Written answers

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Department of Justice and Equality

Direct Provision System

Photo of Violet WynneViolet Wynne (Clare, Sinn Fein)
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256. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if provisions will be made for residents in a direct provision centre (details supplied) in County Clare to access suitable snacks and hot and cold drinks outside of mealtimes between the hours of 6pm and 8am; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10411/20]

Photo of Violet WynneViolet Wynne (Clare, Sinn Fein)
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257. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the provisions in place for residents in a direct provision centre (details supplied) in County Clare in relation to personal sanitation products; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10412/20]

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 256 and 257 together.

I have made inquiries and I have been informed of the following in relation to the Centre referred to. Hand sanitiser was issued to each individual resident at the commencement of the COVID-19 crisis. It is replenished from reception as and when required. Hand sanitisation stations are located outside bedrooms and also at the entrances to each accommodation block. Stations are also located in several locations throughout the administration building including the restaurant and communal areas.

Cleaning packs containing disinfectant spray, tissues, brushes and mops have also been distributed to each bedroom.

With regard to personal hygiene products, sanitary towels and tampons are issued to residents as part of their toiletries packs and are also available as and when required by residents. Packs also include toilet paper, shampoo, shower gel and toothpaste.

Residents who require nappies are issued with a weekly payment by the Community Welfare Officer for their purchase. In addition to this weekly payment, the Northside Family Resource Centre have visited the centre several times over the past number of weeks with additional supplies of nappies for all children.

The catering area for each block in the centre referred to is accessible 24 hours a day, where there is a Burco boiler available to residents to prepare refreshments. Snacks, including cereals and biscuits, are also made available for residents in the catering area.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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258. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to end the direct provision system here in view of the recent events in the United States of America and increased awareness of the dangers of racism and discrimination; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10421/20]

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Last year Minister Flanagan and I asked Dr. Catherine Day to bring together an expert group with representation from asylum seekers and NGOs to examine best practice in other European States in the provision of services to international protection applicants, to examine likely longer term trends and to set out recommendations and solutions. The Group is examining both the reception system for accommodating applicants and the system for processing applications, and is expected to make recommendations for changes in both areas. A briefing paper on the work of the group, prepared by the Chairperson to inform programme for government talks, has been circulated to members of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Briefing Note includes a list of measures, identified so far, which would immediately improve the situation of those currently in Direct Provision, and on which officials of the Department have been asked to prepare proposals for the incoming Government. The work of the group is advancing at pace and their report is expected by the end of September.

Minister Flanagan and I are happy that this Briefing Note signals far-reaching proposals and we were anxious to ensure that Dr. Day and her Group were free to make any recommendations they deemed appropriate based on an expert analysis.

Last year we also established a high level Interdepartmental Group chaired by a senior official of my Department, to ensure that all Departments are proactively delivering on their responsibilities. The Group is reviewing the management of services for applicants for international protection and considering the short-to-medium term options which could be implemented to improve the system. Its Report has been finalised and is ready to be submitted to a new Government.

The system of Direct Provision refers to the suite of State services and supports that are provided by a range of Government Departments and agencies to persons seeking international protection in the State. It includes provision of medical cards, an exemption from prescription charges, access to education for children, a weekly payment, access to Exceptional Needs Payments, when required, and, of course, ensuring that all basic needs are met, like accommodation and food.

It is important note that significant efforts have been made to reform the system in recent years. Mr. Justice Bryan McMahon, whose report in 2015 has been the basis for introducing improvements to the system, has himself noted that the system has improved considerably compared to what it was five years ago.

Significant improvements made to the system in recent years include access to the services of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children; agreed National Standards for accommodation providers; the introduction of labour market access; and the continued roll-out of self-catering facilities for residents (now available to more than half of all residents).

The new National Standards contain specific actions to improve the lives of children in accommodation centres. As well as the aforementioned access to the services of the Ombudsman for Children, they are also supported by the Child Protection Policies that we have put in place in the centres. In addition, there is a Tusla official seconded to my Department to work with our International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS). This ensures that any child protection issues are swiftly followed up and that the process for referrals is as streamlined as possible.

Currently, around 25% of residents (1,974 people) in the Direct Provision system have own door self-catered accommodation. While, at this time, all available accommodation of this type is fully utilised, families are prioritised when this type of accommodation becomes available.

It is to be noted that the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, in its report on Direct Provision and the International Protection Application Process, published last December, found that there was no clear consensus from the Committee as to what alternatives could or ought to replace the current system. Their Report also acknowledged that any new system of reception and accommodation will need time to ensure the right system is put in place.

Finally, Minister Flanagan and I look forward to the completion of the work of Dr. Day’s expert group and the implementation of major changes, should the incoming Government accept the proposals.

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