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 introduced. Assessments are carried out by the International Protection Accommodation Service in conjunction with a social worker from the International Protection Office. As of the beginning of February 2021, the pilot had been extended to all new applicants for international protection. Over 100 applicants have now been assessed and vulnerabilities have been identified in approximately 60% of cases so far.
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 has also 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.”
Reception of victims of torture, violence or trafficking
Victims of torture have access to dedicated support service of NGOs, such as SPIRASI but this is curtailed by the practice of accommodating such applicants in isolated accommodation centres and limited funding for organisations, such as SPIRASI, which provide dedicated support.
 Regulation 8(1)(a) Reception Conditions Regulations.
 Information provided by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, April 2021.
 Regulation 8(1)(b) Reception Conditions Regulations.
 Professor Geoffrey Shannon, Eleventh Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection: A Report Submitted to the Oireachtas, September 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2AyNV0H, 81.