It is important to emphasise that all Departments and their agencies involved in the delivery of services and supports to applicants have a role to play in identifying and addressing the needs of applicants who present as vulnerable. This is particularly the case where vulnerabilities may only be disclosed or become evident after the initial stage of the protection process.
In June 2018, Ireland opted into the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive. This Directive lays down the standards for the reception of international protection applicants. Article 21 of the Directive requires Member States, in implementing the Directive, to take into account the specific situation of vulnerable persons, and Article 22 provides for the assessment of the special reception needs of vulnerable persons. The Article also sets out that the assessment need not take the form of an administrative procedure. For the purposes of the Directive and Regulation 8 of the 2018 transposing Regulations, vulnerable persons include minors, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents, victims of human trafficking, persons with serious illnesses, persons with mental disorders and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, such as victims of female genital mutilation.
My Department is continually reviewing how to improve services to applicants and my officials are currently examining the options available to improve the procedure for the identification and assessment of those applicants deemed to be vulnerable in accordance with Article 21 of the Reception Conditions Directive.
To assist in determining how best we can meet the health and related needs of applicants, the HSE National Office for Social Inclusion has recently commissioned research to explore the concept of vulnerability with a view to further improving our existing processes. I look forward to the outcome of this research.
With regard to current procedures, every applicant has an initial interview conducted when they first attend the International Protection Office in Dublin. If the applicant indicates that they require accommodation , he or she will then be assessed for any specific reception needs. The result of the assessment is taken into account when assigning accommodation to the individual.
Applicants are also invited for an initial health assessment on a voluntary basis. A Health Screening Team, which is funded and managed by the HSE, is located onsite at the Balseskin Reception Centre for this purpose. The team comprises of GPs, a Medical Officer, a Clinical Nurse Specialist and two nurses, a primary care social worker, two primary care psychologists and clerical/administration support. The team offers a range of individual services and screening for medical and psychosocial needs and makes onward referrals for any further treatment required. These health professionals communicate with my officials in the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS - formerly RIA), within the bounds of patient confidentiality, if a particular need is identified that will impact the person's accommodation requirements. In the coming weeks, a new primary care facility will be opening in Balseskin, which will enable the health care team to provide their services in a facility that is to the standard of all new HSE primary care facilities.
In addition, arrangements are in place with Safetynet, who carry out health screening in various parts of the country on behalf of the HSE, to offer the screening service to those who do not, for whatever reason, avail of it in Dublin. Staff from Safetynet liaise with the IPAS if the person is deemed vulnerable on medical or related grounds. This can include a request that special arrangements should be taken regarding the assignment of the person's accommodation, for example if they need to be located near a particular hospital.