Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the action that is being taken to reform the direct provision system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15891/15]
87. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will provide details of her recent meetings with the non-governmental organisations forum on direct provision; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15893/15]
88. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she has concerns regarding the direct provision system (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15894/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I propose to take Questions Nos. 85, 87 and 88 together.
The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department is responsible for the accommodation of asylum seekers in accordance with the Government policy of direct provision and dispersal. Currently, there are over 4,400 residents in 34 centres across the State under contract to RIA. Details of all of these centres and the companies or persons RIA has contracted to provide accommodation services are published in RIA's Annual Reports available on its website - www.ria.gov.ie.
In relation to costs, expenditure on the Direct Provision system on the Vote of the Department of Justice and Equality since 2008 has decreased from €91.5m to €53.22m in 2014. RIA's Annual Reports provide a breakdown of this yearly expenditure. Notwithstanding these significant costs the Deputy should be aware that a Value For Money review of spending by RIA published in 2010 found that an alternative system to Direct Provision would cost twice as much – not including the costs that would arise from a “pull factor” which would follow from a full welfare based system with rent supplements and so forth.
In relation to reform, last year the Government set up an independent working group to report to it on improvements to the protection process, including direct provision and supports for asylum seekers. It 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. Over 40 meetings at plenary and sub-group level have taken place since the first meeting of the working group on 11 November 2014.
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 LGBTI 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. The Government recognises that the issues to be examined by the working group are complex and require 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.
The Chairman has indicated that the Working Group will be in a position to finalise its report before the end of May 2015 after which the Government will then consider the recommendations made therein.
The reference to the NGO Forum on Direct Provision is not understood. There is no such forum. There is a forum whereby NGO's meet with officials of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) where matters relating to immigration and asylum matters generally are discussed. If the reference is to the independent Working Group as described above, I do not attend its meetings.