38. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans for upgrading refugee centres nationally. [12007/19]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): The improvements to living conditions for applicants for international protection have been significant over recent years. These include the implementation of self- or communal catering arrangements in a number of accommodation centres. As a result of this initiative, approximately 2,000 residents in nine centres have now moved to the independent living model. In parallel with the delivery of these changes, a number of other accommodation centres are providing self-catering facilities with fresh food provided by either the contractor or the resident themselves. As a result a total over 2,900 residents in the centres are no longer under the Direct Provision model as originally developed and further progress is being made in this area.
In addition, there have been significant improvements to recreation opportunities. Friends of the Centre groups have been established in each centre. This initiative aims to bring residents, community and voluntary groups together with a view to increasing integration opportunities and providing for the development of greater community linkages with the residents and the centre.
Following the McMahon Report, a Standards Advisory Group was set up in 2017. The work of this group is to build on the recommendations of that Report and to develop a set of standards for accommodation provided for those people seeking the protection of the State. The Standards will meet those set out in the Recast Reception Conditions Directive and under EASO Guidance on Reception Conditions. Operational standards and indicators will take due cognisance of the responsibility to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of employees, customers, service users and everyone affected by policies and plans as defined by the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty.
In order to meet needs in the longer term, and improve the quality of the accommodation , the Department has recently commenced a public procurement exercise under which public tenders for the provision of accommodation and ancillary services to persons in the protection process, by way of the independent living model, will be advertised. This process is scheduled to continue throughout 2019 and is due for completion in 2020. This will be delivered via a series of regional competitions to cover the entire State. Under this competition, all successful bids must provide residents with the option of preparing their own meals as part of their proposal.