The Minister said: "In Ireland, Christmas is a traditionally a time when we gather with our families and loved ones. Applicants for international protection who avail of our accommodation centres have often lost family in tragic circumstances in their native countries, or left loved ones behind.
Today the Montague Accommodation Centre is hosting a Christmas party and I am delighted to take this opportunity to again visit the Centre and meet the residents and the management and staff. I want to thank also the local community here in Emo and the Portlaoise area for the continuing support they give to the Montague Centre, through the Friends of the Centre structure, the local sports clubs and all the other groups and individuals who go out of their way to make the residents feel welcome."
Minister Flanagan reflected on the continuing improvements being made to accommodation centres around the country in line with the recommendations of the McMahon report, including in relation to self-catering and communal catering. The recommendation for self or communal catering is fully implemented in Mosney, Ballyhaunis, St Patrick’s in Monaghan and Clonakilty in Cork. That system is being extended across all accommodation under contract to RIA, starting with Athlone in early January and the expansion of the facility in Kinsale Road, Cork. The intention is that by the end of 2018 all accommodation centres will have either self or communal catering facilities.
The Minister also noted that the public tender for the procurement of further Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres for people arriving in Ireland under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme is about to be published and that a similar tender for the procurement of accommodation for those seeking protection will issue in 2018.
The Minister wished everyone at the accommodation centre, staff and residents alike, and indeed all staff and residents in all accommodation centres in Ireland a peaceful Christmas and a happy new year.
Notes for Editors:
- The Reception & Integration Agency (RIA) of the Department of Justice and Equality is responsible for the provision of accommodation within its State accommodation portfolio for protection applicants while they await a decision on their claim for international protection.
- Services for all protection applicants (those in State provided accommodation or those who live in the community) are mainstreamed. This means that State services are delivered directly to protection applicants through the relevant Government Agency e.g; the HSE delivers medical services through the established GP and hospital systems (all protection applicants in RIA accommodation avail of a medical card and a waiver of prescriptions fees); the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection pay the DP allowance to all applicants resident in accommodation under contract to the Department (protection applicants may also apply for Exceptional Needs Payments and Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance). All children in the process access free Primary and Post-Primary education and school transport in the same manner as the general population.
- In the case of the Department of Justice & Equality, accommodation is offered to residents while their application is being processed. (There is no obligation to accept such offers and many applicants chose to live in the community with the support of family and friends).
- There are currently 34 centres within the RIA accommodation portfolio which are providing accommodation to almost 5,000 protection applicants. The Montague Hotel Accommodation Centre, is currently accommodating almost 200 protection applicants of which 18 residents are children.
- The Montague facilitates a ‘Friends of the Centre’ structure that allows volunteers, local groups and non-governmental organisations to link in with residents to provide key social, cultural and recreational supports.
- There is great participation and linkages with local sports and recreation groups including local football teams, the GAA, Portlaoise Rugby Club and local cricket teams.
- The Montague hosted a Christmas Party last week with entertainment provided by the Mountmellick Men’s Shed Choir.
- The Montague has a number of recreational facilities on site including a football pitch, basketball court and games room. The Centre hosts a number of events for residents throughout the year including Summer Camps for the children and Barbeques for residents.
- The ‘McMahon Report’ refers to the report of a working group, chaired by retired High Court Judge Bryan McMahon, established by the Government in 2014 to report to Government on improvements to the protection process, including Direct Provision and supports to asylum seekers. The Working Group membership was drawn from a range of interests in the international protection area including UNHCR, non-governmental organisations, the protection seeker community, academia and relevant Government Departments and Offices. Information on the implementation of the recommendations of the Working Group may be found here: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Third_and_Final_Progress_Report_on_improvements_to_protection_process
- RIA is working through the recommendations of the McMahon report to ensure that the quality of accommodation and related services continues to improve.
- Most significantly, RIA has established a food hall in the Mosney centre where residents can obtain appropriate food that they can cook in their own homes. This same facility has also been established in Ballyhaunis and Clonakilty and will be available in Athlone early in the New Year.
- Communal cooking facilities have also been provided in other centres such as Kinsale Road, Millstreet in Cork and St. Patrick's in Monaghan to enable individual families to cook for themselves if they so desire.
- The Department will seek to rollout the independent living/communal cooking model across its accommodation portfolio in 2018.
- A Working Group, comprised of staff from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and a range on non-governmental organisations involved with people in the protection process, is currently working on developing a set of standards to ensure a high standard of accommodation services as part of this system. The Working Group will complete its work in 2018 and these standards will inform standards in accommodation centres going forward.