Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Ceisteanna (7)

Jim O'Callaghan


7. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is satisfied with the level of security provided at current and future direct provision centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11964/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

This question relates to the recent fires at the Shannon Key West Hotel and the potential for events which could come to pass. Both these events were serious and represent a real and pressing danger for both the people working in the hotel and those in the wider community. If the hotel had been in use at the time, we would be dealing with a different set of circumstances and potentially a major tragedy. What security is in place at that and other direct provision centres around the country?

The accommodation and ancillary needs of persons seeking international protection, who request such services, are currently provided through 39 accommodation centres located throughout the State. Since the introduction of this system, all of the centres have been operated by commercial bodies regardless of whether the sites are in State ownership or private ownership. The commercial operators are responsible for the provision of security at these sites.

Contractors must work to achieve balance between addressing any possible security concerns, while also recognising that these accommodation centres provide a home to protection applicants. All centres operate a common visitor policy where all visitors must sign in upon arrival and are not permitted to go into private living quarters of residents. For safety and security reasons, most centres operate CCTV systems in accordance with general data protection regulations.

In general, the Reception and Integration Agency advises that where there is CCTV in operation, it should cover the following areas of an accommodation centre: the entrance gate and car park, if any, the main door and reception area, and all public areas. In respect of  future accommodation centres, contractors offering the premises are obliged to ensure that appropriate security is in place before it becomes operable as a centre accommodating persons seeking international protection. The recent fires at Rooskey and Moville were distressing and potentially tragic events. In both cases, security was present at the time of the fire. Following the recent fires, officials from the Reception and Integration Agency have been liaising with all current centre managers asking them to review their security arrangements. It is important to note that where accommodation centres operate, there are quite good relations with local communities and local community groups and, historically, the security risk to these centres is minimal. This only serves to reinforce that scaremongering about such centres is baseless. However, the RIA is also liaising directly with An Garda Síochána at a national level to discuss potential security risks to accommodation centres and how these risks should be addressed.

We know that the individuals who live in the centres face serious difficulties in their day-to-day lives in terms of access to education and work. Security provided to those people is the responsibility of the State. There is no alternative provider, nor do those within the direct provision system have recourse to addressing those security concerns through other measures so the responsibility falls on the State. Is the Minister putting any additional security in place at the centres to prevent further attacks? What is the required level of visible security at those locations to dissuade people who might be minded to attack the centres?

The message must go out that by attacking the centres one will not defer them opening as a reception centre for people who are seeking asylum or refugee status in this country. One cannot allow the people who are attacking the centres to win and get their way. I think we would all agree on that point.

I thank Deputy Niall Collins for tabling this important question. I condemn the attacks on the direct provision centres in Rooskey and Moville, which happened on multiple occasions in the case of the centre in Rooskey. There seems to be a clear intent to ensure the centres do not open. That is very likely motivated by a racist intent. I do not believe it is in any way reflective of the local community. It is very likely that those involved are from outside those communities. Is the Minister concerned about the possibility that those involved could in any way be linked to extremist or far-right activists of any kind, and that they might have any responsibility for the attacks?

Such attacks on potential centres for direct provision are abhorrent and condemned by all right-thinking members of society. I do not have the specific information requested by the Deputy. However, these issues are the subject of Garda investigations and it is following certain lines of inquiry.

The provision of security in these areas is, in the main, the responsibility of the owners or the contractors. It is important in this regard that the contractors work to achieve a balance between ensuring security concerns are adequately met but also recognising the fact that these accommodation centres are homes for applicants seeking protection and will remain so as their applications are processed.

As well as the private security arrangements, the obligations in terms of the protection of communities and people on the part of the Garda Síochána in Moville and Rooskey should be noted. There is a Garda station located 1 km from the Caiseal Mara hotel in Moville. There are two Garda stations in the vicinity of the Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey, one in Rooskey, County Roscommon, and one in Mohill, County Leitrim. I am sure the Garda in terms of protection and prevention is actively engaged in accordance with local needs.

The Minister stated these centres are run by contractors and operators. They are commercial bodies contracted to the State to carry out a service. He also stated they have to achieve a balance because the centres act as a home for the people who live in them.

The Minister will recall the case just before Christmas in the Knockalisheen accommodation centre on the outskirts of Limerick city when a lady, Donnah Vuma, was denied a slice of bread and a glass of milk for a sick child in the middle of the night. The operator-contractor ultimately apologised for how she was treated. Several days before the incident, the lady in question was asked to share a platform with the President, Michael D. Higgins, at an event to promote good relations with the immigrant community and integration. There is the dichotomy of her sharing a platform with the President on one particular day and then, at the reception centre, being denied a slice of bread and a glass of milk for a sick child because it was late at night. As well as having to provide security for people living in reception centres, is the Minister satisfied these contractors are treating people humanely and decently? This case highlighted a real fall in standards. Is the Minister happy it was just an isolated case or were there other cases of which we have not heard? We heard of this particular case because the lady in question communicated it to the public at large through Facebook and the media picked it up. Are there other cases like this that we need to be concerned about?

Every effort is made to ensure proper and adequate standards are in place in the centres. In this regard, I acknowledge the work in particular of retired judge, Bryan McMahon, and a small group of people who regularly engage in ensuring adequate and proper standards are met on all occasions at these centres and, similarly, in respect of the Reception and Integration Agency.

I understand in the particular case in question due contact was made. In all circumstances, every effort must be made to ensure standards do not lapse in these centres.

I acknowledge the challenge of direct provision and the combination for those seeking international protection and asylum seekers. The Department is again seeking expressions of interest to ensure we have appropriate centres at which standards are fully complied with.