'All TDs should see struggles of asylum seekers' - minister
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has urged all TDs to use the Christmas break to visit a direct provision centre and gain a better understanding of the issues facing asylum seekers.
He was speaking to the Herald as the Government announced new details about an expert group on direct provision which will report by the end of next year on potential improvements to the system of accommodation for asylum seekers in Ireland.
Mr Flanagan and Junior Equality Minister David Stanton said that former European Commission secretary general Catherine Day, who has already been examining the system, will chair the group.
It will explore new ways to better meet the needs of asylum seekers and ensure the State can adapt to variations in demand.
There has been a significant increase in the number of asylum claims in Ireland in recent years - exceeding 3,500 last year for the first time in a decade.
Protests against accommodation centres in Oughterard, Galway, and Ballinamore, Leitrim, also put the issue firmly on the political agenda in 2019.
Mr Flanagan was criticised last month after the Department of Justice facilitated a visit by Verona Murphy to a migrant reception centre in Waterford in the days after her controversial comments linking migrants with Islamic State.
Ms Murphy's visit prompted her to apologise for her remarks, although her unsuccessful by-election campaign continued to be dogged by controversy and she was dropped as a Fine Gael general election candidate this month.
Mr Flanagan, who was Ms Murphy's director of elections, said he did not regret asking the former candidate to visit the centre and said he would encourage every TD in the Dail to do so.
"I'm not happy with the language used by Verona Murphy," he said.
"In fact, I spoke to her during the course of the campaign about her apology. I accepted her apology and she acknowledged that her comments were ill-judged.
"I make no apologies for encouraging her to visit an accommodation centre."
"In fact, on the matter of direct provision, on the matter of immigration, I would encourage all of my colleagues in the Dail over the Christmas period, during the recess, to avail of an opportunity of visiting a centre and seeing first-hand the challenge and the problems faced by people seeking international protection."
Ms Day will chair the expert group, which will include former ESRI director Dr Frances Ruane and Nama chairman Frank Daly.
Former Department of Social Protection secretary general Niamh O'Donoghue will also sit on the group, as will former Limerick City and County Council chief executive Conn Murray, Fiona Finn of Nasc and Bulelani Mfaco, from the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland.