WASHINGTON, March 31, 2018: As noted in our previous article on this topic, the tiny town of Lisdoonvarna in County Clare caught the public’s attention a few weeks ago. That’s when Marcus White, proprietor of the King Thormond Hotel, signed a contract with Ireland’s Minister of Justice and Equality to provide lodging to asylum seekers from overseas. Ironically, the Irish government apparently accords these foreigners far better treatment than Ireland’s homeless citizens typically receive.
Who or what are “asylum seekers”? Officially, they are one of several types of refugees eligible to ask for help as part of an international protection process defined under Irish law. Ireland’s Government offers the Irish Refugee Protection Programme to provide international protection for up to 4,000 people. The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), which administers the program, is expanding the existing network of emergency and orientation centers that help asylum seekers.
Informed of the proposed, overwhelming influx of refugees, the townspeople of Lisdoonvarna reacted decisively. As a result, they managed to reduce the number of asylum seekers assigned to their town – initially some 300 – to a manageable level. In addition, they next set about organizing the community to help the newcomers settle in. Chairman Paddy Dunne of Lisdoonvarna Failte said,
“We are mobilising to offer a warm welcome to the 30 asylum seekers who are scheduled to arrive.”
“We remain concerned that the necessary educational, medical and social services might not be provided and will monitor the situation to look after the needs of both Lisdoonvarna citizens and our guests.”
There is no question that the Irish, as individuals, are generous people always ready to help downtrodden people of every variety. But for Ireland’s homeless, things don’t seem to be turning out that way.
Does everyone in Ireland who needs help actually receive it?
As of the end of November 2017, the Clare Courier noted that 60 people living in County Clare had registered as homeless. Hidden from view but no less real were an additional 60 people whom the official statistics do not account for. Also known as children, they, too, are homeless in County Clare. All these individuals, adults and children, are Irish citizens.
Located on Ireland’s more sparsely populated west coast, County Clare is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout Ireland and throughout Europe as well. Thousands upon thousands of people, citizens of the countries in which they live, fit the description of “homeless.”
Ireland’s homeless and their children live on the edge of disaster.
Many of the adults are alcoholics, unskilled, drug addicts, unemployable or mentally ill. Given no change in circumstances, similar futures await their children. There is no question that these people need the same level of help as the asylum seekers their national governments first import, then support. But, in the eyes of those with serious money to spend, homegrown homeless persons don’t seem to have the same cachet as imported versions.
The people of Lisdoonvarna and other towns operating under government policies can’t pay for room and board for substantial mass quantities of homeless persons, either imported or domestic.
As private citizens, good people everywhere do what they can. But their governments must do the heavy lifting. The Irish government has joined with other governments in the EU to do exactly that—for select populations of non-citizens.
Equal treatment for asylum seekers and Ireland’s homeless?
What benefits do asylum seekers receive from the government of Ireland? Here’s the short answer, direct from the FAQs listed on RIA’s web pages:
What are asylum seekers provided with under Direct Provision?
- Accommodation on a full-board basis. The cost of all meals, heat, light, laundry, tv, household maintenance, etc. are paid directly by the State.
- Personal allowances of €21.60 per adult and €21.60 euro per child per week.
But what about people who were born in the Republic? Irish citizens who happen to be homeless in the homeland? That’s less clear. There are no FAQs addressing provisions for Ireland’s homeless or homelessness in general to be found at www.gov.ie.
Perhaps these answers exist. Somewhere. But if so, they aren’t obvious. Perhaps we should begin building a new list of FAQs by asking new questions. Frequently. To begin, here are three.
- Do the homeless citizens of Ireland receive treatment equal to that received by asylum seekers and other refugees?
- Do they get accommodation on a full-board basis? With heat, light, laundry, TV?
- How about weekly personal allowances for every man, women, and homeless child?
Housekeeping services for asylum seekers, as defined by the government of Ireland
The arrangement that RIA set up for asylum seekers may seem grand, but there are some devils in the details. In fact, Section 4, of the standard commercial contract – Housekeeping – reads very strangely. The information provided below comes directly from the commercial contract that the RIA presents for signature to every provider of living space, goods, and services for asylum seekers.
