I propose to take Questions Nos. 162 and 163 together.
I am aware of a number of complaints emanating from social media regarding the living conditions in the accommodation centres referred to by the Deputy.
Accommodation centres are subject to regular unannounced inspections by both my officials in the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) and an independent inspectorate company (QTS Limited). These inspections are generally undertaken, twice yearly by my officials in IPAS and once yearly by QTS Limited. Inspections cover a wide range of issues including the quality of the food, fire safety and other health and safety issues.
Inspections were suspended temporarily during the first phase of COVID-19 restrictions but they recommenced on 14 September 2020 with all necessary safeguards in place. During the months of September and October 33 centres were inspected. The target is for all 45 designated accommodation centres to be inspected before the end of the year. Emergency accommodation centres were also visited during the year. However, such accommodation centres do not undergo the same level of inspection as the designated centres which are inspected as part of their contractual obligations. Under the current Level 5 restrictions only necessary inspections and can currently be undertaken.
Officials from IPAS inspected the dedicated centre referred to by the Deputy on 24 September 2020 and visted the temporary centre on 27 August 2020. There were no significant issues noted in respect of the visit to the temporary centre and the official has noted that the standard of facilities there had improved since the previous visit in December 2019. The report of the inspection to the dedicated centre has only recently been completed and sent to the centre's management for comment prior to finalisation. I intend to review the report of the dedicated centre and engage with IPAS about its findings and any recommendations. The report will be published shortly as are all such inspection reports.
With respect to complaints, IPAS has a complaints procedure which is set out in the House Rules & Procedures Booklet for International Protection applicants. Complaints are made initially to the centre manager with a view to informal resolution. If the person concerned is not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint, he or she may make a complaint to IPAS who will investigate the matter and take action as appropriate. In the event that a resident is not satisfied with how his or her complaint is dealt with, he or she has full access to the services of the Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children.
A confidential Freephone telephone support service, funded by, but independent of, my Department, was also established in May 2020 to provide further support to residents in both permanent and temporary accommodation centres. This Freephone confidential support helpline is operated by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).
The Deputy will be aware that the Programme for Government contains a commitment to ending the Direct Provision system and replacing it with a new International Protection accommodation policy, centred on a not-for-profit approach. We have also committed to the development of a White Paper which will set out how this new system will be structured and the steps to achieving it. My Department is currently developing the White Paper which I expect to publish by the end of the year.
I am committed to improving standards in International Protection accommodation as the Government works to end Direct Provision. As such my Department has also engaged with HIQA with regard to monitoring the implementation of national standards for IPAS Accommodation Centres that were published in 2019. It is expected that this process will begin early in the new year.