Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Justice and Equality

Direct Provision System

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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499. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to the fact that residents of a reception centre (details supplied) are reporting that residents testing both positive and negative for Covid-19 are sharing bathroom and other facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6939/20]

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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500. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the measures in place to ensure that residents in direct provision centres testing both positive and negative for Covid-19 are not forced into sharing bathroom and other facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6940/20]

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 499 and 500 together.

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 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.

The Deputy is correct in saying that the facility in Balseskin is a reception centre rather than an accommodation (or Direct Provision) centre. Generally, new international protection applicants are initially accommodated in Baleseskin before being allocated accommodation in one of our network of centres around the State. In Balseskin, applicants are offered health screening by a permanent onsite HSE medical team. All public health responses required in Balseskin at this time are being led by the HSE team. In line with our agreed policy with the HSE, anyone with a positive result, and their close contacts identified by contact tracing, are asked to isolate and the most appropriate setting for their needs is identified, be that on-site self-isolation or transferring to an off-site isolation facility.  The HSE makes the decision on the appropriate location based on the medical needs of the individual. 

There are currently approximately 310 residents being accommodated onsite in Balseskin, which has capacity for 537 residents. The current occupancy has been reduced to facilitate social and physical distancing requirements.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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501. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the additional inspections of direct provision centres that have taken place specifically for Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6941/20]

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I can inform the Deputy that all accommodation centres under contract to my Department are subject to three unannounced inspections per annum: twice by officials from the Immigration Service of the Department and once by an independent company (QTS Limited). 

As a result of the health and safety restrictions around COVID-19, it is not appropriate for inspections to be carried out at this time. Additionally, all centres are currently closed to any visitors to protect residents and staff. As soon as the HSE advises that it is appropriate to commence inspections again, relevant officials in the Immigration Service will resume this process. During this time, to ensure that we are in regular contact with our centres, a dedicated communications team within IPAS has been established. This team undertakes daily calls with all centre managers across our network of permanent and temporary centres. Feedback from these conversations is reflected in the newsletters circulated to all centre managers to promote shared learning and best practice. The daily calls also ensure that any issues or concerns can be raised without delay for appropriate resolution for the benefit of residents and staff. In addition, residents also have the option to contact IPAS staff directly via email and can also raise concerns with the Office of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children.

Inspections in our accommodation centres look at a wide range of issues such as fire safety issues, food hygiene, food quality, information provision, general security and emergency details, child protection issues, provision of TV and Wi-Fi services, staff rosters and the upkeep of all communal areas and bedrooms. Any issue identified is communicated in writing to the contractor and the contractor is required to address any issue identified immediately.  Officials from the Immigration Service follow up to ensure that relevant issues have been addressed.

All accommodation centres are carefully following the guidelines for our centres that have been published by the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre, which can be found on 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. 

We are communicating directly with centre managers and residents via regular newsletters, which can also be found on our website www.accommodationcentres.ie. The newsletters have provided practical information on implementing social and physical distancing at this time and promoted shared learning and best practice across our network of centres. Residents have also been made aware of the need for good hand hygiene and coughing/sneezing etiquette. Information and posters have been distributed to all centres and translations of public health information have also been provided. With Ramadan underway, we have also prepared and circulated information for centre managers and residents with practical supports on observing Ramadan during the current COVID restrictions.

During this time, centre managers have also been advised to increase the standard and frequency of cleaning throughout the centres, paying particular attention to communal areas. A regular supply of hand sanitiser for centres is in place and this is distributed to centres as required. Other PPE is distributed, as needed, and in line with the HPSC guidelines for its appropriate use in residential settings.

In partnership with the HSE and Safetynet, my Department has put in place a national clinical telephone service to provide public health advice to support centre staff. It is also being used to advise, support and work with locations where vulnerable groups are present relating to the implementation of COVID-19 guidelines and measures.

Centres without independent living arrangements (where applicants can cook for themselves and their families) have been asked to implement staggered meal times or to provide takeaway facilities where canteens have been temporarily closed.

While inspections of accommodation centres cannot take place at this time, I hope that this information will provide you with some reassurance that we are continuing to work closely with the HSE and centre management during this time to protect the health and safety of all residents and staff as a priority.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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502. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if safe alternative accommodation will be provided for persons living in direct provision centres; if urgent action will be taken to protect the health and well-being of the residents of the direct provision centre in Cahersiveen, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6971/20]

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 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. 

More specifically in relation to the Skellig Accommodation Centre in Caherciveen, the Deputy will appreciate that this is a public health situation, the response to which is being led by HSE Public Health, as is appropriate. Where cases of Covid-19 arise in the community, the HSE’s Outbreak Control Team (OCT) manage the response. In addition to health professionals, this OCT for the centre also includes representatives from my Department and from centre management.

In line with the agreed policy with the HSE, anyone from the centre 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 advice for the remaining residents in the Skellig Accommodation Centre to quarantine is public health advice, provided by public health authorities.  The HSE has confirmed that there should be no movement into or out of the centre at this time, unless directed by public health. The purpose of this HSE guidance is to protect the health of all residents, staff and the wider community. 

There are currently 69 residents (including 9 children) onsite in the centre, which has capacity for 150 residents, and 56 bedrooms. Residents are a mix of single people and small sized families. All single residents have been offered their own bedroom and all bedrooms in the centre are en suite. Some residents have declined this offer and have indicated that they wish to self-isolate with their roommate as a family unit. We continue to encourage these residents to accept the offer of their own room at this time.

Guidance has been provided by the HSE to centre management on the enhanced cleaning arrangements required at this time including through an onsite visit by a HSE infection control specialist. This applies to bedrooms, corridors, staircases, the dining room, kitchen, laundry room, lift, public toilets and reception and public areas. This is being strictly adhered to by centre management and staff.

My Department is working closely with the HSE and centre management to provide additional supports for residents during this time. There is a HSE Community Development Worker onsite at the Centre seven days a week to monitor the health of residents.  This person is supported by a wider healthcare team.  Additional outdoor space has been opened up with some seating provided and, exercise equipment has been set up in the outdoor area for residents’ use. This outdoor equipment has been installed with the knowledge and support of HSE public health, and will be operated under their direction for safe use.

The residents are currently provided with three meals and snacks daily. However, in line with the overall policy objectives for accommodation centres, the service provider plans to introduce independent living arrangements with cooking facilities for residents in the coming period. In the meantime, the chefs in the centre are working with the residents to find out about preferred meals and staff have been asked to source and provide ethnic snacks for residents. Kettles have been provided in rooms so that residents can make refreshments throughout the day rather than using communal facilities and meals are also being delivered to rooms. The centre has a good Wi-Fi service and phone credit has also been provided for residents so that they can keep in touch with family and friends.

The current restrictions are especially difficult for children. In addition to the upgrades to the outdoor space, toys, puzzles and tablets have been being provided for children and laptops have also been provided for residents’ use. The Tusla official seconded to work with my Department to see what additional supports they need and to discuss any concerns they might have.

Officials from my Department began virtual clinics with residents earlier this week and a telephone support service for residents is also being established with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

The Deputy can be assured that my Department, the HSE and centre managers will continue to work closely together during this time to protect the health and safety of all residents and staff of accommodation centres as a priority.

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