552. Deputy Noel Rock asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to complaints from residents in direct provision centres that food served to them is culturally inappropriate and inedible and that the food provided does not address cultural and multi-faith residents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20079/19]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): The Reception & Integration Agency (RIA) accommodation centres provide food options on a catered or independent living basis to reflect the ethnic needs of the residents.
It is a contractual obligation on all contractors of accommodation centres that culturally appropriate food options should be provided to residents. Contractors must prepare menus that meet the reasonable dietary needs of the different ethnic groups accommodated at the accommodation centre and the reasonable prescribed dietary needs of any person accommodated at the centre. Menus must include a vegetarian option and all food products provided must have a traceability system that complies with food safety requirements. It is a contractual obligation for accommodation centres that a 28 day menu be provided and that residents are consulted on that 28 day menu.
Those accommodation centres which have moved to the independent living model, whereby residents are provided with ingredients and household items at no cost and cook for themselves, must provide a wide range of products which are culturally appropriate and meet the dietary needs of residents. Independent living provides applicants with a significant degree of autonomy and prepares them for life in Ireland after the protection process. As of early April 2019, over 2,200 applicants across eight centres can avail of the independent living model. The Department of Justice & Equality anticipates that all of the commercially owned centres under contract to it will have moved to the independent living model by mid-2020. The regional tendering processes also requires potential contractors to ensure that the food products made available to residents are culturally appropriate.
Residents may advise the accommodation centre manager of any dietary requirement that they have and this will be facilitated, where possible. Arrangements can also be made to cater for particular religious needs ( e.g Muslims observing Ramadan).
Complaints by residents may arise from time to time in relation to dietary matters and any such complaint may be brought to the centre manager. If the resident is not satisfied with the outcome, she or he may also make a complaint to RIA, which will be investigated by RIA and action taken as appropriate.
If a resident is not satisfied with how his or her complaint is dealt with, she or he may make a complaint to the office of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman received nine complaints relating to food provided in accommodation centres during 2018.
All accommodation centres are subject to regular unannounced inspections by both staff from the Reception and Integration Agency and an independent inspector. Part of the inspection process deals directly with the provision of food services. Meals are assessed during inspection for quality, cultural appropriateness and variety of menu options. Any issues identified are notified to the contractor to be addressed immediately.
Following the McMahon Report, a Standards Advisory Group was set up in 2017. The work of this group is to build on the recommendations of that Report and to develop a set of standards for accommodation provided for those people seeking the protection of the State. A Working Document detailing the proposed set of standards has recently issued for widespread consultation and included in the standards is commitments in relation to food including access to a varied diet that respects their cultural, religious, dietary, nutritional and medical requirements.
If the Deputy is aware of any issues relating to the provision of food in an accommodation centre, I would be grateful if he could forward on those concerns so they can be addressed.