As the Deputy will be aware, the State has a legal obligation to offer accommodation, food, a range of other services (including utilities, healthcare etc.) and a weekly allowance to any person who claims a right to international protection in Ireland while their legal claim is being examined.
The number of applications for international protection has been steadily increasing and is up by 36% since the start of the year. To meet the associated increased demand for accommodation, my Department has initiated two processes to source additional accommodation. It has sought expressions of interest from parties who would be interested in providing accommodation and related services to people in the international protection process and has also launched a nationwide, regional tendering process.
Following the most recent tender process, an evaluation of offers is underway. I am advised that no decision has been taken as yet in relation to accommodation in the Western region for which eight bids were received. Therefore it would be inappropriate for me to comment further while the evaluation process is ongoing. When the evaluation and other commercially sensitive aspects of the process are completed, the Department will begin engagement with local communities and their political representatives. I am not in a position at present to say when the evaluation process will conclude.
I appreciate that local communities have many questions when they hear that a centre may be opening in their area. We already have a network of 38 centres across 18 counties. In all cases, there is positive engagement between residents and local communities including through the Friends of the Centre Groups. These Groups promote integration across the communities and are a valuable support to residents and to centre managers and staff.
In terms of local services and supports, once it is confirmed that an accommodation centre is opening in an area, my Department links in with the other State service providers to ensure that all the necessary supports are put in place. Where GP lists are full, the HSE will arrange for access to GPs who have availability in the surrounding area. The Department of Education and Skills ensures access to schools for children and, if required, school transport. Children also have access to the free pre-school scheme, the Early Childhood Care and Education programme. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection provides a weekly personal allowance to each resident and covers any exceptional needs. The system operates under a whole-of-Government approach to ensure the best outcomes for residents and for local communities.