Written answers

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Department of Justice and Equality

Asylum Seeker Accommodation

Photo of Arthur SpringArthur Spring (Kerry North-West Limerick, Labour)
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597. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality her views as to whether the timeframe applied to asylum applications is appropriate; and if the living standards in the accommodation provided is meeting best practice standards for families with young children. [31553/14]

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Under current legislation applications for international protection in Ireland are dealt with in a sequential manner. An application is first examined in order to determine if the applicant is eligible for refugee status. If the applicant is found not to be a refugee then a follow-on application can be made to determine if the person is eligible for subsidiary protection.By contrast, under a single procedure, following a single examination, the applicant is subject first to a determination as to whether he or she is a refugee, and if not, is then subject to a determination as to whether he or she is eligible for subsidiary protection.

It should also be noted that in very many instances the delay in finalising cases is due to applicants challenging negative decisions by initiating judicial reviews at various stages of the process. At present there are approximately 1,300 such judicial review applications pending in the Courts. In addition to the persons directly involved in these judicial review applications there may be other associated family members in the system who have applications pending whose cases cannot be finalised while the judicial review is ongoing. Moreover, many other failed protection applicants do not leave the State when subject to a Deportation Order even though the clear legal requirement is for them to leave the State.

The consequence of all of this is that persons spend longer in direct provision than would be desired. I have said on a number of occasions since taking up office in my Department that the length of time that residents spend in Direct Provision is an issue to be addressed. My immediate priority is that the factors which lead to delays in the processing of cases are dealt with so that protection seekers spend as little time as necessary in direct provision.

The Government remains committed to legislative reform in this area as provided for under the Programme for Government and under the Government Legislation Programme. In this regard, legislative reform aimed at establishing a single application procedure for the investigation of all grounds for protection is a key priority for this Government. Such reform would substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements by removing the current multi-layered and sequential processes and provide applicants with a final decision on their application in a more straightforward and timely fashion. In consultation with my officials, I am reviewing the work done to date in respect of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill and will then decide on how best to progress the implementation of the Government's priorities, in particular to expedite those relating to the establishment of a single application procedure.

The direct provision system, which facilitates the State providing for the basic needs of those seeking protection or on other grounds to be allowed to stay in the State, is managed by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department in accordance with Government policy. As at 29 June 2014 there were 4,324 persons availing of direct provision accommodation in 34 centres under contract to RIA. Approximately 38 % of these residents are children under the age of 18. Overall, 68 % of RIA residents had first claimed international protection in Ireland three or more years previously. More detailed information is available on the RIA website - www.ria.gov.ie. The current occupancy of 4,324 compared to the number residing in direct provision at its highest point in April, 2005 (8,080), shows that there has been a reduction of 46%, or 3756 persons in the intervening period.

In relation to accommodation standards and practices, RIA affords the highest priority to the safeguarding and protection of children. RIA has a fully staffed child and family service unit, the head of which is seconded from the HSE and whose role is to manage, deliver, coordinate, monitor and plan all matters relating to child and family services for all residents in the direct provision system. The unit also acts as a conduit between RIA and Child and Family Agency (Tusla), the latter having statutory functions in this area.

A key feature of the Irish system of accommodating asylum seekers is that services are ‘main streamed’. Social Work supports for children in centres are thus provided through HSE/Tusla on the same basis as for children in the wider community. Centre staff are provided with training and with any guidance needed on a day-to-day basis by the Child & Family Services Unit in RIA.

In addition to the standard accommodation services and supports provided through Direct Provision accommodation centres, both RIA and other State service providers, particularly the HSE and Tusla, link in with those centres to provide on-site services and monitoring of children and families through Public Health Nurse and GP services, social work teams, mental health specialists and through the positive engagement of accommodation centre management teams.

As regards education, children of asylum seekers are linked to local mainstream primary and post-primary schools in a like manner to the general population and the role of the accommodation centre manager is central to this process. In addition, asylum seeker children can avail of the free ECCE preschool. More detail on the services and supports available to direct provision centres can be found in RIA’s Annual Report for 2013 on its website.

As a general point, RIA engages with service providers to ensure that, from a contractual perspective, standards are continuously improved.

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