Statement by the Department of Justice & Equality on the Ombudsman’s Commentary on Direct Provision 2019

 

23 April, 2020

 

The Department and in particular our International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) Unit has a very positive working relationship with the Ombudsman and with the team from his Office. This ensures that where any issues are brought to our attention by the Ombudsman’s Office, they can be resolved quickly for the benefit of the resident.

 

In his Commentary on Direct Provision for 2019, published today, the Ombudsman has welcomed the sustained improvements being implemented in the Direct Provision system, particularly around the continued rollout of self-catering independent living across our network of centres; access to employment for residents; and the publication of agreed National Standards for Accommodation Centres. These Standards were prepared with key input from UNHCR Ireland and a number of NGOs working in this area and will bring consistency to the supports and services provided for residents in all centres.   

 

We recognise that our programme of improvements must be continuous and that there is more for us to do. This includes our ongoing efforts to reduce the number of residents in emergency accommodation as well as the length of time that residents spend in emergency accommodation. As the Ombudsman rightly points out, it is impossible to predict accurately the demand for international protection. In the last two years we have seen significant increases in the number of new applicants and the consequent demand for our accommodation services. Much of our use of emergency accommodation could be eliminated if the more than 1,000 people who have been granted permission to remain in the State but continue to reside in Direct Provision accommodation could relocate into mainstream accommodation. We are working with Local Authorities and the City and County Managers Association to assist residents with this transition. We have also provided funding to the Peter McVerry Trust and DePaul Ireland as part of this process.

 

As part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been positively acknowledged by the Ombudsman in terms of the speed of our response and specific actions taken, we have opened new accommodation and relocated over 600 residents to support social distancing in centres and cocooning measures for the most vulnerable. By doing this, we have ensured that a maximum of three single people are sharing a room in any of our centres. We were pleased to be able to confirm to the Ombudsman before the publication of his Report that we intend to continue this policy when the crisis is over.  

 

The independent Expert Group, led by Dr. Catherine Day, former Secretary General of the European Commission, is continuing its work on examining the Direct Provision system to advise on the development of a long-term approach to the provision of support including accommodation to persons in the international protection process. This includes identifying good practice in other European countries. This Group is expected to report by the end of the year and its recommendations will be brought to Government for its consideration.

 

The Department takes any complaint from residents very seriously and encourages any resident with issues or concerns to contact us directly in confidence, while of course recognising that the option is always open to the resident to refer to the Ombudsman should the complaint not be satisfactorily resolved. We look forward to continuing our positive and proactive engagement with the Ombudsman’s Office during this year.

 

ENDS