The Government is planning to house nearly 5,500 asylum seekers in new direct provision centres across the State at a cost of more than €320 million over the coming years.

According to today’s Irish Times, tender documents show the Department of Justice is seeking providers to operate centres in eight regions covering the 26 counties.

Aidan O’Driscoll, the department’s secretary general, has said a programme of engagement will be carried out with communities as the locations of the centres are finalised. It is understood that the department will begin analysing the bids for the contracts in the coming weeks.

The department has been under pressure to find accommodation for asylum seekers following 3,762 applications in the first nine months of this year, the highest level since 2008. There was a 20 per cent increase in demand for direct provision accommodation last year and this is expected to rise further this year.

The tender documents show that at least 617 asylum seekers would be placed in the west region – Galway, Mayo and Roscommon – under the plan and those bidding for the contract have been told it is worth €33 million over at least two years.

In the border region covering Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo – the department is seeking to house at least 750 asylum seekers in new centres. The contract for these is valued at €46 million and would last for between two and four years.

In a letter sent to the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee, Mr O’Driscoll said that there are now 1,531 asylum seekers in emergency accommodation in hotels and guesthouses because of a lack of space in the direct provision system.

The department declined to reveal the exact locations of the potential new direct provision centres, but Mr O’Driscoll said talks with the relevant communities will begin shortly.

Meanwhile a 24.7 silent vigil is continuing outside the Achill Head Hotel in Keel where the Dept plans to accommodate asylum seekers in emergency accommodation

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