I am pleased to have this opportunity to provide the Deputy with an update on the full range of measures that we, the HSE and centre management are taking to support residents and staff in Direct Provision accommodation at this time.
We are doing everything that we can to protect the health and welfare of our residents and centre staff as well as that of the wider community. We are working closely with the HSE in doing so, and while the HSE advice has evolved over time, we have been assured by both it and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer that our approach is appropriate.
All accommodation centres, including Ciuin House, are carefully following the guidelines for our centres that have been published by the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre, which can be found on its website www.hpsc.ie. That guidance exists precisely because it is recognised that congregated settings such as Direct Provision centres present specific challenges in this pandemic.
Shared bedrooms and communal living space are provided in numerous settings. Similar arrangements apply in homeless and disability services and, indeed, in private rented accommodation.
The direction from the HSE is that during the COVID crisis non-family members sharing a room in Direct Provision centres are considered to be a household. As such, they should implement social distancing measures from other households, i.e. residents in other rooms, and self-isolate if displaying symptoms or if directed by the HSE. In such instances, we provide facilities for self-isolation both on and off-site.
The established procedure across all Centres where a person is suspected of having the virus or is confirmed as having the virus, is that, where advised by Public Health, they are moved to a dedicated offsite self-isolation facility. Supports are available for the duration of their period of isolation until such time as the HSE considers that they can safely return to their centre. My Department has opened four dedicated self-isolation facilities for residents in Dublin, Cork and Limerick, and Dundalk, with a total capacity of 299 rooms. Residents in these facilities have their own bedroom and their own bathroom.
Since the start of the year over 1,550 permanent and temporary Direct Provision bed spaces have been procured, including the dedicated new centres opened in Rosslare Harbour, Caherciveen and Tullamore.
We have relocated over 600 residents to support social and physical distancing in centres and cocooning measures for the most vulnerable. By doing this, we have ensured that no more than three single people are sharing a room in any of our centres. We intend to continue this policy when the crisis is over.
All residents aged 65 or older and those advised to the Department as having a serious medical illness have been cocooned due to their particular vulnerability to this virus.
We are communicating directly with centre managers and residents via regular newsletters, which can also be found on our website www.accommodationcentres.ie. The newsletters have provided practical information on implementing social and physical distancing at this time and promoted shared learning and best practice across our network of centres. Residents have also been made aware of the need for good hand hygiene and coughing/sneezing etiquette. Information and posters have been distributed to all centres and translations of public health information have also been provided. With Ramadan underway, we have also prepared and circulated information for centre managers and residents with practical supports on observing Ramadan during the current COVID restrictions.
During this time, centre managers have also been advised to increase the standard and frequency of cleaning throughout the centres, paying particular attention to communal areas. A regular supply of hand sanitiser for centres is in place and this is distributed to centres as required. Other PPE is distributed, as needed, and in line with the HPSC guidelines for its appropriate use in residential settings.
In partnership with the HSE and Safetynet, my Department has put in place a national clinical telephone service to provide public health advice to support centre staff. It is also being used to advise, support and work with locations where vulnerable groups are present relating to the implementation of COVID-19 guidelines and measures.
Generally, residents of Centres are subject to the same current public health measures as the rest of the population, for example, the right to exercise within a 5km radius, attend medical appointments or to shop for food or other necessities as set out in Government guidelines. However, as with everyone else, where a public health issue arises, Public Health officials may advise that residents stay in their centre and restrict movement for a time while they monitor the situation.
Healthcare workers living in Direct Provision accommodation are eligible to apply for accommodation under the HSE’s Temporary Accommodation Scheme announced on 10 April 2020. We are actively encouraging all healthcare workers living in our centres to apply for this temporary accommodation for their protection and that of other centre residents and staff. We have provided information, forms and guidance. We have also asked the NGO community to support this initiative and to help to bring it to the attention of residents through their support networks.
I can assure the Deputy that my Department takes any complaints from residents very seriously and all residents are made fully aware of their ability to contact the Department at any time in confidence. If a complaint is not resolved to the satisfaction of the resident, they can also avail of the services of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children, as appropriate. If the Deputy wishes to raise any specific concerns regarding this particular centre with me, I would be happy to have my officials follow up.
In the meantime, the Deputy can be assured that my Department will continue to work closely with the HSE and centre management during this time to protect the health and safety of all residents and staff as a priority.