I propose to take Questions Nos. 959 to 967, inclusive, together.
I note that the Deputy has asked a number of questions in relation to the provision of services to persons seeking international protection who are currently resident in emergency accommodation.
It is important to note that the premises currently being used by the Department as emergency accommodation are not direct provision centres, temporary or otherwise. In order to meet the rising demand for accommodation spaces and due to insufficient capacity within the Reception and Integration Agency's (RIA) accommodation portfolio, advertisements were placed in the national press seeking expressions of interest from hotels and guesthouses for the provision of bed and board on a short term basis for persons in the protection process. Contracts are usually for between 3 to 6 months.
My Department is working to identify additional capacity within its accommodation portfolio so that the use of emergency accommodation will be reduced and ended, if possible by the end of this year through a public procurement process. This process which commenced in late 2018 and is scheduled to conclude in 2020 is a series of regional procurement competitions through the Government's procurement portal www.etenders.gov.ie.
The contractual obligation on the providers of emergency accommodation is for the provision of bed spaces and the provision of breakfast, lunch and dinner. The majority of premises are able to provide on-site laundry facilities. It is important to note that often, RIA does not have exclusive use of the premises. Many of our emergency accommodation providers are operating commercially as hotels and guesthouses concurrently with providing RIA with accommodation.
In respect of the provision of food, providers are contracted to provide full board (breakfast, lunch and dinner). While halal food is not required by all our residents, we are working with providers to encourage them to provide halal food where requested and to provide culturally appropriate, healthy food to residents.
In relation to Garda vetting and child protection, statutory obligations on employers in relation to Garda vetting requirements for persons working with children and vulnerable adults are set out in the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012–2016. Under these Acts, it is compulsory for employers to obtain vetting disclosures in relation to anyone who is carrying out relevant work with children or vulnerable adults. The Acts create offences and penalties for persons who fail to comply with its provisions.
As these emergency locations are required at very short notice to meet a demand that is determined by spontaneous arrivals in the State, they are opened at short notice. RIA liaise with the relevant partner agencies such as the HSE, Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Employment and Social Protection regarding the local roll-out of required services to residents.
Some providers for reasons of commercial sensitivity request that their locations are not made public. RIA has to respect that request.
I understand that residents in emergency accommodation can meet visitors in communal areas within the hotels and guesthouses. As is the case in direct provision centres, there are restrictions in visitors being allowed into bedrooms in order to protect other guests' privacy and for child protection reasons.
There is no contractual obligation on providers in respect of nappies, baby hygiene products or feminine hygiene products. However, residents are in receipt of the daily allowance payment and have access to community welfare officers where exceptional needs payments are required. That notwithstanding, emergency accommodation providers have been informed by RIA that in any instance where a resident needs nappies, baby hygiene products or feminine hygiene products, they should be provided to the resident and RIA will refund the cost directly to the provider.
I would reiterate that the emergency accommodation centres being used are not Direct Provision Centres and that RIA are contracting the provision of bed and board only to persons in the protection process. RIA staff work closely with staff in emergency accommodation to address any issue that may arise. In addition, RIA has contracted with the Jesuit Refugee Service to provide a Cultural Liaison Visiting Service to emergency locations in the Dublin area who will provide a vital link between residents and the Department in respect of identifying issues that any resident may encounter. RIA has sought proposals from various NGOs for the Monaghan/Cavan area for this service and requests for proposals from NGOs will be sought to cover the rest of the country.