Written answers

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Department of Justice and Equality

Direct Provision System

Violet Wynne (Clare, Sinn Fein)
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317. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if he will intervene in the escalating situation in a direct provision centre (details supplied) in view of the fact that the safety of the 12 men is at risk; if he will make contact via teleconferencing software; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10481/20]

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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We are taking the issues raised in relation to this emergency accommodation premises extremely seriously. The welfare of residents is, at all times, our key concern. Any complaints or concerns regarding the health and safety of international protection applicants are taken extremely seriously by myself, Minister Flanagan and our officials.

On 4 June 2020, officials from the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) of my Department held a clinic via video call with residents of the centre. This was attended by 12 of the 19 residents currently residing at the centre. The clinic was held off-site in the Miltown Malbay Community Centre and was facilitated by a volunteer from the Limerick and Clare Educational Training Board (LCETB).  Other than the residents and the facilitator, only the manager and the caretaker of the Community Centre  were present at the time.

Each resident attended their own clinic appointment separately in a room away from the facilitator and the Community Centre personnel in order  to ensure privacy and confidentiality.

A small number of the residents who participated in the clinics stated that the food was not to their liking. The majority of residents who attended the clinic stated they were happy with the food and with the accommodation in general.  My officials will be following up with management and residents on any of the issues raised during the clinics.

Following the clinics, an unannounced visit was made to the accommodation the next day, 5 June 202, by a senior official from my Department. During this visit, a number of issues raised in recent  correspondence to Minister Flanagan and myself were investigated. I can confirm that no health and safety issues were identified during this visit, during which all rooms were viewed.

Concerns had previously been raised with my Department around rodent activity on the premises and water leakage.  I am advised that there was no evidence of any rodent activity or water leakage on the day my official visited.  When questioned by my official on these matters, the owner confirmed that a resident had reported mice in his room in February. The owner engaged a pest control company who could not find any evidence of rodents. They subsequently monitored the room for three weeks and could not find any evidence of rodents. Regarding the matter of water leakage, I am advised that the owner confirmed that an incident occurred some months ago where water leaked from a bath/shower on the second floor into a bedroom on the first floor.  It was reported to him by the residents in the room and he sought to engage a plumber. However, one of the residents said he was a plumber and asked if he could fix it.  It was addressed within a few hours and no reoccurrence of the leak has been reported since.

Furthermore, my official identified no concerns about the quality or variety of food available during their visit. Food is prepared onsite by a professional chef and all meat is Halal certified. Residents also have use of the kitchen for special occasions and regularly cook meals of their choice from food supplied by management. Arrangements were also made during Ramadan recently for residents to use the kitchen at night.

I can also advise the Deputy that IPAS officials previously visited the premises unannounced on 13 February last, on foot of concerns raised by a local support group. During the course of this visit, they inspected all bedrooms and recreation rooms and the kitchen and dining facilities and they had lunch with the residents. I am advised that my officials did not find any major issues to report and the residents they spoke to did not raise any issues about the standard of the centre. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) also carried out a visit to the premises in February as part of a programme of visits to a variety of centres over a two week period. No specific issues were brought to my Department's attention regarding the premises arising from their visit.

Our intention is to accommodate all international protection applicants currently living in emergency accommodation in dedicated accommodation centres as soon as places become available.

Paul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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318. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if he will publish a strategy to phase out direct provision as a method of dealing with those seeking asylum and safety here and those who wish to build a better future for themselves and their families. [10488/20]

Emer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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323. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to reform the direct provision system and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10697/20]

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 318 and 323 together.

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; 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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