Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Questions (13)

Fiona O'Loughlin


13. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to address the number of persons living in direct provision centres; his further plans to cease using hotels as emergency centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47798/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, the State has a legal obligation to offer accommodation, food and a range of other services (including utilities and healthcare etc.) to any person who claims a right to international protection in Ireland while their legal claim is being examined. These services are demand led and generally it is difficult to predict demand far in advance.

I am advised that as of 10 November 2019, there were 6,052 persons being provided with accommodation by my Department in the 39 accommodation centres located nationwide.

Due to an unexpected rise in applications (up 60% to date this year), these centres are at full capacity, therefore a further 1,523 persons are residing in 37 emergency accommodation locations in hotels and guest houses. Every effort is being made to re-accommodate applicants in emergency locations to a dedicated accommodation centre as quickly as possible.

To meet the associated increase in demand for accommodation, my Department has initiated two processes to source additional accommodation.

Firstly, we have sought expressions of interest from parties who would be interested in providing accommodation and related services to people in the international protection process. Premises assessed as suitable under this process may be offered a short-term contract (usually one year).

Secondly, we have run procurement competitions through the Government's procurement portal, Etenders, on a regional basis throughout the country to procure accommodation. These contracts will be longer term with a minimum contract duration of 2 years on offer and a maximum contract duration of 4 years. 

My Department is committed to reducing the length of time applicants spend in the international protection process, and has introduced a number of measures aimed at achieving this.

The International Protection Act, 2015, introduced the single procedure process for the determination of protection applications. The aim of the single procedure process is to help reduce waiting times significantly by considering all elements of a person's protection claim together, rather than sequentially.

In addition, a number of other measures have and are being taken including increases in staffing levels at the International Protection Office (IPO) and a new streamlined system for processing Safe Country of Origin (SCO) cases.

An applicant who applies for international protection today can expect to receive a first instance recommendation/decision within approximately 15 months, provided no complications arise. Prioritised cases are being processed in just under 9 months. Prioritised applications include those from countries such as Syria and Eritrea and from especially vulnerable groups of applicants, such as unaccompanied minors. My Department is working hard to try to achieve target of 9 month in the vast majority of cases.

I can also say that my Department has, in conjunction with a number of charities and NGOs who were awarded funding for projects, assisted a total of 675 people to transit from state provided accommodation to permanent homes in the community. This figure relates to the period from the beginning of the year to the end of October.

My Department also secured an additional €1m in Budget 2020 for  Immigration Service Delivery which includes provision for additional staffing to fast-track applications thus reducing pressure on Direct Provision.