Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
Direct Provision System
314. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if he will urgently implement new standards for direct provision centres and carry out independent inspections of these settings. [11275/20]
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.
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; 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).
In August 2019, Minister Flanagan and I published new National Standards for accommodation centres. These Standards were developed through an Advisory Group including representatives from UNHCR Ireland and the NGO sector. The Standards will address a range of themes including accommodation; food and catering; individual, community and family life; health and wellbeing; governance; and meeting the special reception needs of applicants. These reforms build on the work done in the McMahon Report and meet the requirements of the EU Recast Reception Conditions Directive (Directive 2013/33/EU) which we voluntarily opted into in 2018. It is intended that the Standards will come into force in January 2021 when they will be subject to monitoring and inspection by an appropriate independent body.