Response by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD
Currently, there are 4,353 residents in 34 Direct Provision accommodation centres across the State under contract to the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of the Department of Justice and Equality.
It was stated by an interviewee on RTE’s Morning Ireland programme yesterday that these centres are not inspected and that persons who reach the age of 18 are expelled from centres with only a sleeping bag. Neither statement is true. Despite numerous responses by previous Ministers for Justice over the years to Oireachtas queries in the matter, it is surprising that there remains a belief that asylum accommodation centres are not subject to proper inspection. They are.
All centres are subject to a minimum of three unannounced inspections a year – one by an independent company, QTS, under contract to RIA and two by RIA officials. Moreover, to add to the transparency of the system, since 1 October last year all completed inspections are published on RIA’s website – www.ria.gov.ie.. Anyone – researchers, TDs, residents of centres, NGO’s and so on – can examine these reports in detail.
Asylum accommodation centres do not exist in isolation. They are subject to not only RIA inspections, but to other State inspections. They are, for example, subject to inspection by Fire Officers and, in relation to food issues, to unannounced inspections by Environmental Health Officers.
RIA centres are occupied on a 24/7 basis and maintenance issues are plainly an ongoing fact of life. Where problems are found as a result of these inspections, they are fixed. That is precisely the purpose of an inspection regime. Some problems need time to fix. For example, in relation to overcrowding, all RIA centres are subject to the requirements of the Housing Acts 1996-2002. Where a family increases in size such that these requirements are no longer met, alternative suitable accommodation is offered by RIA. However, some families decline this offer and may decide to stay where they are until more spacious accommodation within their existing centre becomes available.
RIA takes the issue of vulnerable persons in its system very seriously. All staff in centres are Garda vetted and RIA has robust policies in place relating to child protection and sexual harassment and violence. Moreover, there is a specific unit in RIA called the Child and Family Services Unit, which is headed up by an official seconded from the Child and Family Agency who has clinical expertise in the area of child welfare and protection. Details can be found on the RIA website