32. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to reform the direct provision system in view of the continued problems experienced by asylum applicants in this system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15659/17]


Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): Services for all protection applicants (those in State provided accommodation or those who live in the community) are delivered under the Government policies of direct provision and dispersal. The Government commissioned retired Judge Dr. Bryan McMahon to Chair a Working Group to carry out a report into the protection process and the system of direct provision and that report was published in June of 2015.
The report forms the basis for ongoing improvements across the entirety of the system involving all relevant Government Departments and Agencies.
The Programme for a Partnership Government (May 2016) states that "Long durations in direct provision are acknowledged to have a negative impact on family life. We are therefore committed to reforming the Direct Provision system, with particular focus on families and children.”
On 23 February 2017, the latest audit of the implementation of the recommendations contained in that report was published. This shows that some 121 of the recommendations are now implemented, with a further 38 recommendations partially implemented or in progress. In total, 92% of the 173 recommendations are implemented, partially implemented or in progress, a significant increase on the figure of 80% we reported on last June.
The International Protection Act 2015 was commenced on 31 December 2016. A key feature of this new legislation is the introduction of a new single application procedure which will, in time, significantly accelerate the protection determination process and by extension will reduce the length of time which applicants spend in State provided accommodation.
The new processing arrangements will determine certainty of status at an earlier stage for those entitled to international protection within the State.
A number of recommendations from the McMahon report in relation to improvements to accommodation and services are also being rolled out. The following are some examples:
- The introduction of full independent living at the Mosney Accommodation centre - each family is now able to acquire fresh food to their liking so they may prepare meals themselves. The new home cooking arrangements in Mosney went live on 23 January 2017.
- Cooking facilities are being rolled out to other centres including the State owned centres (Killarney, Tralee, Athlone, Knocklisheen in Limerick and Kinsale Road in Cork) and to Ballyhaunis, Milstreet, St Patrick’s in Monaghan and any other centres in which families are resident.
- Teenagers rooms in centres to provide social areas for this age group
Recommendations of the McMahon report that involve structural changes or improvements will be implemented as quickly as possible, with due consideration of possible fire safety, building regulation and planning issues.
The Department has also co-ordinated the preparation of a multi-departmental information booklet for persons who have been granted any type of ‘leave to remain’ in the State. The booklet contains practical and useful information for residents across housing, finances, healthcare, education as well as TV licences, public transport and other related matters and has been prepared with the assistance of the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) to ensure that it is presented in Plain English. The booklet has been translated into a number of languages.
In addition to the publication of the booklet, a number of NGOs have been awarded monies under the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) specifically to provide assistance to move out of State provided accommodation. At the end of December 2016, there were approximately 450 persons with some form of status continuing to reside in State provided accommodation. Notwithstanding the current housing crisis, we are working with the NGO community and residents alike to ensure that those with permission to remain in the State are assisted in finding accommodation in communities across the country as soon as possible and that State provided accommodation remains available for those in most need.
Another key recommendation of the McMahon report was that the remit of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children should be extended to cover those who are living in State provided accommodation. This has now been implemented and both offices will begin to accept complaints with effect from Monday 3 April 2017.
As can be seen from the foregoing, significant improvements have either been implemented or are being implemented across all aspects of the system of supports for those in the protection process.