406. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to end direct provision without further delay, as the living conditions are extremely unsuitable and almost one-third of those involved are children; and her further plans to provide alternative accommodation. [23073/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The Reception & Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department is responsible for the provision of full board accommodation and the coordination of certain ancillary services to asylum seekers in accordance with the Government policy of direct provision. There are currently approximately 4,500 asylum seekers in 34 centres around the State.
I have no plans to end direct provision. I am however awaiting the presentation to me in the coming weeks of a report of an independent working group whose remit is to make recommendations on improvements to the protection process, including direct provision and supports for asylum seekers. One of the Group's specific terms of reference is to indicate what actions could be taken in the short and longer term which are directed towards showing greater respect for the dignity of persons in the system and improving their quality of life by enhancing the support and services currently available.
The working group which was set up late last year is chaired by former High Court judge, Dr. Bryan McMahon, and comprises senior officials from all relevant Departments, the UNHCR, representatives of academia and various NGOs who have a long-standing interest in this area and other representatives of civil society. The working group developed a work programme early on and established three sub-groups to deal with the following themes. The first deals with conditions in centres, the second deals with supports for asylum seekers and the third deals with improving the processing of protection claims.
The working group has taken evidence directly from residents in the direct provision system both in writing and orally, visited centres around the country and spoken directly to residents. It has engaged with particular groups of applicants including children, victims of torture, victims of trafficking and sexual violence, members of the LGBT community and has taken oral and written submissions from a number of experts in this field, including the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon.
When the report of the Working Group is presented to me, it will be submitted to Government who will then consider the recommendations made therein. The Government recognises that the issues examined by the working group are complex and required thorough consideration to ensure that any recommendations are practical and sustainable from a budgetary perspective and do not undermine existing border controls and immigration policies.