Thursday, 10 September 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
Direct Provision System
15. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding the relocation of residents from a direct provision centre (details supplied); when she expects the final residents to be relocated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22845/20]
On 18 March 2020, in response to the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, my Department entered into a 12 month contract to use the former Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen as a temporary accommodation centre for international protection applicants.
My Department's policy is always to withdraw from emergency accommodation as quickly as possible and as soon as places become available in our permanent centres. On 30 July 2020, I announced that the residents in Cahersiveen would be transferred to permanent accommodation centres, in line with that policy, and that this process would be completed as soon as possible and by no later than the end of the year.
I am pleased to say that we have fulfilled that promise and the final transfer of residents from the Skellig Star was completed last week. There are no remaining residents onsite.
Residents have been transferred to a number of centres from across our accommodation portfolio, based on an assessment of the most suitable accommodation available to meet their individual or family needs.
No new residents will be transferred into the Skellig Star following the completion of this relocation process and my Department has no plans to utilise the premises going forward.
16. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if her Department has formally identified a body to fulfil the role of independent inspectorate for direct provision centres; if this body will be empowered to carry out unannounced inspections of direct provision centres and emergency accommodation; and the criteria for the inspections. [22378/20]
In August 2019, the National Standards for accommodation offered to people in the international protection process were published by my Department.
The Standards were prepared by an Advisory Group, established in 2017 and comprising officials from my Department, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the HSE National Office for Social Inclusion as well as representatives from AkiDwA, the Children's Rights Alliance, the Core Group of Asylum Seekers and Refugees, the Jesuit Refugee Service, SPIRASI, and UNHCR Ireland.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) also provided guidance during that process on how to develop high quality implementable standards in Direct Provision accommodation.
The agreed Standards will come into force in January 2021 and the plan is that the new inspection regime will be rolled out on an incremental basis with effect from that date.
The policy on how the new inspection process will operate, in accordance with the Standards, has yet to be finalised including the determination of who will undertake the inspection process. This will be a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration to take forward following the Transfer of Functions to his Department.
Currently, all permanent accommodation centres under contract to my Department are subject to three unannounced inspections per year. Twice by officials of the Immigration Service of my Department and once by an independent company (QTS Limited). Inspections cover a wide range of issues including fire safety and other health and safety issues.
Any issue identified during an inspection 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.
As a result of health and safety restrictions with respect to the COVID-19 crisis, it had not been possible to date to carry out inspections at this time. I am pleased to say that the independent inspector, QTS Limited, has indicated they are in a position to commence inspections within the next two weeks. It is also intended that the inspections team in my Department will re-commence inspections in the coming weeks. All necessary safeguards for inspectors, residents and staff in accommodation centres will be in place to ensure that the welfare and safety of all continue to be protected.