Regulation 2(5) of the Reception Conditions Regulations defines a vulnerable person as “a person who is a minor, an unaccompanied minor, a person with a disability, an elderly person, a pregnant woman, a single parent of a minor, a victim of human trafficking, a person with a serious illness, a person with a mental disorder, and a person who has been subjected to torture, rape or other form of serious psychological, physical or sexual violence.”
Under the Reception Conditions Regulations, a vulnerability assessment must take place within 30 working days of a person communicating their intention to seek asylum. However, the form of the assessment is not prescribed in the Regulations and a vulnerability assessment had still not been introduced as of the end of 2020, despite a commitment made by the Government in October 2020 that a formal system of vulnerability assessment would be implemented by year-end.
At the end of January 2021, a pilot programme for the conducting of vulnerability assessments was established at Balseskin reception centre in Dublin. As of January 2023, the pilot programme continued., having been extended to all newly arrived, as well as existing international protection applicants. As of October 2022, approximately 2,114 assessments had been undertaken since the establishment of the pilot with 1,024 individuals identified as vulnerable.
In September 2022, IPAS published a Vulnerability Assessment Pilot Programme Policy, setting out the nature and purpose of the vulnerability assessment. Pursuant to the newly established Policy, and, in response to significant pressure on IPAS resources, the vulnerability assessment procedure was also altered substantially. Vulnerability Assessment questionnaires were provided to all individuals making an application for international protection. Questionnaires were made available to applicants in a number of languages, both at their accommodation centres and online via IPAS’ website. A referral form for service providers and third parties working with international protection applicants was also made available and could be completed by the service provider with the applicant’s consent. Both documents contain a series of questions relating to the vulnerability indicators contained within the Reception Conditions Directive.
While the Irish Refugee Council welcomed the introduction of the programme, a number of concerns were raised in respect of both the process and procedure by which vulnerability assessments are currently being conducted. Through its casework, the Irish Refugee Council noted inconsistencies in the manner in which assessments are carried out, as well as a lack of follow-up supports in line with applicant’s identified needs.
For more information on the vulnerability assessment process, please see the section Guarantees for Vulnerable Applicants.
While an optional health screening is provided at Balseskin, this is only a preliminary health screening and does not constitute a vulnerability assessment. The Regulations also provide for a further assessment to take place at any stage during the asylum process where the Minister considers it necessary to do so in order to ascertain whether the recipient has special reception needs. A formal process for ongoing assessment of vulnerabilities and special reception needs has not been introduced by year-end, although practitioners in the area have begun to make representations in reliance on this aspect of the Regulations.
The onset of COVID-19 highlighted the lack of information held by the Government in relation to applicant’s vulnerabilities and health issues. When the need to move people out of Direct Provision became apparent at the height of the pandemic, the Department of Justice and Equality lacked adequate data in which it could rely upon to identify residents with particular health conditions or vulnerabilities. In the experience of the Irish Refugee Council, in some cases, centre managers were asked to identify residents with specific health vulnerabilities and many residents reported discomfort at the prospect of having to share their sensitive medical history with a third party.
Reception of unaccompanied children
Regulation 9 of the Reception Conditions Regulations provides that in all matters pertaining to the reception of children, “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” For the purposes of assessing a minor’s best interests with respect to reception conditions, the Minister shall have regard to:
- Family unity;
- The minor’s well-being and social development, taking into account the minor’s background;
- Safety and security considerations, in particular where there is a possibility of the minor being a victim of human trafficking;
- The views of the minor in accordance with his or her age and maturity.
With respect to unaccompanied children, specifically, Regulation 10 states that the provisions of the Regulations shall apply to unaccompanied children who have made an application for international protection and designates Tusla as the minor’s representative in all matters pertaining to his or her reception entitlements. Unaccompanied minors are not accommodated in Direct Provision and are either reunited with family or taken into care.
Reception of families with children
In addition to regard for the best interests of the child under Regulation 9, Regulation 10 of the Reception Conditions Regulations sets out the standards pertaining to the designation of accommodation, which includes provisions relevant to children and families with children. The Minister shall take account of inter alia family unity (where family members of the recipient are recipients and are present in the territory of the State) and gender and age specific concerns.
In particular, when designating accommodation to children, the Minister shall have regard to (a) the need to lodge a child with his or her parents, unmarried minor siblings or an adult responsible for him or her (provided it is in their best interests), and (b) the need for the accommodation centre to be suitable to meet all of the child’s needs.
There are five centres which accommodate families with children; two which accommodate families and single females. Families are otherwise accommodated with the general population. Children are accommodated together with their families in Direct Provision accommodation centres. In his 2019 report to Parliament, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Professor Geoffrey Shannon, criticised the Direct Provision, stating “As noted in numerous other Rapporteur reports, the system of Direct Provision for asylum seekers in Ireland should be abolished.”
In April 2021, the Ombudsman for Children (OCO) published the report of its investigation Safety and Welfare of Children in Direct Provision. The investigation was launched following a visit to a Direct Provision Centre by the Ombudsman’s Office during which a parent raised concerns regarding overcrowding, nutrition, lack of safe play areas for children and poor communication from centre management about facilities at the designated centre and how to go about making a complaint. While the investigation initially focused on one centre, the OCO subsequently decided to expand its investigation to include all accommodation centres where children were residing. This was largely owing to concerns that IPAS did not have a sufficiently robust oversight mechanism in place to ensure quality of services being provided to children.
Residents of direct provision centres raised concerns about overcrowding and safety issues. Other concerns raised during OCO’s investigation included inconsistent heating supply to bedrooms, the nutritional content of food, the poor conditions of facilities – including the lack of safe play areas for children – and lack of information on how to submit complaints. The report also underlined a broader ‘culture of fear’ in direct provision centres, with residents being reluctant to bring complaints to the authorities’ attention due to the fear that this may impact on their status or treatment while seeking asylum in Ireland. Interpretation services were also not available in some centres, thus preventing residents from making complaints.
The Report called for IPAS to immediately end the use of commercial emergency hotels and put in place a well-resourced quality assurance mechanism to monitor complaints, child protection and welfare concerns and any other incidents in order to be assured about the quality of services provided to families in all centres. The OCO further called for extensive cultural sensitivity training, as well as training in gender, equality, human and children’s rights training for staff working in Direct Provision centres. Finally, it also called on Tulsa, the Child and Family agency, to recognise the vulnerability of children within the international protection process and to develop an intercultural strategy.
In its White Paper on Direct Provision, the Government noted that, as part of the revised reception system for international protection applicants, there will be an emphasis on child welfare and child protection. Children and Young People’s Services Committees (CYPSCs), which comprise all key statutory and voluntary agencies working with children, will ensure that, among their sub-groups, there is a specific focus on the needs of children, young people and their families in International Protection Accommodation settings. The CYPSCs will receive Tusla’s input in the key areas such as Prevention, Partnership and Family Support and Educational Support Services. Parenting supports and child development services will also be made available to applicant families to support child development during the application process.
Reception of victims of torture, violence or trafficking
Victims of torture have access to NGO support services, such as SPIRASI, who provide ongoing therapeutic interventions and psychosocial supports for victims of torture. However, this is curtailed by the practice of accommodating such applicants in isolated accommodation centres and limited funding for such organisations.
 Regulation 8(1)(a) Reception Conditions Regulations.
 Information provided by IPAS, December 2022.
 Regulation 8(1)(b) Reception Conditions Regulations.