65. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the capacity in the international protection and asylum system in the context of recent events; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4288/19]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): The State is legally obliged to offer accommodation services to those persons who enter the state seeking international protection and who request accommodation. The accommodation services for those persons is managed within my Department by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA).
There has been a sustained rise in demand for accommodation services in recent years. At the end of 2016, there were 4,425 persons resident in accommodation centres. At the end of 2017 there was 5,096 persons and at the end of 2018, there was 6,106 persons resident in accommodation centres.
It should be noted that there is significant turnover within the population using accommodation centres as new applicants are entering the system and others are exiting the system. In 2018, there were 2,480 new applications for accommodation and 1,462 persons left their accommodation.
In order to meet this increase in demand, RIA has been expanding capacity within existing centres and identifying new premises for use as accommodation centres through expressions of interest published in the national press. As a result of these efforts, there was a net gain of 757 bed spaces within the portfolio.
RIA have identified two further accommodation centres in Moville, Co. Donegal and Rooskey, Co. Leitrim for opening. As the Deputy is aware, both of these premises were the subject of fires and in both instances, discussions are ongoing with the respective contractors to get the centres open.
As a result of the rising demand and the delays in opening the accommodation centres in Moville and Rooskey, and in order to ensure that the State can continue to provide accommodation for all protection applicants and continue to comply with the EU Reception Directive which was transposed into Irish law in June of last year, RIA has, since September, arranged for the provision of emergency beds where the mainstream accommodation centres were at capacity.
As a result of this increased demand, my Department has had to use emergency beds on a temporary basis. Given that the accommodation is utilised on a temporary basis there is no set contract in place with each provider.
As of 20 January 2019, RIA was using hotel accommodation to accommodate 337 persons in 10 hotels in Cavan, Dublin, Louth, Monaghan and Waterford.
RIA is making every effort to secure sufficient capacity to meet the demand and to remove the need for protection applicants to be placed in emergency hotels. As I mentioned previously, RIA is seeking to open new accommodation centres in Moville and Rooskey. In addition, some 12% of the people currently residing in the accommodation centres (over 700 people), have permission to remain in Ireland. The fact that people are staying in the centres for some time after they receive permission to remain is a situation that is putting increased pressure on the system as new arrivals have to be accommodated. Where an individual or family has permission to remain in Ireland they can access the mainstream housing supports and services on the same basis as nationals/European Economic Area nationals.
Considerable work continues to be done to support residents with status to move out of accommodation centres and to secure long term accommodation in Ireland. A number of NGOs have been awarded monies under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) specifically to assist and support residents with international protection status move out of accommodation centres into longer term accommodation. Additionally, the Department of Justice and Equality has also provided funding and are working with NGOs to assist those with status/permission to remain secure accommodation.
In order to meet the accommodation needs of asylum seekers in the longer term, the Department has recently commenced a public procurement exercise under which public tenders for the provision of accommodation and ancillary services to persons in the protection process, by way of the independent living model, will be advertised. This process is scheduled to continue throughout 2019 and is due for completion in 2020. This will be delivered via a series of regional competitions to cover the entire State.