98. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the steps she is taking to address the long delays in the processing of persons in the direct provision system; if she is satisfied with the current system for housing those seeking asylum; her views on whether it is appropriate for this to be run on a for-profit basis; the steps she is taking to improve the system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15875/17]
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): On 23 February last, Minister Stanton and I published a report showing further significant progress in implementing the recommendations of the Report of the Working Group on Improvements to the Protection Process including Direct Provision and Other Supports for Asylum Seekers. Some 92% of the Report's 173 recommendations are now implemented, partially implemented or are in progress, a significant increase on the 80% figure reported when the first audit of progress was published last June. Details of progress on all of the 173 recommendations are available in the audit report which has been posted on my Department's website and on the website of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service. In conjunction with the implementation of the recommendations of the Working Group, my Department is implementing the commitment contained in the Programme for a Partnership Government to reform the Direct Provision system within two broad themes: commencement of the International Protection Act 2015 and improvements to RIA accommodation.
The International Protection Act 2015 was commenced on 31 December 2016. The new single application procedure under the Act, will, in time, significantly accelerate the protection determination process by dealing with all aspects of a persons claim for protection and humanitarian leave to remain at the same time and by extension will reduce the length of time which applicants spend in State provided accommodation.
Figures prepared for consideration by the Working Group to Report to Government on Improvements to the Protection Process, including Direct Provision and other supports for Asylum Seekers in 2015, showed that there were some 2,695 persons in Direct Provision accommodation for three or more years at that time. Recent analysis has shown that this figure has now been reduced by 55%, to 1,204 persons. Similarly, the number of persons in Direct Provision accommodation for five years or more has been reduced by 58%, from 1,946 persons to 811 persons. Of those persons, less than a third - or 251 persons - were estimated to be awaiting a final decision on their application. For one reason or another, such as ongoing judicial reviews, the vast majority of these cases were found to be unprocessable and experience has shown that practically all cases over five years in the Direct Provision accommodation system that could be processed have now been processed. This was a major achievement and has impacted directly on the lives of a large number of persons in the protection and related systems. The balance of the 811 persons either had a deportation made against them or were granted status. Recently, a number of NGOs have been awarded monies under the EU's Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) specifically to provide assistance for those with status to move out of State provided accommodation.
In addition, a number of the Reports recommendations aimed at improving conditions in the Centres are being rolled out. These include:
- The introduction of full independent living at the Mosney Accommodation centre - each family will be provided with their own fresh food to their liking so they may prepare meals themselves. The new home cooking arrangements in Mosney went live on 23 January 2017.
- The installation of residents’ kitchens in a number of accommodation centres to provide for home cooking by residents and their families;
- Cooking facilities will be rolled out to other centres including the State owned centres (Killarney, Tralee, Athlone, Knocklisheen in Limerick and Kinsale Road in Cork) and to Ballyhaunis, Millstreet, St Patrick’s in Monaghan and any other centres in which families are resident.
- A complete refurbishment of each accommodation unit (triple glazed windows and doors and refurbished interiors) at the Athlone Accommodation Centre;
- Improvements to a number of outdoor playgrounds and football pitches to provide for ‘all-weather’ facilities.
- Teenagers rooms in centres to provide social areas for this age group.
Recommendations of the Report of the Working Group 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.
Other improvements to the system include changes introduced by the Minister for Education and Skills to improve access to third level education and the increase in the weekly payments for children by the Minister for Social Protection.
In addition, as I recently announced, the remits of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children are being extended to cover those who are living in State provided accommodation.
With regard to the way that Direct Provision Centres are operated, my Department has recently sought expressions of interest from persons and businesses who are in a position to provide full accommodation and related services to persons seeking international protection. It is of course open to any contractor or NGO (or group of NGOs) to seek to provide this accommodation and related services. I would welcome applications from groups or organisations who have expressed concerns about the standards in Direct Provision to submit their proposals to provide, run and manage such centres. In other EU Member States, reception centres are quite often managed by NGOs in partnership with the State. We have not, to date, received any expressions of interest by an NGO or an NGO group to manage an accommodation centre in Ireland. While the financial details of any such contract are not published for reasons of commercial confidentiality, historic details of the values of contracts are published by my Department each year on the web page of the Reception and Integration Agency at www.ria.gov.ie. Accommodation centres are contracted following established procurement procedures and prices paid to contractors for full board or self catering / cooking, including light, heat, utility costs etc represent good value for money.