Written Answers. - Health Board Reports.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

110 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the findings of a report conducted for the women's health unit of the Eastern Regional Health Authority which found that many asylum seekers having babies here live in hostels so crowded that there is no space for a cot and that many do not have the use of a bath; the steps being taken to address these shortcomings in the level of accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27644/01]

The report to which the Deputy refers is an unpublished report which I understand to be in draft form conducted for the women's health unit of the Northern Area Health Board on behalf of the three area health boards in the eastern region. Neither my Department nor the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), which is responsible for meeting the accommodation needs of asylum seekers under the system of direct provision in place since April 2000, had any knowledge of the report prior to publication of elements of it in a newspaper article.

It appears that the findings of the report in respect of the provision of accommodation and other facilities for asylum seekers relates to the period prior to the commencement of direct provision when such matters were the responsibility of health boards. Accordingly, I am not in a position to comment on matters over which I have no responsibility or jurisdiction. I should also state for the sake of clarity that the reference in the report and in the subsequent newspaper article to unidentified accommodation used by the Department to accommodate refugees does not appear to be correct. One facility which comprises a complex of apartment blocks in Cork city was contracted in July 2000 by the RIA for accommodating asylum seekers. This facility, which is used principally for housing single and asylum seeker couples, has all appropriate facilities, including cots, for the very small number of infant children accommodated there.

As regards the general situation in regard to facilities in use by the RIA, the following is the position. To meet the accommodation and related needs of asylum seekers 76 accommodation centres together with nine reception centres located in 24 counties are in use by the RIA. Each property is inspected by officials from the RIA prior to its use and proprietors must sign a comprehensive memorandum of agreement drawn up by the RIA which stipulates the stringent requirements for the provision of accommodation and ancillary services to asylum seekers.

In the case of State owned properties such agreements are entered into with management companies. Under the terms of these agreements proprietors and management companies are required to ensure that the premises complies and operates in accordance with all statutory requirements of local authorities and other agencies in relation to planning, building by-laws, bedroom capacity, food, food hygiene, water supply, sewage disposal, fire precautions and general safety.

In circumstances where asylum seeker parents and their children are accommodated in centres operating under the aegis of the RIA, particular emphasis is placed on meeting their needs. It is the policy of the RIA that cots are provided in each reception and accommodation centre where infants are accommodated and that toilet and bathroom facilities are provided in accordance with relevant statutory requirements. In this regard, the memoranda of agreement stipulate that, at a minimum, in addition to cots, the following should be available – infant formula, infant food; access to fresh water (for the prep aration of infant formula), sterilises (sufficient for the number of infant children), kettles (for boiling water), fridges (for infant formula bottles) and microwave-bottle warmers. Tea, coffee and snacks are made available to residents outside of meal times and, where possible, mothers are facilitated in cooking for their children. In order to facilitate social interaction visitors are encouraged between 10 a.m and 10 p.m. each day. Bed linen is changed as required but is changed in any event at least on a weekly basis.
The inspectorate unit within the RIA conducts regular detailed inspections of each location where asylum seekers are accommodated and any diminution in standards which come to light as a result of such inspections are treated very seriously and can lead to termination of contracts where this is deemed to be warranted.