Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
Direct Provision System
320. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if changes (details supplied) will be implemented to the delivery of direct provision services to ensure that residents are fully protected during the Covid-19 crisis. [10499/20]
My Department, the HSE and centre management are doing everything that we can to protect the health and welfare of our residents and centre staff as well as that of the wider community at this time. We are 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 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 . That guidance exists precisely because it is recognised that congregated settings such as Direct Provision centres present specific challenges in this pandemic.
Shared bedrooms and communal living space are provided in numerous settings. Similar arrangements apply in homeless and disability services and, indeed, in private rented accommodation.
The direction from the HSE is that during the COVID crisis non-family members sharing a room in Direct Provision centres are considered to be a household. As such, they should implement social distancing measures from other households, i.e. residents in other rooms, and self-isolate if displaying symptoms or if directed by the HSE. In such instances, we provide facilities for self-isolation both on and off-site.
The established procedure across all 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 offsite self-isolation facility. Supports are available for the duration of their period of isolation until such time as the HSE considers that they can safely return to their centre. My Department currently has dedicated self-isolation facilities for residents in Dublin, Cork and Dundalk. Residents in these facilities have their own bedroom and their own bathroom.
Since the start of the year over 1,550 permanent and temporary Direct Provision bed spaces have been procured, including the dedicated new centres opened in Rosslare Harbour, Cahersiveen 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 of our centres. We intend to continue this policy when the crisis is over.
We have cocooned all residents aged 65 or older and those advised to the Department as having a medical illness that requires cocooning.
We are communicating directly with centre managers and residents via regular newsletters, which can also be found on our website . 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.
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 HPSC guidelines for its appropriate use in residential settings.
In centres that operate the Independent living model, there is an onsite food hall were residents can obtain their groceries and toiletries through a cashless system. Approximately half of all residents have access to independent living. For residents in centres that do not yet have independent living, personal hygiene products are issued to residents as part of their toiletries packs and are available as and when required by residents.
All international protection accommodation centres are contractually obliged to have Wi-Fi available to residents. Televisions are also provided in all bedrooms. This enables children to access educational programmes such as the RTE Home School Hub, which is an additional support for parents and primary school pupils. Pupils are able to watch, download and engage with curriculum-based content, project work, and fun activities to keep them entertained and learning. This broadcast is a supplement to the ongoing learning being provided by teachers.
Children who reside in Direct Provision accommodation centres are in the care of their parents and guardians. Similar to all other parents, they are responsible for ensuring that their children are engaging with education at this current time. The Department of Education and Skills (DES) and TUSLA Education Support Service (TESS) are supporting the schools and parents at this time. The International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS ) of my Department is liaising with these services to ensure that the most vulnerable children are identified and supported. A communication pathway for schools, parents and centre managers in relation to education issues has been put in place. TESS Education Welfare Officers (EWOs) will identify children and families who may need assistance, liaising with schools and sourcing additional services/resources where necessary. Children and their parents or guardians living in accommodation centres are also supported by a Tusla official and a Department of Education official seconded to my Department to work with our International Protection Accommodation Service. This ensures that any education or child support issues can be quickly followed up.
In terms of food and nutrition in centres, over half of all residents now have access to self-catering facilities where people can cook for themselves and their families. Our intention is to have this facility in place across all centres and this process is ongoing. Regional tenders for accommodation now mandate independent living for all new centres procured through that process.
In the meantime, centres that are catered are contractually obliged to provide a 28 day menu and to consult with residents on that menu. Residents can advise their centre manager of any dietary requirement that they have and this will be facilitated, where possible. Centres are also contractually obliged to provide culturally appropriate food options for residents and to prepare menus that meet the reasonable dietary needs of the different ethnic groups accommodated at the accommodation centre and the reasonable prescribed dietary needs of any person accommodated at the centre. Arrangements can also be made to cater for particular religious dietary needs, for example, Muslim residents observing Ramadan.
Menus must include a vegetarian option and all food products provided must have a traceability system that complies with food safety requirements.
My Department takes any complaints from residents very seriously. Most complaints should be brought to the centre manager in the first instance. If the resident is not satisfied with the outcome, they can make a complaint directly to IPAS, which will be investigated by IPAS officials and acted on appropriately. If the matter is still not resolved to the resident's satisfaction, they can raise a complaint with the Offices of the Ombudsman or the Ombudsman for Children, as appropriate, for their investigation.
I want to assure you that my Department and I continue 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.