Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Questions (38)

Fiona O'Loughlin


38. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if a hotel (details supplied) in County Laois is being used for persons in direct provision; if not; if there are plans to make the hotel a direct provision centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26828/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

Portarlington is a town familiar to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, as it is within his constituency. It is a fine town with a fine community, although lacking in industry since the Avon Arlington factory closed down. The concern here relates to the East End Hotel. It is the only hotel in Portarlington. Recently, there have been rumours - nothing has been verified - that it has been turned into a direct provision centre. The people from Portarlington are not against that but there are concerns that there has been no consultation and they need clarity on the situation.

Since September 2018, the Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, has arranged for the provision of emergency beds where mainstream accommodation centres are at capacity. As of 16 June 2019, a total of 817 applicants were staying in 25 emergency centres.

The locations being used for the provision of emergency accommodation have been selected by means of a call for expressions of interest from hotels and guest houses advertised in the national press.

I wish to confirm that the hotel in question is being used for emergency accommodation and is not a direct provision centre. My Department is working to identify additional capacity within its accommodation portfolio in order that the use of emergency accommodation will be reduced and ended, if possible, by the end of this year.

As part of the regional procurement process that RIA is rolling out in 2019, a competition for the mid-east region, which covers counties Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow, will be advertised in the third quarter of this year seeking the provision of accommodation and ancillary services for persons seeking international protection. It would be premature to speculate at this stage what properties will be offered to the Department under this process.

I thank the Minister of State for the clarification. That is appreciated. The issue remains about the lack of consultation, including consultation with local general practitioners, GPs, and local schools on the extra supports and resources that may be needed. I would appreciate if the Minister of State could give me the date from which the emergency accommodation started operating. How long the contract is for? How long does the Minister of State expect the hotel to be used by the Department?

I accept what the Minister of State has said about a competition for plans for a new direct provision centre in the mid-east area. However, the mid-east does not include County Laois. It covers Kildare, Wicklow and Meath, as the Minister of State is aware. Will there be another competition within the midlands region? I would appreciate if the Minister of State could come back to me on that point.

To meet the demand for accommodation by protection applicants, in January 2019 the Department published a call for expressions of interest from short-term accommodation providers, including commercial hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfast accommodation facilities, to obtain such accommodation on the open market. Emergency accommodation is sourced on an ongoing emergency basis, meaning it is not possible to offer prior engagement with communities, unfortunately. Four regions are currently under assessment by the Department in conjunction with the Office of Government Procurement. These regions include the south east, the midlands, the mid-west and the south west. Once completed, four more competitions are due to be advertised this year in the west, mid-east, Dublin and Border regions. I can get further information to the Deputy in more detail later by written correspondence, if she requires more.

I am keen for that because I asked for the date on which people came into the East End Hotel and I asked for the duration of the contract. I have not received that information from the Minister of State. I would like to have that. I would appreciate it. I accept that it is emergency accommodation but obviously it does not simply happen overnight. There is a period or a gap when consultation could be carried out with local GPs and schools to discuss supports that may be needed. As I said, people from Portarlington are not against supporting people in their absolute hour of need but it is the apparent secrecy with which this was carried out that has been the greatest source of problems. Certainly, I would appreciate if the Minister of State would contact me with information on those specific dates.

I wish to point out that the State has a legal obligation to provide reception conditions to applicants for international protection, including, where requested, bed and board. The use of emergency accommodation is an interim measure while the Reception and Integration Agency seeks to assist those with status - we have over 700 with status - in assessing mainstream housing in partnership with NGOs such as Depaul and the Peter McVerry Trust on a pilot basis.

We are endeavouring to end emergency accommodation. We are working hard to assist the more than 700 people who have status to move out of the accommodation centres, which will free up those beds. I do not have the date on which this started but it is done on an emergency basis. The RIA contracts beds as they become necessary and as the demand arises. It is demand-led and, unfortunately, that is the position we are in.