I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 92 together.
Accommodation centres are currently subject to regular unannounced inspections by both officials in the International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, and by an independent inspectorate company, QTS Limited. These inspections are generally undertaken twice yearly by my officials in IPAS and once yearly by QTS Limited.
Inspections cover a wide range of issues, including food quality, fire safety, appropriate signage and information for residents, as well as the condition of communal areas and sleeping quarters, adherence to hygiene and other health and safety measures. Completed inspections are published on the website www.ria.gov.ie.
Unfortunately, the current inspection programme was severely compromised by the Covid-19 pandemic after Christmas last year. However, I am pleased to report that QTS Limited was able to recommence inspections towards the end of February 2021. To date this year, QTS Limited has carried out 19 inspections. In 16 of these cases, the report of the inspection is due to be submitted to my Department shortly. In a further two cases, the Department is seeking responses from contractors on the findings of the reports. These reports will be published on the website to which I referred. One report is already published there.
During the level 5 restrictions, my Department continued to maintain direct contact with our centres and residents through regular newsletters, as well as through the availability of a helpdesk from IPAS. In addition, a freephone service, independently run by the Jesuit Refugee Service with funding from my Department, provides confidential support for residents.
My Department is engaging with HIQA to undertake the role of monitoring the services provided to those accommodated in our centres against national standards that were published in 2019. The national standards meet the requirements of the EU recast reception conditions directive which we voluntarily opted into in June 2018. It is intended that HIQA will begin this role shortly. A strong and transparent monitoring capacity is absolutely crucial to ensure the quality of services is maintained during the significant transformation process which will occur over the coming years in line with the White Paper on a new international support service which I published in February.
Now that level 5 restrictions have eased, my officials will shortly begin again to conduct inspections of all accommodation centres until such time as a formal agreement is completed with HIQA to take over this particular role.