I can advise the Deputy that 25 private companies have a contract for services with my Department to provide premises that meet required standards and support services for protection applicants. Two of these companies are contracted to provide management, catering, housekeeping and general maintenance services in state owned accommodation centres.
It is important to note that the Direct Provision system is not just about accommodation. It is a whole of Government system which delivers a wide range of State services to those seeking international protection in Ireland. These services include health services as provided by the HSE, education services as provided by the State's primary and post-primary schools and, for adult education, the Education and Training Boards across the country.
My Department's role is to oversee the provision of accommodation and ancillary services to persons seeking international protection. The International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) of my Department links vulnerable and at risk persons with the appropriate services. The IPAS acts as a conduit between residents, staff at accommodation centres, state agencies including TUSLA, the HSE and education services.
Since 2018, all contracts for the provision of accommodation services are awarded through an open tendering competition which complies with EU Directive 24/2014 and are conducted in accordance with the open procedure under the European Union (Award of Public Authority Contracts) Regulations 2016 (Statutory Instrument 284 of 2016). The tenders submitted are assessed on the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (MEAT) criteria, which enables the contracting authority to take account of criteria that reflect qualitative aspects of the tender submission as well as price when reaching an award decision. In the procurement competition, tenderers are required to demonstrate a track record of high quality service delivery and customer care. Service providers are required, as part of the assessment process, to include in their staffing proposal details of qualifications or experience in social care in order to assess their expertise in dealing with vulnerable and at risk persons.
The specifications for bids to be considered under the tendering process requires successful bidders to deliver independent living (cooking facilities for residents and designated living space for families) and to implement proposals to meet the social care needs of residents. These proposals must outline how the bid will provide social supports to residents and how the recreational, cultural and community needs of residents can be met.
It is the aim of my Department that tendering for such facilities ensures that quality accommodation centres can be procured while ensuring value for money for the Exchequer.
The standards of service delivered are constantly being improved. The reforms pursued and implemented by my Department over the past five years have radically overhauled the initial model. The implementation of the McMahon report recommendations, the opting in to the obligations set out in the EU Recast Reception Conditions Directive and the new rolling out of standards designed with NGOs have brought about real and valuable improvements. My officials continue to work with centre operators to provide a high standard of service delivery and care to persons seeking international protection.
The provision of these services is kept under review and the Deputy will be interested to note that a High Level Interdepartmental Group established and chaired by my Department has been tasked with ensuring better coordination of provision of services and meeting needs in the short to medium term. An Advisory Group has also been established by my Department and it is chaired by the former Secretary General of the European Commission, Dr. Catherine Day. This Group will advise on the development of a long-term approach to the provision of support including accommodation to persons in the international protection process.