My Department is responsible for offering accommodation and related services to international protection applicants while their claim for protection is being examined. These services are demand led and generally it is difficult to predict demand far in advance.
I am advised that as of 26 September 2019, 7,355 persons were being provided with accommodation by the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS, formerly the Reception and Integration Agency) of my Department.
Currently, there are 5,966 persons residing in the 38 accommodation centres located nationwide across 18 counties. As these centres are at full capacity, there are also a further 1,389 applicants residing in 34 emergency accommodation locations in hotels and guest houses.
Every effort is being made to re-accommodate applicants in emergency locations to a dedicated accommodation centre as quickly as possible. My Department is actively working on securing additional capacity, both in its existing centres and through sourcing new accommodation centres.
IPAS 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 to source new accommodation centres.
In relation to the length of time applicants spend in the international protection process, my Department has introduced a number of measures aimed at reducing the time taken to determine applications. The International Protection Act, 2015, introduced the single procedure process for the determination of protection applications.
Under the single procedure all elements of a person's protection claim (refugee status, subsidiary protection status and permission to remain) are considered together rather than sequentially. The aim of the single procedure is to help reduce waiting times significantly.
In addition, a number of other measures have and are being taken including increases in staffing levels at the International Protection Office (IPO). A new streamlined system for processing Safe Country of Origin (SCO) cases has been implemented and various process improvements have been made in the IPO and in the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT).
My Department is aiming to reduce processing times for first instance decisions to 9 months by the end of this year. An applicant who applies for international protection today can expect to receive a first instance recommendation/decision within approximately 15 months, provided that no complications arise. Prioritised cases are being processed in just under 9 months.
Prioritised applications include those from countries such as Syria and Eritrea and from especially vulnerable groups of applicants, such as unaccompanied minors.