The Direct Provision system has provided accommodation, food, healthcare and other essential needs for more than 65,000 people since its inception some twenty years ago. While it ensures that these basic needs are met, the intervening years have shown that people claiming international protection need a system that is responsive to their individual needs and that fully respects their right to privacy and family life.
A number of important reforms have been introduced in recent years under my predecessors, most notably the roll-out of cooking facilities across centres to support independent living; the introduction of labour market access to foster greater economic independence; and the agreement of National Standards to promote consistency in services and standards across centres. Currently we impress upon all our service providers to upgrade their facilities to independent living in line with the National Standards. The Department commenced a tender process in late 2018 to source suitable premises for the provision of accommodation services. As a result, a number of regional tender competitions have been advertised, assessed and awarded. The competitions were held for the South East, Midlands, Mid-West, South-West, Mid-East, West, Dublin and the Border Regions. Any new contract awarded will be required to meet these new national standards. Discussions are ongoing with the OPW in relation to State centres and the requirement that they meet the these new National Standards.
More needs to be done. The Government has committed to ending the current system of Direct Provision within the lifetime of the Government and to replacing it with a new international protection accommodation policy, centred on a not-for-profit approach.
Responsibility for the accommodation system is transferring from my Department to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and officials from both Departments are making the necessary arrangements to facilitate the transfer of functions as quickly as possible.
Last year, Dr. Catherine Day was asked to bring together an expert group with representation from asylum seekers and NGOs to examine best practice in other European States in the provision of services to international protection applicants, to examine likely longer term trends and to set out recommendations and solutions. Any new system for the provision of accommodation and additional supports to international protection applicants will be informed by the Report of this Expert Group, which is expected by the end of this month.
The intention is to publish a White Paper by the end of this year, informed by the recommendations of the Expert Group, which will set out how a replacement to the Direct Provision system will be structured and the steps to achieving it. It will be a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, to progress the matter following the transfer of this function to his Department.