502. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if safe alternative accommodation will be provided for persons living in direct provision centres; if urgent action will be taken to protect the health and well-being of the residents of the direct provision centre in Cahersiveen, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6971/20]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): I want to assure the Deputy that my Department is doing everything it can to protect the health and welfare of residents and staff in our accommodation centres, as well as that of the wider community. My Department is working closely with the HSE in doing so, and while the HSE advice has evolved over time, we have been assured by both it and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer that our approach is appropriate.
All centres are following the guidelines for our centres that have been published by the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre. These are publicly available at its website www.hpsc.ie. That guidance exists precisely because it is recognised that congregated settings such as Direct Provision centres present specific challenges in this pandemic.
The established procedure across all our centres where a person is suspected of having the virus or is confirmed as having the virus, is that, where advised by Public Health, they are moved to a dedicated off-site self-isolation facility where they are cared for until such time as the HSE decides that they can safely return to their centre. My Department has opened four dedicated self-isolation facilities (in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Dundalk) with capacity for 299 people. Residents in these facilities have their own bedroom and their own bathroom.
Since the start of the year, over 1,550 permanent and temporary new Direct Provision beds have been procured including the new dedicated centres in Rosslare Harbour, Caherciveen and Tullamore. We have relocated over 600 residents to support social and physical distancing in centres and cocooning measures for the most vulnerable. By doing this, we have ensured that no more than three single people are sharing a room in any centre. We intend to continue this policy after the crisis. All residents over the age of 65 and those advised to the Department as having a serious medical illness have been cocooned.
More specifically in relation to the Skellig Accommodation Centre in Caherciveen, the Deputy will appreciate that this is a public health situation, the response to which is being led by HSE Public Health, as is appropriate. Where cases of Covid-19 arise in the community, the HSE’s Outbreak Control Team (OCT) manage the response. In addition to health professionals, this OCT for the centre also includes representatives from my Department and from centre management.
In line with the agreed policy with the HSE, anyone from the centre with a positive COVID-19 result has been transferred to an offsite self-isolation facility where they are cared for until such time as the HSE considers that they can safely return to their centre. The advice for the remaining residents in the Skellig Accommodation Centre to quarantine is public health advice, provided by public health authorities. The HSE has confirmed that there should be no movement into or out of the centre at this time, unless directed by public health. The purpose of this HSE guidance is to protect the health of all residents, staff and the wider community.
There are currently 69 residents (including 9 children) onsite in the centre, which has capacity for 150 residents, and 56 bedrooms. Residents are a mix of single people and small sized families. All single residents have been offered their own bedroom and all bedrooms in the centre are en suite. Some residents have declined this offer and have indicated that they wish to self-isolate with their roommate as a family unit. We continue to encourage these residents to accept the offer of their own room at this time.
Guidance has been provided by the HSE to centre management on the enhanced cleaning arrangements required at this time including through an onsite visit by a HSE infection control specialist. This applies to bedrooms, corridors, staircases, the dining room, kitchen, laundry room, lift, public toilets and reception and public areas. This is being strictly adhered to by centre management and staff.
My Department is working closely with the HSE and centre management to provide additional supports for residents during this time. There is a HSE Community Development Worker onsite at the Centre seven days a week to monitor the health of residents. This person is supported by a wider healthcare team. Additional outdoor space has been opened up with some seating provided and, exercise equipment has been set up in the outdoor area for residents’ use. This outdoor equipment has been installed with the knowledge and support of HSE public health, and will be operated under their direction for safe use.
The residents are currently provided with three meals and snacks daily. However, in line with the overall policy objectives for accommodation centres, the service provider plans to introduce independent living arrangements with cooking facilities for residents in the coming period. In the meantime, the chefs in the centre are working with the residents to find out about preferred meals and staff have been asked to source and provide ethnic snacks for residents. Kettles have been provided in rooms so that residents can make refreshments throughout the day rather than using communal facilities and meals are also being delivered to rooms. The centre has a good Wi-Fi service and phone credit has also been provided for residents so that they can keep in touch with family and friends.
The current restrictions are especially difficult for children. In addition to the upgrades to the outdoor space, toys, puzzles and tablets have been being provided for children and laptops have also been provided for residents’ use. The Tusla official seconded to work with my Department to see what additional supports they need and to discuss any concerns they might have.
Officials from my Department began virtual clinics with residents earlier this week and a telephone support service for residents is also being established with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).
The Deputy can be assured that my Department, the HSE and centre managers will continue to work closely together during this time to protect the health and safety of all residents and staff of accommodation centres as a priority.