2. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans for the direct provision model going forward; and if he will discuss recent events regarding new centres. [49877/18]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): Since 2015, this Government has transformed the system known as direct provision and will continue with this programme of reform. At a time of serious pressure in the accommodation market it is important to note that any person who presents himself or herself seeking international protection will immediately be offered shelter and a range of supports. Since Ireland opted into the EU's recast reception conditions directive, this has all been placed on a statutory footing ensuring such services are provided as of right.
The improvements to living conditions for applicants for international protection have been significant over recent years. These include the implementation of self or communal catering arrangements in a number of accommodation centres. As a result of this initiative, over 1,500 residents in five centres has now moved to the independent living model. In parallel with the delivery of these changes, a number of other accommodation centres are providing self-catering facilities with fresh food provided by either the contractor or the residents themselves. In total over 2,900 residents in the centres are no longer under the direct provision model as originally set-up, and further progress will be made in this area.
In addition, there have been significant improvements to recreation opportunities, such as the provision of outdoor sports pitches, including all-weather facilities, as well as the introduction of teenagers rooms in centres to provide social areas for this age group. 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.
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. The standards will meet the standards set out in the recast reception conditions directive and the European Asylum Support Office, EASO, guidance on reception conditions. Operational standards and indicators will also take account of national developments in the provision of services to those in the protection process. They 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. A working document has recently issued for widespread consultation.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The decision to opt-in to the directive is a significant and positive measure, not only in addressing the matter of labour market access, but also extending to children’s rights, rights for unaccompanied minors, vulnerable people, new appeals processes, healthcare and education provision. In addition, any complaints about accommodation and related matters can be made to the Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children as appropriate.
We 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. The nature of international protection is that it is demand led and accordingly the State must provide sufficient accommodation to meet that demand. This process is underway with the aim of meeting both short and medium term requirements.
I have previously indicated that Ireland, unlike most other European countries, has no NGO run centre. I take this opportunity to reiterate to civil society, including to approved housing bodies, that we would welcome an expression of interest from them to offer to provide such reception facilities. My officials have begun to explore with civil society what might be possible in this regard.
With regard to recent events, the Minister and I have already condemned in the strongest possible terms the recent arson attack in Moville. There is no place in a civilised society for that type of behaviour and it does not represent the views of the vast majority of decent people who recognise the need to offer assistance and welcome for those in need of international protection.