Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Justice and Equality

Direct Provision System

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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440. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of positive Covid-19 cases and clusters in direct provision centres; and the number of these occurring in new centres opened specifically as a response to the Covid-19 crisis. [5971/20]

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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As the Deputy will appreciate, the COVID-19 pandemic is a public health crisis, the response to which is being led by HSE Public Health, as is appropriate. My Department and management across our network of accommodation centres (both permanent and temporary) are working closely with the HSE to implement their public health advice.

With regard to medical information such as testing, test results and the release of data relating to same, the Deputy will appreciate that these are matters for the HSE in a public health context. Both the HSE and my Department are committed to protecting the medical confidentiality of our residents.

I can confirm that, in line with our agreed policy with the HSE, any centre resident with a positive COVID-19 result has been transferred to an offsite self-isolation facility where they are cared for until such time as the HSE considers that they can safely return to their centre. The offsite facilities are supported by a non-profit (Section 39) organisation and healthcare staff.

My Department and I will continue to work hard with local management, health agencies, and NGOs to provide every support possible to our residents at this difficult time.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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441. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the safeguards and oversights in place to protect direct provision residents who are forced to self-isolate; and if dietary and other needs at a centre (details supplied) have been deemed as suitable for residents self-isolating. [5972/20]

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I want to assure the Deputy that my Department is doing everything it can to protect the health and welfare of residents and staff in our accommodation centres, as well as that of the wider community. My Department is working closely with the HSE in doing so, and while the HSE advice has evolved over time, we have been assured by both it and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer that our approach is appropriate.

All centres, including St. Patrick's Accommodation Centre in Monaghan, are following the guidelines for our centres that have been published by the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre. These are publicly available at its website www.hpsc.ie. That guidance exists precisely because it is recognised that congregated settings such as Direct Provision centres present specific challenges in this pandemic.

The established procedure across all our centres where a person is suspected of having the virus or is confirmed as having the virus, is that, where advised by Public Health, they are moved to a dedicated off-site self-isolation facility where they are cared for until such time as the HSE decides that they can safely return to their centre. My Department has opened four dedicated self-isolation facilities (in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Dundalk) with capacity for 299 people. Residents in these facilities have their own bedroom and their own bathroom.

Since the start of the year, over 1,550 permanent and temporary new Direct Provision beds have been procured including the new dedicated centres in Rosslare Harbour, Caherciveen and Tullamore. We have relocated over 600 residents to support social and physical distancing in centres and cocooning measures for the most vulnerable. By doing this, we have ensured that no more than three single people are sharing a room in any centre. We intend to continue this policy after the crisis. All residents over the age of 65 and those advised to the Department as having a serious medical illness have been cocooned. 

Specifically in relation to St. Patrick's Accommodation Centre, I can confirm that there are no residents currently self-isolating on-site. Centre management has introduced the following arrangements to support social and physical distancing and good hygiene practices in the centre at this time:

-Disposable items are used at mealtimes and staff are making tea and coffee to prevent cross contamination in the tea station area.  Food, including bread, is wrapped in portions in cellophane, again to prevent contamination. 

-All meat supplied to the centre is Halal and their suppliers have continued to deliver without disruption.  In relation to the preparation of meals, unfortunately, the main kitchen was closed for renovation in early March so it is not currently available to residents. In addition, the HSE have advised management to close the smaller kitchens, as it was not possible to adhere to the social and physical distancing measures required at this time.  The centre staff are currently preparing all meals for the residents in the centre. 

-In relation to meals available during Ramadan, the normal practice was that a selected group of residents prepared the specialist meals in the main kitchen for all residents who are observing Ramadan in St. Patrick’s Accommodation Centre. However, this year when management approached the residents who usually cook for the people observing Ramadan they indicated that they preferred not to be involved on this occasion. Instead, the centre chefs are preparing the specialist meals for residents to the best of their ability and using Halal meats. Special dates and drinks, herbs and spices, which are traditional during Ramadan, are also provided on a weekly basis to residents.  

-All medical prescriptions are being delivered to the centre by local Community Gardaí. 

-The playground is currently closed in order to adhere to social and physical distancing requirements.  

More generally, residents in all centres have been made aware of the need to practice social and physical distancing and good hand hygiene and coughing/sneezing etiquette. Translations of public health advice have been provided to centres. During this time, centres have been asked to increase the standard and frequency of cleaning throughout the centres, paying particular attention to communal areas. A regular supply of hand sanitiser is in place for all centres and this is distributed as needed. Other PPE is also distributed as needed and in line with HPSC guidelines on its appropriate use in residential settings.

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