Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Questions (49)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

49. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans for upgrading refugee centres nationally. [26666/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

These improvements follow on from the recommendations made by Justice Bryan McMahon in 2014.

Some significant improvements to living conditions for applicants for international protection have already been implemented. These include the implementation of self or communal catering arrangements in a number of accommodation centres. As of the end of May 2019 2,395 residents across 11 centres have access to a Food Hall and cooking facilities operating under the Agency’s Independent Living Model. Independent Living is a system where residents can obtain food, toiletries and other products for personal use from a dedicated Food Hall in the centre using a cashless points system. The residents then cook any food purchased in the cooking facilities available in the centre. An additional ten other centres offer cooking facilities to a further 1,416 residents, but the residents must provide the food themselves. At present, 3,811 residents, or 57% of persons availing of accommodation, have access to cooking facilities and are no longer under the Direct Provision model as originally developed and further progress will be made in this area this year.

In addition, there have been significant improvements to recreation opportunities. Friends of the Centre groups have also been established in each centre. This initiative aims to bring residents, community and voluntary groups together with a view to increasing integration opportunities and providing for the development of greater community linkages with the residents and the centre.

In order to meet the accommodation needs in the longer term, the Department has recently commenced a public procurement exercise under which public tenders for the provision of accommodation and ancillary services to persons in the protection process, by way of the independent living model, are being advertised. This process is scheduled to continue throughout 2019 and is due for completion in 2020. This will be delivered via a series of regional competitions to cover the entire State. Under this competition, all successful bids must provide residents with the option of preparing their own meals as part of their proposal.

In addition, all successful bidders under the tender process must provide designated living room space for families only to allow them to carry out the normal experience of family life outside of their sleeping quarters and provide as part of their bid an implementation plan to meet the social care needs of residents.

In parallel with the public procurement process which will see all commercially owned accommodation centres provide independent living, my Department is also in discussions with the Office of Public Works to progress the introduction of independent living in the state owned centres at Knockalisheen, Co. Clare, Kinsale Road, Cork, Atlas House and Johnston Marina in Tralee, Co. Kerry and Atlas House and Park Lodge in Killarney, Co. Kerry. Independent Living has already been implemented in the remaining state owned centre in Athlone, Co. Westmeath.

Following the McMahon Report, a Standards Advisory Group was set up in 2017. The work of this group is to build on the recommendations of that Report and to develop a set of standards for accommodation provided for those people seeking the protection of the State. The Standards will meet the standards set out in the Recast Reception Conditions Directive and EASO Guidance on Reception Conditions. Operational Standards and Indicators will also take account of national developments in the provision of services to those in the protection process. They will take due cognisance of the responsibility to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of employees, customers, service users and everyone affected by policies and plans as defined by the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty. The timeline for implementation of the Standards is by January 2021.

When allied with significant changes to the time taken by applicants in the international protection process and these improvements, such as granting access to the services of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children, when fully implemented, I wish to assure the Deputy that the Department is putting in place a number of measures which will substantially improve the experiences of those using our accommodation centres.