I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 44, 74, 77 and 82 together.
Earlier this year, I published a White Paper to end direct provision and establish a new international protection support service. Since then, my Department has taken a series of steps to implement these reforms, with a view to completing them by the end of 2024.
A staff team has been established in my Department to lead the transition to the new model. Ending direct provision and putting in place the new system, with its focus on human rights, not-for-profit delivery, and integration from day one, requires a whole-of-government approach. My Department is therefore working closely with key stakeholders across government to plan, design, and implement the changes described in the White Paper.
I have appointed a programme board, including officials from relevant Departments and agencies, and independent members, to oversee the transition. The board has met four times since its establishment and its next meeting is scheduled for 16 December.
I have appointed a three-person external advisory group whose role is that of independent observer of the implementation of the new policy. Through its work, this group will help to build confidence in the reform programme among all stakeholders. This group has already met twice, most recently on 19 November.
As stated in the White Paper, I intend to have the new system of supports and accommodation for international protection applicants operational by December 2024. This means we are working to end the use of all centres that do not meet the requirements for own-door and own-room accommodation by this time.
We have made good progress on this objective to date. Working with the Housing Agency, my Department has begun to acquire the accommodation needed to implement the White Paper reforms. We are prioritising the acquisition of accommodation for phase 2 — that is, after people have completed their initial four months in a reception and integration centre and move into the community — and are now acquiring properties in this regard. We are planning for the process of moving the first applicants into this accommodation to begin in 2022 and for it to accelerate over the following years as more properties come on stream.
Working with the housing experts on the programme board, my Department is developing an ownership model for the accommodation, in addition to a funding model to enable approved housing bodies and other not-for-profit organisations to act as our delivery partners. A subcommittee of the programme board is finalising a policy approach concerning the ownership model. An allocation key to determine the spread of this accommodation across all counties has been agreed by local authorities and is being used to determine where properties should be acquired.
With respect to integration, the House will be aware that the White Paper commits to the principle of “integration from day one” for all international protection applicants. My Department is currently developing the detailed policy required to meet this commitment. Integration supports will be delivered during both phase 1 and phase 2 of the new model. My Department is working with local authorities to develop a system of integration supports.
A nationwide network of integration support workers will help to deliver these supports, building on the current model established under the Irish refugee protection programme. Applicants will also have access to integration supports delivered by service providers at a local level through interagency working groups co-ordinated by the relevant local authority.
When living in the community, applicants will receive an international protection support payment to enable them to meet their needs. A child payment will also be provided. A detailed policy on the international protection support payments is being developed by my Department. The draft policy was submitted to the programme board for review on 21 October 2021.
It will take time to end direct provision and replace it with a new and very different system of accommodation and supports, grounded in human rights and delivered on a not-for-profit basis. However, work to develop the new model is well under way and I am fully committed to implementing the model by December 2024.