Emergency Homeless Accommodation and Direct Provision Independent Inspection Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Health Act 2007 to grant the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) the power to inspect all emergency homeless accommodation funded by the Department of Housing, Planning and Community and Local Government. The Act also grants HIQA the power to inspect direct provision centres funded by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of the Department of Justice and Equality.

There are over 10,000 people, including more than 4,000 children, in emergency and domestic violence refuge step-down accommodation funded by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs at a cost to the taxpayer of more than €140 million a year. There are also approximately 4,500 people, including 1,500 children, in direct provision accommodation, the approximate cost of which is approximately €67 million a year. Periodically, we have seen widespread reports of complaints from families, in particular those living in private emergency and direct provision accommodation. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, received over 300 such complaints about emergency accommodation in Dublin. Issues raised included damp accommodation, insect infestation, limited facilities, drug use and, in many cases, soiled bedding. I live in a constituency in which there is a large direct provision centre and engage with the residents at that location regularly. They have spoken to me about chronic overcrowding, with multiple individuals or families in a room and limited play and education facilities which I have seen for children. There are also ongoing issues with food, in particular for those with specific dietary requirements.

Part of the problem is the absence of independent inspection regimes for direct provision and emergency accommodation. While some inspections are carried out by the DRHE of some facilities in Dublin and the Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, carries out some inspections of direct provision centres, neither body is independent of the funding bodies which fund what they do. Last July I called for an inspections regime and was told by the then Minister with responsibility for housing that the DRHE was undertaking the development of quality standards and such a regime. I met representatives of the DRHE and acknowledge that much of the work it is doing looks very positive. I support its efforts. The problem is, of course, that the proposals have yet to be progressed and there is no outcome from the Department. The proposals are also limited in that they would only apply to voluntary sector emergency accommodation, not to private sector accommodation. There is no guarantee that the inspections regime would be fully independent of the funders of these facilities and we have no timeline for roll-out. Even the timeline suggested by the DRHE to me at the end of last year was far too slow. To the best of my knowledge, there are no plans to have a fully independent inspections regime for direct provision accommodation. In fact, I have seen the form used for standard inspections undertaken by the RIA. Not only is it a box ticking exercise in a metaphorical sense, the form literally consists of a set of boxes, with no real facility to set out an appreciation of the difficulties experienced by many families living in direct provision accommodation.

The Bill I propose is in no way perfect. It proposes to give the responsibility for inspecting both direct provision and emergency accommodation centres to HIQA. I am more than open to the suggestion that there is a better body to make responsible for such an inspections regime. The purpose of the legislation is to say very clearly that it is time we had a fully independent inspectorate operating with clear quality standards to inspect all emergency accommodation in the voluntary and private sectors, as well as all direct provision centres. The inspections should commence as a matter of urgency. Whatever body is made responsible, whether it be HIQA, some other independent body or a new agency, it must be given adequate funding and resources.

Members across the House, including the Minister and me, speak to people living in emergency accommodation regularly and they tell us about a wide range of problems in some instances. While a great deal of emergency accommodation is of very good quality and run to a very high standard, that is, unfortunately, not the case with all of it. I am sure the Minister for Justice and Equality has, likewise, heard the many concerns of people living in direct provision accommodation. While the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, is doing good work to address some of the issues which affect people living in direct provision accommodation, there is still a great deal of work left to be done. I move the Bill to highlight the need for an inspections regime. I urge the Minister to fast-track the work undertaken by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. I ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Minister for Justice and Equality to work together to ensure we will not have to wait another year before an independent inspectorate for quality standards in these two forms of accommodation are introduced.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.