Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Questions (276)

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

276. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on a report (details supplied) calling for the abolition of direct provision due to the impact it has on children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53196/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am aware of the report published last week by the Paediatric Faculty of the Royal College of Physicians Ireland. It is being carefully considered by my officials.

The system of Direct Provision refers to the suite of State services and supports that are provided by a range of government departments and agencies to persons seeking international protection status.  It includes provision of medical cards, an exemption from prescription charges, access to education for children, a weekly payment, access to Exceptional Needs Payments, when required, and, of course, ensuring that all basic needs are met, like accommodation and food.  

It is important to say that the system of providing supports and services to asylum seekers has been radically reformed in recent years.  Justice Bryan McMahon, whose report in 2015 has been the basis for introducing improvements to the system, has noted that system has improved considerably over what it was 5 years ago.

The Paediatric Faculty's report recommends that families be provided with own-door accommodation and access to self-catering facilities.  I can inform the Deputy that a key part of our procurement process for accommodation centres, which has been underway across the country in the past few months, is provision for independent living with access to cooking facilities for all. It is a central theme of the new National Standards for accommodation centres which Minister Flanagan and I launched in August.  Indeed,  in recent weeks we have seen some new accommodation centres open in Borrisokane and Ballinamore where families seeking international protection have been provided with own-door, self-catering accommodation in accordance with the new National Standards. 

The new Standards also contain specific actions to improve the lives of children in accommodation centres.  Children and their parents or guardians living in accommodation centres have access to the services of the Ombudsman for Children. They are also supported by the Child Protection Policies that we have put in place in the centres.  In addition, we have a Tusla official seconded to my Department to work with our  International Protection Accommodation Service. This ensures that any child protection issues are swiftly followed up and that the process for referrals is as streamlined as possible.

However, I must say that the call made in the report for the abolition of the current system of providing shelter and support for international protection applicants immediately upon their arrival in the State is not a realistic one without also suggesting a credible or viable alternative.   Indeed the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality report on Direct Provision and the International Protection Application Process published earlier this month noted that there was no clear consensus as to what alternatives could or ought to replace the current system. That report also acknowledged that any new system of reception and accommodation will need time to ensure the right system is put in place.  

The changes we are introducing to the system mean that our reception system compares favourably with what is provided in other EU Member States. This was noted only last month by the new Head of the International Organisation for Migration in Ireland. 

Notwithstanding that, an expert group independently chaired by Dr. Catherine Day, the former Secretary General of the European Commission, is currently examining the possible longer-term approaches to accommodation provision and is looking at best practice in other jurisdictions.