142. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the measures in place to ensure the welfare and fair treatment of residents in direct provision centres; the complaints procedures in place for residents; the appeals processes that exist if a resident is not satisfied with a decision in relation to a complaint; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22392/19]


Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): The Deputy will be aware that the Direct Provision system is a whole of Government approach to the provision of supports and services to persons seeking international protection. These supports and services are delivered directly to persons in the protection process in the same manner as to other residents in Ireland by the relevant Government Department or Agency. For example education services are delivered through the Department of Education and Skills, and health services are delivered by the Health Service Executive.
My Department, through the Reception & Integration Agency (RIA), is responsible for the provision of accommodation and related services to protection applicants while they await a decision on their claim for international protection.
On 30 June 2018, the Minister for Justice and Equality signed the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018. These Regulations transpose the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive into national law. The Directive lays down the standards for the reception of international protection applicants while their application is being examined.
Further, a Standards Advisory Group was set up in 2017. The work of this group is to build on the recommendations of the McMahon Report and to develop a set of standards for accommodation provided for those people seeking the protection of the State. The Standards will meet those set out in the Recast Reception Conditions Directive and in EASO Guidance on Reception Conditions. Operational standards and indicators will take due cognisance of the responsibility to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of employees, customers, service users and everyone affected by policies and plans as defined by the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty.
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 is the introduction of independent living, which allows applicants to obtain food and other products in a specially-constructed food hall in the centre and to cook the food at either communal or individual cooking stations.
As of early April 2019, over 2,200 applicants across eight centres were availing 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.
RIA has a complaints procedure which is set out in the House Rules & Procedures Booklet for International Protection Applicants. Complaints are made initially to the Centre Manager with a view to informal resolution. If the person concerned is not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint, he or she may make a complaint to RIA who will investigate the matter and take action as appropriate.
In the event that a resident is not satisfied with how his or her complaint is dealt with, he or she has full access to the services of the Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children. The office of the Ombudsman received 148 complaints about Direct Provision in 2018, 15 of which were upheld.
Separately, certain decisions by RIA made in line with the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018, relating to material reception conditions and listed in full in Regulation 20, allow for review by a Review Officer, a designated role in RIA. This review may be further appealed to the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT).