I propose to take Questions Nos. 338 and 340 to 346, inclusive, together.
The premises accommodating international protection applicants at Miltown Malbay in Co Clare was contracted by my Department as temporary accommodation due to insufficient capacity within our accommodation portfolio. This situation continues with over 1,500 persons currently in emergency accommodation.
Temporary premises are contracted on short term rolling contracts and the current contract for the premises known as the Central Hostel runs up to and including 18 July 2020. As with all our temporary accommodation, the contract will be reviewed with respect to the overall capacity available within our accommodation portfolio. The contract for the premises is for 40 beds. It has a current occupancy of 19 single males, approximately 50% capacity, due to the social distancing measures we have implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As is the case with all our temporary accommodation, my Department contracts to meet an immediate need for accommodation places to provide the accommodation, food and other essential services that all international protection applicants are entitled to under our legal obligations. It is important to note that such accommodation premises are not Direct Provision accommodation centres. They are hotels and guesthouses that contract with the Department to provide accommodation and food on a short term basis. Therefore, my Department has not contracted the accommodation owner or the staff of the premises to provide additional services which require specific training.
Officials in the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) of my Department's Immigration Service Delivery function are in daily contact with the manager in Miltown Malbay and provide any assistance and guidance requested. Any complaints received from residents are raised by IPAS officials with management for their appropriate resolution.
The matter of a fire certificate for the premises is an issue for the relevant Local Authority. Any premises offering a commercial accommodation service is required to be in compliance with the relevant planning and health and safety requirements for such a building. However, I am advised that no issues have been identified in this regard.
With regard to communications received by my Department concerning conditions at the premises in Miltown Malbay, I can say that IPAS received a letter in early February this year from the Clare Immigrant Support Centre in respect of the accommodation. This was responded to and the issues addressed by an unannounced visit by my officials on 13 February. My Department also received correspondence from the Miltown Malbay Welcome Group on 25 May 2020. My Department has subsequently received numerous correspondence following on from that correspondence and subsequent media interest. Correspondence has been received from public representatives and private individuals, including individual letters and emails from members of the Welcome Group.
On 4 June 2020, officials from IPAS held a clinic via video call with residents of the centre. This was attended by 12 of the 19 residents. The clinic was held off-site in the Miltown Malbay Community Centre and was facilitated by a volunteer from the Limerick and Clare Educational Training Board (LCETB). Other than the residents and the facilitator, only the manager of the Community Centre and the caretaker were present onsite at the time.
Each resident attended their own clinic appointment in a separate room away from the facilitator and the manager of the Community Centre.
A small number of the residents who participated in the clinics stated that the food was not to their liking. The majority of residents who attended the clinic stated they were happy with the food and with the accommodation in general.
Following the clinics, an unannounced visit was made to the accommodation the next day (5 June 2020) by a senior official from my Department. During this visit, a number of issues raised in recent correspondence to my Office were investigated. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that no health and safety issues were identified during this visit during which all rooms were viewed.
Concerns had previously been raised with my Office around rodent activity on the premises and water leakage. I am advised that there was no evidence of any rodent activity or water leakage on the day my official visited. When questioned by my official on these matters, the owner confirmed that a resident had reported mice in his room in February. The owner engaged a pest control company who could not find any evidence of rodents. They subsequently monitored the room for three weeks and could not find any evidence of rodents. Regarding the water leakage, I am advised that the owner confirmed that an incident occurred some months ago where water was leaking from a bath/shower on the second floor into a bedroom on the first floor. It was reported to him by the residents in the room and he sought to engage a plumber. One of the residents said he was a plumber and asked if he could fix it. It was addressed within a few hours and no reoccurrence of the leakage has been reported since.
My official identified no concerns about the quality or variety of food available during their visit. Food is prepared onsite by a professional chef and all meat is Halal certified. Residents also have use of the kitchen for special occasions and regularly cook meals of their choice from food supplied by management. Arrangements were also made during Ramadan recently for residents to use the kitchen at night.
During the course of the unannounced visit by IPAS officials on 13 February last, they inspected all bedrooms and recreation rooms and the kitchen and dining facilities and they had lunch with the residents. I am advised that my officials did not find any major issues to report and the residents they spoke to did not raise any issues about the standard of the centre. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) also carried out a visit to the premises in February as part of a programme of visits to a variety of centres over a two week period. As an independent organisation there is no requirement for the IOM to provide my Department with a report of their activities. However, I can say that no specific issues were brought to my Department's attention regarding the premises arising from their visit.