The Report of the Working Group to Report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and Supports to Asylum Seekers, also known as the Justice McMahon Report, was published in June 2015. Its 173 recommendations have implications for a number of Government Departments and services.
My Department has published three progress reports on the implementation of the recommendations; the first in June 2016, the second in February 2017 and a third and final report in July of 2017. All three reports are available to view on my Department's website www.justice.ie. The final progress report shows that 133 recommendations have been reported as fully implemented and a further 36 are in progress or partially implemented. This represents a 98% full or partial implementation rate.
While I do not propose to go through the recommendations in detail, I would like to note some important developments in some areas relevant to my Department:
The key recommendation underpinning the Justice McMahon Report was to address the length of time taken to process applications, which can lead to long stays in State provided accommodation. With the commencement of the International Protection Act 2015 on 31 December 2016, we now have a single application procedure. This is the biggest reform to our protection process in two decades. It means that an applicant has all aspects of their claim (refugee status, subsidiary protection status, and permission to remain), examined and determined in one process. The aim is to provide first instance decisions in the shortest possible timeframe.
It has also been noted by a number of commentators, including Justice McMahon himself, that substantial improvements have been made to the Direct Provision system in recent years. Over half of all residents now having access to cooking facilities. It remains my Department’s target that all centres will be capable of providing independent living facilities by the end of next year. Since the publication of the Report, we have more than doubled the weekly allowance for children. Since 25 March 2019, the weekly payments for applicants living in accommodation centres rose to €38.80 per week for adults and €29.80 per week for children.
Residents of accommodation centres may now directly access the services of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children and information on this right is made available to all residents.
In August, Minister Flanagan and I published new National Standards for accommodation centres. These Standards were developed through an Advisory Group including representatives from UNHCR Ireland and the NGO sector. The Standards will come into force in January 2021 and will address a range of themes including accommodation; food and catering; individual, community and family life; health and well-being; governance; and meeting the special reception needs of applicants. These reforms build on the work done in the McMahon Report and meet the requirements of the EU Recast Reception Conditions Directive (Directive 2013/33/EU) which we voluntarily opted into last year.
Access to the labour market has been introduced for eligible applicants. Since its introduction, over 3,400 labour market access permissions have been granted including over 2,500 permissions to residents living in accommodation centres.
Improvements continue to be implemented across the facilities and services provided to those in the protection process and this work will continue. A High Level Interdepartmental Group chaired by my Department has been established, tasked with ensuring better coordination of the provision of services and with meeting the needs of applicants in the short to medium term. In addition, an Advisory Group chaired by the former Secretary General of the European Commission, Dr. Catherine Day has also been established. This Group will advise on the development of a long-term approach to the provision of supports including accommodation to people in the international protection process.