I am satisfied that the system of direct provision and dispersal, which was established in 1999, is in compliance with human rights obligations placed on the State by domestic and international law.
The Government policy of Direct Provision for asylum seekers ensures that a suitable standard of accommodation, food, medical and other services is maintained. This is a fair system for meeting the needs of asylum seekers in a cost-effective manner. It is line with asylum seeker reception arrangements in other EU countries and indeed, in some cases, it is of a much higher standard.
Over the years, the direct provision system has been open to scrutiny by many international bodies. Centres have been visited by various UN bodies, including the UNHCR, I appeared before the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva in connection with its scrutiny of Ireland under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process In October, 2011. No recommendation was made in relation to the Direct Provision system in the Committee's subsequent UPR report on Ireland.
All accommodation centres under contract to the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department are obliged to ensure that their premises comply with and operate in accordance with all relevant statutory requirements of local authorities in relation to planning, building, bye-laws, bedroom capacity, food, food hygiene, water supply, sewage disposal, fire precautions, and general safety.
More broadly, the rights of residents in RIA centres are, put simply, protected in three ways:
(a) RIA's House Rules and Procedures which set out the type and standard of service that an asylum seeker should expect whilst residing in direct provision accommodation. The Rules set out the entitlements and obligations placed on centre management and on residents and, in the event that these aren't being met, a complaints procedure to be invoked by either party. This complaints system is considered by RIA to be broadly in line with the guidelines set out by the Office of the Ombudsman for ‘internal complaints systems’.
(b) Over and above the House Rules themselves, the interests of asylum seekers are protected through regular 'clinics' in centres where residents can speak directly to RIA headquarters staff without local centre management being present.
(c) Inspections take place in centres, by RIA staff and by QTS, to ensure that centres are adhering to their contractual obligations. It cannot be emphasised enough that all inspections are unannounced. Inspections are not to be confused with ordinary day-to-day visits to centres by RIA staff in connection with operational, health or educational matters where management would know of their arrival in advance.