Here’s what the 30 new residents at the King Thomond Hotel in Lisdoonvarna, as well as every person living in other centers funded for asylum seekers, should expect to receive:
Amenities upon arrival:
Direct provision contractors provide each new resident with two towels. Furthermore, contractors must replace these with clean ones at least weekly. In addition, contractors must also supply bed linen soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and toilet paper. In addition, they must also replenish these items as necessary.
The contractor must also provide water for bathing and washing.
Most notably, in addition to personal care items, contractors also supply cleaning equipment for unit residents.Such equipment includes brushes, vacuum cleaners, cloths, etc., plus an adequate supply of ironing boards and irons.
Proposed new FAQ for homeless Irish citizens:
Are toiletries and linens, as well as cleaning supplies and equipment (including irons and ironing boards) intended for the homeless replenished to the same standard and frequency that asylum seekers must receive?
Ongoing Services, DIY Optional
The Contractor housing asylum seekers provides the following to all residents at least weekly:
- Bed linen
- Free-of-charge laundry service
- Inspections of occupied and unoccupied units to include cleaning standards
- Heating system, smoke detectors and fire fighting equipment (where applicable)
- Inspections also include noting any maintenance issues that require attention.
Cleaning by resident asylum seekers appears to be optional. Nevertheless, the contractor must ensure that accommodation units are cleaned weekly.
The RIA contract is very clear on how that works.
“Where residents choose to clean their own accommodation they must be provided with a supply of cleaning materials. In such cases, the contractor is responsible for ensuring that the unit has been cleaned. Where cleaning standards are not maintained by the resident, the contractor has responsibility for cleaning the unit.” (4.10)
Proposed new FAQs:
Do Ireland’s homeless people receive ample toiletries, bed linen, and cleaning supplies? Furthermore, like asylum seekers, are their temporary quarters cleaned should they choose not to do it themselves?
Are inspections conducted weekly in order to keep homeless Irish citizens safe and warm?
Public area maintenance
The staff at centers that serve asylum seekers must maintain public areas at all times. The contract requires the contractor to clean all communal and administration areas within the center every day at minimum. These areas include corridors, tea-rooms, showers and any other administrative or meeting area (including areas used by local V.E.C. support groups, pre-schools, offices and consultation areas for doctors, nurses, community welfare officers) and/or any other area deemed by the Agency as “administrative” or “communal.”
Proposed new FAQs:
Are public spaces in the temporary residences of Ireland’s homeless cleaned every day?
Do they receive the services of doctors, nurses, and community welfare officers as frequently as their noncitizen counterparts do?
Upon vacating units
Finally, when asylum seekers vacate their units, the contractor must be deep clean and paint the space where required before new residents occupy them.
Proposed new FAQ:
Are accommodations used by Ireland’s homeless people deep cleaned and painted before the next residents arrive?
Pardon Our Oversight!
According to a letter from Eugene Banks, Principal Officer at the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) to Clare’s Oireachtas members to confirm the opening of King Thomond, “There are some 5,200 asylum seekers living in 34 accommodation centres around the country.”
Just a couple of months previous to Banks’ letter, the Central Statistics Office published a simple, unadorned, official graph. It couldn’t be clearer. It shows that the number of homeless in Ireland doubled between 2011 and 2016. Not surprisingly, this happened during a difficult economic recovery.
Other, more recent sources reveal even more alarming figures.
The Housing Department’s most recently available data on the Ireland’s homeless population indicated that 5837 adults and 3267 dependents (read “children”) were homeless in January. That means over 9000 citizens of Ireland – men, women and children – don’t know where they’ll sleep tonight. Yet 5200 asylum seekers have guaranteed, contracted-for accommodations with hot water and cleaning services.
Proposed new FAQ:
Are the funding, staff, and procedures set up for helping homeless Irish citizens equal in size, scope, and quality as those set up for asylum seekers arriving in Ireland from elsewhere?
Next: Dietary and nutritional requirements for asylum seekers vs. Ireland’s homeless.