As the Deputy knows, the Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, of my Department is responsible for the accommodation of protection applicants in accordance with Government policy in this country. I spent some time recently visiting Mosney and met with many of the residents there as well as staff and management. I acknowledge that the length of time residents spend in direct provision is an issue to be addressed. My immediate priority is to ensure that the factors leading to delays in the processing of cases are dealt with so that protection seekers spend as little time as necessary in direct provision.
A key priority for Government is legislative reform aimed at establishing a single application procedure for the investigation of all grounds for protection and any other grounds presented by applicants seeking to remain in the State. I believe such reform would substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements by removing the current multi-layered and sequential processes that people get caught up in, choose to use or have to use. This would provide applicants with a final decision on their application in a more straightforward and timely fashion.
I am reviewing the work done to date in respect of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill and will then decide how best to progress the implementation of this priority, in particular with regard to expediting the aspects of the Bill that will lead to the establishment of a single application procedure.
With regard to the more specific matters raised by the Deputy, there are 4,353 persons availing of direct provision accommodation in 34 centres, some 38% of whom are children under 18, as the Deputy pointed out. Sixty-eight percent of those residents first claimed international protection in Ireland three or more years ago. I want to put on the record of the House that centres are inspected three times a year, once by an independent company. Obviously, various clinics and support services are made available to residents in direct provision, as I saw in Mosney - for example, young children can attend the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme.
The child protection and Garda vetting policies are in place for all centres. It is very important to record the fact that all of these safety policies apply to the centres as much as to anywhere else. There is also a complaints mechanism. I have asked the RIA to highlight the statistics relating to children in direct provision accommodation and ensure as much information on them as possible is given. The Deputy will notice that it is included in its annual report this year.
A child protection policy based on the HSE's Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children is applied. I take the overall point made by the Deputy about the difficulties experienced in spending long periods in direct provision accommodation.