Wednesday, 4 November 2020
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Government recently considered the report of the group chaired by Dr. Catherine Day. It is a very comprehensive report which goes through the entire spectrum of issues in regard to international protection. The programme for Government contains a commitment to end the current system of direction provision within the lifetime of the Government and replace it with a new international protection and accommodation policy centred on a not-for-profit approach. We accept that the current system is not for purpose and we are committed to changing it. That will take some time.
The Government has accepted the expert advisory group report and we are committed to publishing a White Paper by the end of this year, informed by the recommendations of that group. The White Paper will set out how a replacement for the direct provision system will be structured and the steps required to achieve that restructuring. Following the transfer of this function to his Department on 14 October, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth will progress the matter and make any decisions around future accommodation provision. The Minister for Justice will address the recommendations relating to the international protection application process, including how to better engage with applicants who fail in obtaining asylum status or permission to remain. In addition, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will engage with the report's recommendations on accommodation. That will be challenging because it will mean significantly more construction of housing and own-door facilities, over and above what is in the existing housing programme.
The process around the White Paper provides a mechanism to consider how these challenges can be addressed and dealt with. The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is already taking action to introduce immediate reforms to the system, as recommended by the advisory group's intermediate report in June. These reforms include a formal system of vulnerability assessment that will ascertain whether those needing accommodation when applying for international protection have vulnerabilities that must be taken into account when allocating accommodation, determining the accompanying services they need, monitoring the accommodation and services provided to those accommodated in our centres against the national standards that will come into effect in January 2021, and providing a means for people in the international protection system to open bank accounts and to provide access to driver licences. All of these reforms will be progressed in tandem with steps to ease access to employment in terms of the applicable timeframe following people's arrival into the country.