171. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the report (details supplied) that recommends that the weekly allowance paid to asylum seekers be increased significantly; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25378/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): This question refers to a media report concerning possible recommendations of a forthcoming report by an independent working group set up by the Government late last year to report to it on improvements to the protection process, including direct provision and supports for asylum seekers. The Group is chaired by the 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.
In relation to the specific issue raised, it should be noted that direct provision is, for the most part, a cashless system with the State assuming responsibility for providing suitable accommodation and certain other services on a full board basis free of utility or other costs. The weekly direct provision allowance - €19.10 for adults and €9.60 for children - is currently paid to approximately 4,500 residents in 34 direct provision asylum accommodation centres throughout the State contracted to the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department. The allowance is paid by paid by staff of the Community Welfare Service of the Department of Social Protection. DPS staff also have discretion to make exceptional needs payments to residents in special situations. Children of asylum seekers are also entitled to apply for payments under the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Scheme.
A specific term of reference of the aforementioned working group 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. Whilst I understand that the group has examined the issue of payments to asylum seekers while residing in direct provision, it would be inappropriate for me to comment until I have studied the final report upon its submission to me. The overall report will no doubt concern matters relating to a number of Government Departments, including the Department of Social Protection, and its recommendations will have to be considered in detail by the Government. 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.