448. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons in direct provision in each of the past five years in tabular form; his plans to address the issues with the direct provision system; if he will consider alternatives to direct provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18589/19]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): The statistical data the Deputy requires is detailed in the following table. These figures relate to the 31st of December of each year.
The Department of Justice and Equality working together with other Departments and agencies have already introduced far-reaching and important reforms to the overall system and this process will continue as we strive to make further improvements in the future. One of the most significant improvements being the introduction of independent living.
Independent living allows applicants to obtain food, toiletries and other products in a specially constructed food hall in the centre. Applicants then cook the food at either communal or individual cooking stations.
Independent living provides applicants with a significant degree of autonomy and prepares them for life after the protection process. As of early April 2019, over 2,200 applicants across eight centres can avail of the independent living model. In addition, almost 1,400 other applicants have access to other self-catering facilities with food provided by the contractor or the applicant themselves. The Department of Justice and Equality anticipates that all of the centres under contract to it will have moved to the independent living model by mid-2020.
In addition, there have been significant improvements to recreation opportunities, such as the provision of outdoor sports pitches, including ‘all-weather’ facilities, teenagers rooms and family living rooms in centres to provide social areas for particular age groups. Friends of the Centre groups have also been established in each centre. This initiative aims to bring residents, community and voluntary groups together with a view to increasing integration opportunities and providing for the development of greater community linkages with the residents and the centre.
A Standards Advisory Group was established in 2017. The role of this group was to develop a set of standards for accommodation for those seeking international protection. The group consisted of representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality, Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the NGO community and former residents. The national standards will meet the standards set out in the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive and will take due cognisance of the responsibility to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights as defined by the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty.
The Government decision to opt-in to the Recast Reception Conditions Directive is a significant and positive measure, not only in addressing the matter of labour market access, but also extending to children’s rights, rights for unaccompanied minors, vulnerable people, new appeals processes, healthcare and education provision. In addition, any complaints about accommodation and related matters can be made to the Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children as appropriate.
The nature of international protection is that it is demand led and accordingly the State must provide sufficient accommodation to meet that demand. This process is underway with the aim of meeting both short and medium term requirements.
My officials continue to examine best international practice and to engage with relevant statutory and civil society stakeholders to explore options with regard to providing accommodation and supports for persons seeking international protection.