In August 2019, the National Standards for accommodation offered to people in the international protection process were published by my Department.
The Standards were prepared by an Advisory Group, established in 2017 and comprising officials from my Department, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the HSE National Office for Social Inclusion as well as representatives from AkiDwA, the Children's Rights Alliance, the Core Group of Asylum Seekers and Refugees, the Jesuit Refugee Service, SPIRASI, and UNHCR Ireland.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) also provided guidance during that process on how to develop high quality implementable standards in Direct Provision accommodation.
The agreed Standards will come into force in January 2021 and the plan is that the new inspection regime will be rolled out on an incremental basis with effect from that date.
The policy on how the new inspection process will operate, in accordance with the Standards, has yet to be finalised including the determination of who will undertake the inspection process. This will be a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration to take forward following the Transfer of Functions to his Department.
Currently, all permanent accommodation centres under contract to my Department are subject to three unannounced inspections per year. Twice by officials of the Immigration Service of my Department and once by an independent company (QTS Limited). Inspections cover a wide range of issues including fire safety and other health and safety issues.
Any issue identified during an inspection is communicated in writing to the contractor and the contractor is required to address any issue identified immediately. Officials from the Immigration Service follow up to ensure that relevant issues have been addressed.
As a result of health and safety restrictions with respect to the COVID-19 crisis, it had not been possible to date to carry out inspections at this time. I am pleased to say that the independent inspector, QTS Limited, has indicated they are in a position to commence inspections within the next two weeks. It is also intended that the inspections team in my Department will re-commence inspections in the coming weeks. All necessary safeguards for inspectors, residents and staff in accommodation centres will be in place to ensure that the welfare and safety of all continue to be protected.