I thank the Minister of State for being in the Seanad.
I am raising an important issue relating to direct provision and the Government's commitment to ending the current system for the reception and integration of people seeking refuge here in Ireland from conflict and persecution. I commend the Minister of State for the work undertaken in this area to date, specifically in the preparation of the White Paper on ending direct provision, which was published in February of this year. We are all aware of the inadequacy of the current direct provision system which has, as the Government has acknowledged, failed to respect the dignity and human rights of individuals and families within the system. Any new system for reception and integration must address those deficiencies and ensure that the human rights and dignity of those seeking protection from conflict and persecution are upheld.
The Irish State has relied too heavily on the private sector for the provision of direct provision accommodation over the last 21 years and this overreliance has failed people who so desperately need our care and support. The White Paper is ambitious in many areas and it goes some distance in terms of addressing the inadequacy of the direct provision system. I welcome many of its contributions, including those relating to women's health and period poverty, providing access to financial support equivalent to child benefit for families, and ensuring greater protection for unaccompanied minors. I also welcome the White Paper’s commitment to ending shared intimate living for families and to providing greater privacy for individuals within the system of accommodation.
My concern relates to the tendering process for the provision of accommodation for individuals and families seeking protection and refuge in Ireland. The White Paper emphasises the role to be played by the not-for-profit sector in the provision of accommodation. However, it does not explicitly state how or when this will be achieved. We presently do not have a timetable for the implementation of the new tendering process, nor are we aware of the steps which will be involved in the process for interested parties. My fear is that without a clear timeline and roadmap as to how this process will be implemented, not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises will be placed at a disadvantage in the tendering process.
Entering a submission for a tender is an expensive, time-consuming and risky process and not-for-profits and social enterprises are, by nature, less well-resourced than for-profit entities and more risk averse. As a result, my concern is that the new multistrand system for the provision of accommodation will ultimately favour for-profit enterprises, leaving us in a situation where the dignity and human rights of vulnerable people continue to be disrespected for the sake of profit.
I ask that the Minister of State provides an update regarding the timeline for implementation of the multistrand system for the provision of accommodation, and clarifies which strands are likely to be available at different stages throughout the implementation of the White Paper. I ask the Minister of State to outline the progress made in terms of the new procurement process and the steps involved for interested parties, if possible, at this stage. Traditionally competitive tendering processes are best suited to the private sector and in other instances, non-profit organisations have entered into service-level agreements with State bodies, such as the HSE and Tusla, to facilitate their involvement in provision of services. Has the Minister of State explored a service level agreement, SLA, process, rather than a tendering process? Additionally, I ask if the Department has considered the possibility of piloting a not-for-profit-owned or accommodation scheme while the implementation of the White Paper is under way? In implementing a pilot model, a not-for-profit or social enterprise could demonstrate the immediate viability of a better standard of care for those seeking refuge here in Ireland. We do not have to wait until 2024 to demonstrate that an alternative to the current model exists. I would encourage the Minister of State to consider this, if the Department has not already done so. While the promised winding down of the current system for reception and integration by 2024 is a welcome commitment, it is too far away for those individuals and families whose dignity and human rights are being pushed to their limits in direct provision today.