By Ann Marie Foley - 05 April, 2017
From Monday 3 April, the Ombudsman’s Office began accepting complaints from people living in direct provision. Complaints on behalf of children are also being accepted by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office.
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Ireland has welcomed the move.
“The extension of the mandate of the Ombudsman, and of the Ombudsman for Children to direct provision was a key recommendation within the 2015 McMahon Report and provides residents raising issues of complaint with an additional mechanism to seek redress,” David Moriarty, Assistant Director, JRS Ireland, told Catholicireland.net.
“It will provide welcome additional oversight of direct provision and help address criticisms about the lack of independence in the existing complaints process,” he said, adding that this will ensure that not only is justice done but it is seen to be done.
He explained that complaints to Ombudsman’s offices will be confined to issues relating to the accommodation and services provided rather than the asylum system itself or how applications are processed.
As an organisation providing outreach and other services in 13 direct provision centres, he said that some of the most common complaints made to JRS Ireland about living conditions related to a lack of access to cooking facilities and inadequate private living space.
The Ombudsman is aware of the criticisms about the direct provision system, and has been liaising directly with various centres’ management, staff and residents to make them aware of the additional complaints procedure and how to access it.
“The direct provision system has rightly been criticised both nationally and internationally,” said Peter Tyndall, Ombudsman. “While the government will shortly implement a more streamlined system for asylum applications, those still living in direct provision accommodation should receive all the services to which they are entitled. Introducing an independent complaints process will help to ensure that those services are delivered to the highest standard possible.”
Until now, those in direct provision centres could complain to the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), a body of the Department of Justice and Equality. Now those who have raised an issue with the manager of the accommodation centre and the RIA, and who are not satisfied with the outcome, will be able to make a complaint to the Ombudsman offices.
Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon, who will be able to investigate complaints about children and young people under 18, said: “Children in direct provision will now have equal access to the Ombudsman for Children’s Office. This will enable my Office to make a constructive contribution to the overall welfare of children living in direct provision accommodation. Young people in direct provision can now be assured that there is a safe, secure and independent place they can come to make a complaint.”
Both Ombudsmen acknowledged the co-operation of Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, and her officials, in bringing about the extension of jurisdiction.
The Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children have a Memorandum of Understanding in place to ensure an effective service for those making complaints. Complaints can be made about standards of accommodation, meals, cleaning and facilities provided in direct provision centres.
Residents in direct provision, like everyone else in Ireland, can also now raise issues relating to the actions of public bodies, including schools, health services, social work services, local authorities, government departments and agencies.
Neither Ombudsman will be able to examine decisions about asylum, citizenship, residency or visas.
The Office of the Ombudsman has produced a ‘Factsheet’ for residents, explaining how to make a complaint. During March 2017, staff from the Office of the Ombudsman met with residents from a number of centres across the country and other stakeholders to explain the Ombudsman’s role.
The Ombudsman has also published resource materials for direct provision centre managers, including advice on setting up a Model Complaints Procedure. Joint briefing sessions by both Ombudsman Offices were held for all 33 accommodation centre managers and RIA and Department of Justice staff.
There is no expectation that the Ombudsman’s offices will be inundated with complaints, but some advocacy groups and individuals may seek to test the new complaints system initially.
Figures for the year 2012 show that RIA dealt with thirteen written complaints, of which eight were upheld and five not upheld.