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Ombudsman Peter Tyndall
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall
Image: Sam Boal

Issues with Covid-19 high on the list of complaints by Direct Provision residents, says ombudsman

Only 61 complaints were received by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2020, dropping from 168 in 2019.
Mar 25th 2021, 3:29 PM 6,880 14

COMPLAINTS RELATED TO the Covid-19 pandemic by residents of Direct Provision centres have been highlighted by Ombudsman Peter Tyndall.

It comes as part of a yearly commentary on dealing with complaints from the Direct Provision system, published earlier today.

Within the commentary, Tyndall welcomed the White Paper on Direct Provision released by the Government in February, having previously called for a move to “own-door accommodation”.

“If implemented, these changes will transform the experience of protection applicants while they await a decision on their application and will eliminate many of the issues that have given rise to complaints by Direct Provision residents,” said Tyndall.

According to the commentary, there were 61 complaints received by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2020, compared with 168 in 2019.

However, Tyndall attributed this to the fact that staff from the Ombudsman’s office were unable to attend direct provision centres in-person to receive complaints due to national restrictions on travel. Only one visit was able to be carried out.

“We have found that the best way for direct provision residents to engage with us is through our Outreach programme and our in-person visits to centres. Unfortunately, our visits had to be curtailed in 2020. We will recommence these visits in 2021,” said Tyndall.

Moving centres

Complaints were made to the Ombudsman when the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) moved around 600 residents of direct provision centres over the course of three weeks to support social distancing in centres throughout the country.

Complaints consisted of a lack of warning about the moves and that they were not warned of the location they were moving to. Complaints were also made surrounding social distancing on buses and the wearing of masks.

“I understand the logic of the IPAS decision to move people to centres occupied exclusively by protection applicants and I appreciate the intense pressure IPAS was under at the time to complete the moves quickly,” said Tyndall.

That said, I also fully understand the position of residents who were moved to somewhere they may have known nothing about with minimum notice and little or no advance consultation. 

On complaints surrounding moving residents to the Citywest to self-isolate, Tyndall said that he appreciated the domestic disruption that families faced by the moves, but that the nature of some direct provision centres made it “not-practible” for either people with Covid-19 or for close contacts to self isolate within facilities.

“Our familiarity from our visits with the physical layout of centres would support a conclusion that most would not lend themselves to people having to self-isolate from family and from other residents,” said Tyndall.

According to the commentary, residents from three separate centres complained that there were “inadequate social distancing measures”, causing congregation in common areas within direct provision centres.

Tyndall said that a desktop examination was carried out and that in one case a centre manager said that guidelines were laid out, but that directions were not followed by residents.

This was disputed by the complainant, saying that arrangements for staggered meal times, in particular, did not comply with public health regulations.

“I would comment that in congregated settings such as Direct Provision centres there is an onus on management to ensure appropriate steps are taken to safeguard residents and staff to the greatest extent practicable, and an equal onus on residents and staff to follow those steps.”

“In this particular case, the fact the team could not visit the centre meant I could not conclude whether or not the centre’s actions were reasonable.”

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Non-Covid complaints

There were also 25 complaints surrounding requests for transfer to a different direct provision centre.

One case saw the IPAS refuse the transfer of a resident, her husband and child arguing that they had adequate living space within the current centre.

However, the Ombudsman highlighted that the woman was expecting her second child and the IPAS said that they would then provide accommodation for four residents.

Two complaints were received by the Ombudsman on refusals of applications for driving licences, where they were unable to take up work as public transport was not feasible to use travelling to and from the workplace.

A team has since been engaging with the Department of Transport and a subgroup has been set up to deal with legal hurdles to allow direct provision residents access to driving licences.

Tyndall has said that his office will be engaging with the Department of Transport on this issue and that their goal to have legislation passed in 2021 is reasonable.

Two complaints were also received surrounding difficulties in allowing residents to set up bank accounts.

Currently, banks will not accept direct provision centres as a permanent address, which is needed to set up a bank account.

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