All-of-Government approach needed to end Direct Provision
Responding to an article in Sunday’s edition of the Business Post which reports on the concerns expressed by Housing officials about the implementation of the Catherine Day advisory group’s recommendations to end to Direct Provision, Labour Seanad Group Leader and spokesperson for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Senator Ivana Bacik said:
“Reports of resistance to the implementation of the Day Report from those working in Government departments underline the need for an all-of-Government approach to ending Direct Provision.
“The Programme for Government includes an ambitious but long-overdue commitment to abolishing Direct Provision and replacing it with a more humane and efficient asylum system instead. Now that the Day Report has been published and as the Department of Children, Equality Disability, Integration and Youth prepares a White Paper on how it plans to fulfil the recommendations laid out in that report, it is important that the ambition to replace our system for international protection is not diluted.
“The importance of this issue means that it should not be relegated to a side project of the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration. What is evident from reporting by Michael Brennan for the Business Post is that the bulk of resistance from the Department of Housing arises from an expectation that the alternative proposals are ‘unrealistic’. This issue merits addressing by the leaders of the three coalition parties, who must provide reassurances that sufficient attention and resourcing will be provided for this crucial project.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated what can be achieved by Government departments when they work together towards a common objective. Many initiatives, such as the eviction ban and €350 per week Covid-19 payment, would have been regarded as impossible before. The pandemic has also exposed the unsuitability of housing people in congregated, institutional settings. Direct Provision must be made a thing of the past and, in the meantime, there must be steps taken to make it liveable in the interim.
“Last week, responses to PQs submitted by the Labour Party to Ministers Helen McEntee and Roderic O’Gorman about their Departments’ respective capacity to clear the existing backlog of international protection applications and to commence a formal vulnerability assessment system for asylum-seekers showed that a great deal of work remains to be done ensure that asylum seekers are treated with the dignity that they deserve.
“I am calling on the Government to commit to working across different Departments to ensure that Ireland’s asylum system will be transformed by the target date.”
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PQ ref 20/36969
To ask the Minister for Children; Equality; Disability; Integration and Youth if his Department is on track to commence a formal vulnerability assessment system for asylum-seekers in December 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Discussions are ongoing between officials in my Department and the HSE to enable formal vulnerability assessments for applicants for international protection by the end of the year. This will ensure that a coherent process is in place for both the health and non-health aspects required in formalised assessments.
To assist in determining how best we can meet the health and related needs of applicants, the HSE National Office for Social Inclusion has commissioned research to explore the concept of vulnerability with a view to further improving our existing processes and I look forward to the outcome of this research.
At present every effort is made to ensure that residents’ specific needs are met. My Department officials routinely identify vulnerabilities and assess applicants for any special reception needs to meet their accommodation requirements. This is especially the case for families with young children and for applicants with a disability.
If a protection applicant chooses to accept an offer of accommodation from my Department, they will, in normal circumstances, be first brought to the National Reception Centre in Balseskin, Dublin. At Balseskin, they will be offered a health assessment by the on-site HSE team, which comprises a nurse, nurse specialist, area medical officer, general practitioners, social worker and psychologist. This ensures that applicants can be assessed for any special reception needs that they may have before they are designated an accommodation centre.
Safetynet, a primary care health service, carries out health screening, on behalf of the HSE, in a number of the temporary accommodation locations currently in use by the Department. The International Protection Accommodation Service work closely with the HSE screening team and with Safetynet to ensure that protection applicants are moved to locations where their medical needs can be met. We also work collaboratively to ensure that any special accommodation arrangements are in place as required.
During the COVID pandemic, assessments have also been made for our older residents to ensure that their cocooning needs are met. Where more intensive healthcare needs are required, such cases are referred directly to the HSE.
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To ask the Minister for Justice if her Department is on track to build staffing and ICT capacity to clear the existing backlog of international protection applications in order to commence the transition to the new planned asylum system here; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
My Department is committed to making further efficiencies in the international protection process. The Expert Advisory Group on the Provision of Support (including accommodation) to Persons in the International Protection Process led by Dr. Catherine Day, has made a number of recommendations related to the international protection process. These recommendations, along with all other recommendations relevant to the work of my Department will be actively considered by a Programme Board I have established for this purpose. Their work will feed into the development of the White Paper by the end of this year, in line with the Programme for Government commitment.
My objective is to have decisions on international protection applications and permission to remain considerations made as soon as is possible. This ensures that those who are found to be in need of our protection can receive it quickly and begin rebuilding their lives here with a sense of safety and security. For those found not to be in need of protection, we can offer them assistance to return to their home country.
The Programme for Government commits to processing applications for international protection at first instance with the aim to reduce median processing times to 9 months or below as soon as possible. It also commits to ensuring that additional resources designated for the International Protection Office (IPO) are deployed in the most efficient and effective way possible to increase the output of quality decisions. I was pleased to secure an additional €1.75m in Budget 2021 for the efficient functioning of the international protection system, which will help us to further improve processing times for applications.
Enhanced use of technology and ICT as part of the processing of applications are central to reducing waiting times for decisions. The IPO has already begun to hold virtual interviews with some applicants living outside of Dublin and has put in place a range of measures to create processing efficiencies across a number of work streams such as accelerated procedures, implementation of non-cooperation measures, and initiatives to speed up the return of completed questionnaires. Other options being explored include greater automation of the process including ICT improvements, revision of key documentation and greater use of remote interviewing.
Efforts to improve processing times have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reduced the output of decisions considerably and has impacted on the target set by the IPO to make first instance decisions in the vast majority of cases within 9 months. COVID-19 has also impacted those applications at appeal stage.
The IPO’s main focus going forward is to get its processing system functioning as effectively and efficiently as possible, while adhering to all measures in place to combat the spread of COVID-19. However, it must be acknowledged that the processing of applications is complex and that each application deserves and receives an individual assessment.