Tuesday, 6 July 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
68. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the accommodation arrangements made for applicants for international protection in Galway city and county who are working as front-line workers during the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35625/21]
I ask the Minister, in respect of the accommodation arrangements made for applicants for international protection in Galway City and county who are working as front-line workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, whether he will make a statement on the matter. This is a matter which lies somewhere between the IPAS and the HSE but it is the ultimate responsibility of the international protection system.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic presented challenges to maintaining the health and safety of residents living in accommodation within the International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, as it did for the country as a whole.
In order to safeguard our residents, specific measures were put in place by IPAS in close collaboration with the HSE from the outset of the pandemic. These measures were first implemented at the same time as country-wide restrictions were imposed in March and April 2020. IPAS continues to work closely with the HSE to ensure that all appropriate measures are taken for the safeguarding of IPAS residents.
One of the measures introduced was a HSE-operated accommodation scheme for all healthcare workers, which can be availed of by IPAS residents. Queries in relation to any premises currently being operated by the HSE for the housing of front-line healthcare workers are matters for the HSE.
A number of other measures were taken as part of the pandemic response which include: provision for self-isolation facilities centres and off-site self-isolation; increased capacity to support physical and social distancing to ensuring no more than three non-related persons share a bedroom, which is now a permanent policy in IPAS; enhanced cleaning regimes and provision of PPE to all accommodation centres; regular communications and information on public health advice to residents and centre managers, both on the IPAS website and through resident newsletters; and the cocooning of all medically vulnerable and over 65-year-old residents.
My officials in IPAS have at all times co-operated fully with the HSE in respect of any testing that public health may decide to undertake. Any resident who tests positive is moved off-site for self-isolation along with their close contacts in the centre, until such time as the HSE considers that they can safely return to their centre. The HSE operates two off-site facilities and IPAS has also provided one isolation centre.
The Minister seems to be saying that these applicants for international protection, because they have become front-line workers, are no longer the responsibility of his Department and are purely the responsibility of the HSE but has the Minister insisted that the HSE provide these applicants with suitable accommodation because I have received complaints as to their accommodation, particularly taking into account that these are front-line workers providing front-line services in our country?
I thank the Deputy. I am not saying that they are not the responsibility of my Department. They continue to be IPAS applicants and their IPAS space within the direct provision centre is reserved. What I am saying is that in order to take up this particular scheme, it is the HSE which supplies and oversees it and in particular, the HSE oversees the accommodation that is provided.
If the Deputy is happy to so do, I ask him to refer to me the complaints about the specific type of accommodation he has come across. I would be happy to engage with him and with the HSE about that particular matter. I appreciate his drawing it to my attention.