Written answers

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth

Direct Provision System

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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366. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will address matters raised in correspondence in relation to the direct provision system (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49618/21]

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I note the correspondence the Deputy refers to is from a member of the public who references my plans to end direct provision and expresses concern about the welfare of applicants in the current system.

As the Deputy will be aware, I published a “White Paper to End Direct Provision and to establish a new International Protection Support Service”. The White Paper sets out a new Government policy to establish a new International Protection Support Service that I envision will be fully operational by December 2024. This new system will have human rights at its core and will help to ensure that all applicants are treated with dignity and respect. The International Protection Support Service Transition Team of this Department is progressing a detailed implementation plan for the new system and is working closely with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Housing Agency and the Local Authorities on developing the new Accommodation Model and wrap-around services for residents.

As we transition to the new system, in order to meet our legal obligations to provide accommodation and other support services for protection applicants, existing accommodation centres will continue to operate in the short to medium term; as such my Department currently utilises a mixture of state owned, commercial and temporary emergency accommodation centres.

As for the concerns expressed in the correspondence regarding the welfare of applicants in the current system, there is a clear graduated complaints procedure set out in the House Rules & Procedures Booklet for International Protection applicants. Complaints are made initially to the centre manager with a view to informal resolution. If the resident concerned is not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint, they may make a complaint to IPAS who will investigate the matter and take action as appropriate. In the event that a resident remains dissatisfied with how their complaint is dealt with, they have full access to the services of the Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children.?

To provide further support to all residents, a confidential Freephone telephone support service exists. The Freephone helpline is operated by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). A complaint made to the JRS may be resolved without any IPAS intervention through mediation between the JRS team, the resident and whatever service their complaint relates to. Should a resident desire, a complaint made through this service may also be passed, in confidence, back to IPAS for investigation and resolution.

In addition to the existing complaints mechanisms available to residents, two new specialist teams were established in IPAS earlier this year to provide a greater focus on the individual needs of residents.

A new dedicated IPAS Customer Services Team is working to strengthen the existing resident complaints system and take a more proactive approach to dealing with residents' issues, actively engaging with residents through regular resident feedback clinics. As well as this increased in-person engagement with residents, the Customer Services Team will also be exploring the use of other feedback mechanisms such as customer focus groups in the months ahead.

The IPAS Resident Welfare Team is a new multi-disciplinary team that focuses on residents with more complex issues, including those with physical and mental health issues and persons identified through the IPAS Vulnerability Assessment Process as having special reception needs. Officials from Tusla, the HSE’s Social Inclusion Team and the Department of Education support this team. Additional Social Workers are currently being recruited to provide further support to the team.

My officials and I take the nutritional needs of residents very seriously. All of my Department’s international protection accommodation centres are contractually bound to provide menus that reasonably meet the dietary needs of the different ethnic groups accommodated at the centre and the reasonable prescribed dietary needs of any person accommodated at the centre. Menus must include a vegetarian option and all food products provided must have a traceability system that complies with food safety requirements. All accommodation centres that offer catered options must provide three meals per day and must have a range of snacks and non-alcoholic beverages readily available.

In addition, contractors must consult with residents and resident committees in the accommodation centres in relation to preferences for inclusion of specific foods on menus or any dietary requirement that they have and where possible this is facilitated. Arrangements are also be made to cater for any particular religious requirements of residents, such as observing Ramadan.

Concerning the conditions in the referenced accommodation centre, every centre is subject to regular unannounced inspections by both my officials in the IPAS and an independent inspectorate company (QTS Limited). These inspections are undertaken, twice yearly by QTS Limited and once yearly by my officials in IPAS. Inspections cover a wide range of issues including the quality of the food, fire safety and other health and safety issues. The particular centre has been inspected on three occasions since 2019. The reports are available on the gov.ie portal’s publications section atwww.gov.ie/en/publication/534c2-ipas-inspection-reports/#monaghan. HIQA will shortly take on the role of monitoring all centres against national standards.

Other matters such as the right to work, leave to remain, amnesty for frontline workers and deportation fall under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Justice.

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