Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Asylum Support Services
Question 64: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to create an independent complaint mechanism for asylum seekers reception centres at the Reception and Integration Agency; if he intends to extend the powers of the Ombudsman to cover the area of asylum seekers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6625/12]
The Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, of my Department currently accommodates more than 5,300 persons across 39 centres. Complaints by centre residents are dealt with in accordance with the procedures outlined in the RIA's house rules, a copy of which is provided to all residents and sets out, inter alia, the obligations on the centre manager and resident. The complaints procedure explains how one party can seek to have breaches of the obligations by the other party resolved.
The thrust of this procedure is that issues are best resolved quickly, locally and informally without the need for a matter to proceed formally. Where more serious complaints cannot be so resolved, residents may lodge a formal written complaint with centre management, to be responded to within 14 days. If the issue remains unresolved, the resident may take his or her complaint to the RIA who will make a determination on it. If a complaint is made in respect of a decision by a particular RIA official, the appeal will not be dealt with by that official. This complaints system is considered by the RIA to be broadly in line with the guidelines set out by the Office of the Ombudsman for internal complaints systems.
The rules specifically state that residents should not be afraid to complain when they need to and that making a statement will not affect how other official agencies consider their claims to remain in the State. The house rules were revised arising from a working party report, which included some NGOs. During those working party discussions, the issue of an independent appeals mechanism was fully discussed. It was the RIA's view that no clear model was cited during these discussions as to the make-up of an independent claims mechanism or how it could be implemented without undue cost and bureaucracy.
In relation to the powers of the Ombudsman, section 5(1)(e) of the Ombudsman Act 1980 provides that the Ombudsman shall not investigate any action taken by or on behalf of a person in the administration of the law relating to asylum. While the office does not currently have the power to investigate asylum related matters, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, including the RIA, has in place administrative arrangements with the office to assist and provide information and help resolve any matters brought to its attention.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The question of extending the remit of the Ombudsman is in the first instance a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and my officials will engage with that Department in relation to any proposals in this regard.
It is important we do not lose sight of the need to ensure the amount of time asylum seekers stay in direct provision is kept to a minimum and that we do not inadvertently open up a new appeal mechanism in the asylum determination system, which already has comprehensive in-built statutorily based appeals mechanisms.
The phrase "internal complaints systems" was used and reflects the difficulty that it will be an internal process, regardless of whether the central manager or the Reception and Integration Agency is involved. The 5,300 people concerned are in a difficult position and do not necessarily wish to draw attention to themselves. In the opinion of the agencies involved, some independent mechanism would engender greater confidence. As for the role of the Ombudsman, in terms of asylum Ireland was a very different place in 1980 and were the Office of the Ombudsman to be involved in a more formal role, an independent system within the Reception and Integration Agency might not be necessary. Given the number of asylum seekers and the extent to which the position in the country has changed since 1980, I again ask the Minister to consider the involvement of the Ombudsman.
There are, of course, fewer people in such accommodation than in previous years. The numbers are falling. I note that during the Deputy's party's 14 year term of office it did not deem it appropriate to introduce a different system such as the one he now advocates.
Extending the remit of the Ombudsman is, in the first instance, a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. My officials would be happy to engage with that Department on any such proposals. It is important, however, not to lose sight of the need to ensure the amount of time asylum seekers remain in direct provision accommodation is kept to a minimum. I am concerned that it is far too long owing to the complexities of our immigration and asylum legislation. These issues will be addressed in the legislation being prepared and I hope a better system will be in place by the end of the year which will ensure individuals will not spend as long in direct provision accommodation.
I do not wish to inadvertently open up a new appeals mechanism in an asylum determination system that already has comprehensive in-built statutory-based appeals mechanisms and which is subject to a continuing stream of judicial reviews. While some of the reviews have merit, a considerable number are certainly brought with the intent of trying to remain unlawfully in the State for an extended time in circumstances in which there is no valid basis to seek asylum and the applicants are seeking to prevent their deportation.