often this approach is in the smallprint of their “End Direct Provision” campaign literature)They campaign for a streamlined faster system of deportations (“the Single Applications Process”)

2/ Their approach of claiming speaking on behalf of asylum seekers (as on the government working group is something that has a disempowering effect. It would be great if just one of those charities relinquished their place to someone living in direct provision.

3/ When protests are organised by asylum seekers themselves, NGOs immediately attempt to mediate and defuse the situation. During the protest at Drishane Castle a worker for the leading NGOs tried to persuade the protesters to negotiate with the Resettlement and Integration Agency as individuals, rather than collectively. Luckily the protesters chose not to take that particular advice.

4/The presence of NGOs on the current government working group renders them compromised by their involvement in the State’s racist control strategies, in a similar way to the role played by trade union leaders during Social Partnership in Ireland. If the working group does end up recommending the continued existence of direct provision (with reforms) and streamlined deportations (the Single Applications Process), then the government will be able to say that their policies have been endorsed  by all the relevant charities.

5/Until the recent wave of direct action by asylum seekers, the media almost always turned to one of the Migration-related NGOs for their perspective on direct provision, rather than to asylum-seekers themselves or to Anti-Deportation Ireland.

6/ Another problem with the NGOs is that most of them are signed-up members of the Turn-Off the Red Light campaign which wants to criminalise the customers of sex-workers. That would have the effect of driving sex  work further underground and rendering it more unsafe for sex-workers.

“Eventually–on a smaller scale, but more insidiously–the capital available to NGOs plays the same role in alternative politics as the speculative capital that flows in and out of the economies of poor countries. It begins to dictate the agenda. It turns confrontation into negotiation. It depoliticises resistance. It interferes with local peoples’ movements that have traditionally been self-reliant. NGOs have funds that can employ local people who might otherwise be activists in resistance movements, but now can feel they are doing some immediate, creative good (and earning a living while they’re at it).” - Arundhati Roi in “The NGO-ization of resistance”


An anarchist approach to solidarity

A fundamental principle of anarchism is internationalism. We oppose nationalism and the existence of nation states and we argue for solidarity with ordinary people all over the world..with unpaid workers , paid workers, with the unemployed and with those who are unable to work. We see the important conflict as the one between the rich and the rest of us, not one between ordinary people from one part of the planet with ordinary people from another.


Another anarchist principle is that decisions should be taken by the people directly affected by them, that people subjected to a particular form of oppression should be supported  in organising themselves to combat it. Recent occupations of  direct provision centres by their residents also fit well into something anarchists  advocate: taking direct action to bring about political change.

Because  anarchists neither seek election nor accept state funding for our political organisations we are in a position to clearly criticize both the state and charities for the policies they advocate. We are one of the only voices which is able to do so.

And we can offer our unconditional to support to asylum -seekers fighting to live and work wherever they choose since we acknowledge no legitimacy in states or their borders

"Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others."


Emma Goldman: from "Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty"

in the 1917 edition of Emma Goldman's Anarchism and Other Essays

WORDS: Paul McAndrew










This article is from issue 10 of the Irish Anarchist Review