I can inform the Deputy that I met recently with the organisation referred to in the Deputy's question shortly after the publication of their report, which we discussed thoroughly. They raised several issues with me, including the issues around vulnerability assessments and accommodation standards. They also raised concerns about emergency accommodation and I share those concerns. We are appreciative of their insights and advice in these matters.
The inter-departmental taskforce to which the Deputy refers ceased to function once it achieved its goal of a successful opt-in for Ireland to the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018. As a result of the State’s opt-in to the Regulations, we now have a legal obligation to offer accommodation, food and a range of other services (including meals, utilities, healthcare etc.) and allowances to any person who claims a right to international protection in Ireland while their legal claim is being examined. As of 22 September 2019, the Department is accommodating 6,014 people in its 38 accommodation centres and 1,379 people in 33 emergency accommodation locations.
A High Level Interdepartmental Group has been established in my Department, chaired at a senior level, to review the system.
To complement the work being undertaken by the Inter-Departmental Group, an Advisory Group is being established, chaired by Catherine Day. The Group will look at longer term approaches to providing supports to persons in the protection process and will include experienced former public servants and representatives from the NGO community. The Advisory Group will begin its work later this month.
A whole-of-Government approach to direct provision means that several Government Departments and Agencies work closely together to ensure the necessary supports and services are provided to residents in direct provision. The Department of Justice and Equality offers accommodation and related services. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection pays a weekly personal allowance to each resident and covers any exceptional needs. The Department of Education and Skills provides school places for children resident in the centres and children also have access to the free pre-school scheme, the Early Childhood Care and Education programme. The HSE provides mainstreamed health services to residents.
Since the introduction of the Regulations, significant improvements have been made to the Direct Provision system including an increase to the daily expenses allowance for residents, granting access to the Labour Market – since its introduction in July 2018, the immigration service has granted 3,100 permissions to residents living in our international protection accommodation services.
Further targeted improvements include the rollout of the National Standards which were published on 15 August 2019. The National Standards provide a framework for the continual development of services and supports for residents by improving the quality of care and ensuring consistency across the centres. The Immigration Service of my Department inform me that the aim is to have all residents in commercial centres benefitting from independent living (cooking facilities and onsite food hall) by the middle of 2020.
The implementation of the Standards, along with the continual rollout of independent living across the centres will significantly enhance the lives of all applicants and in particular families and children.