Further to a number of questions submitted to the Minister of State David Stanton who has resposnibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration, by Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice and the subsequent briefing which took place on Wednesday at 2pm, Opportunities were missed and questions remain to be answered.
On Sunday night I submitted 15 questions to the Minister of State responsible for establishing the EROC in Ballaghaderreen and on Monday Oireachtas members were called to briefing which took place on Wednesday. A number of queries were addressed at the briefing but Mr. Fitzmaurice insists the department missed an opportunity in designing the tender documents to give the area a guaranteed economic boost, he said “I was disapppinted to be informed that the company which received the contract is not obliged to source food, goods and servcies locally. Had the department had the forsight to include certain clauses in the contract this could have been achieved. The officials who briefed us on Wednesday said they could ask the contracted company to source goods and services locally but they could not compel them to do so.
I have also expressed frustration at the attempts of some politicians to dress up a community integration grant as a “New Grant for Ballaghaderreen” – The reality is that this grant, while a welcome initiative, is not uniquely allocated to Ballaghaderreen. It is a grant which any community in the country can apply for, for the purposes of facilitating integration of different ethnic groups into communities. Despite reports from the meeting by others, this was not a win for the locality. It is positive and the department were very honest about what it is but it’s there for the entire country.
There are still issues which the department had to assess such as the schooling needs of the children which are coming “The department won’t know until the refugees arrive and are assessed, but of the 82 coming in the first cohort, 37 are children. Those of pre-school age may have their schooling needs attended to in the centre by way of pre-school being established on site, however the intention would be for the older children, where possible, to attend local schools. This all remains to be assessed.
We were told at the briefing on Wednesday that a the HSE had resources ring-fenced for the arrival of refugees since 2015. I find that hard to beleive. It was pointed out that Roscommon currently does not have a child psychologist and consideration must be given to what the young children coming here have been through. The department noted the situation in this regard and said if a child psychologist was required they would work with the HSE in that regard. I would be of the opinion that the HSE in Roscommon should fast track the recruitment of a child psychologist in any case to ensure that all the children in Roscommon can have their needs catered for locally.
I note that the Department intend to liaise with the local community through established democratic channels quoting them as saying ” IRPP policy is to work through established democratic institutions and mechanisms including the local authority, local councillors, members ofthe Oireachtas, media etc. This is the best way to disseminate accurate information. IRPP staff will also, over a period of time, meet local service providers and individuals seeking to assist.” – noting “Hopefully the department will be quicker to disseminate information in the future, as the contract was signed in mid-December and the first anyone heard of the decision locally was on Junuary 5th.
Naturally I am pleased with the fact that engagement going forward will be better than it has been to date, or so we are promised. The meeting with Ballaghaderreen Town Team which is being facilitated through the County Council should be productive, provided everyone approaches the meeting with an open mind, especially the department.
I am not surprised to have been informed that the decision to locate this centre in Ballaghaderreen was not considered by cabinet, stating he had been told – “No. (the decision was not discussed at cabinet) The opening of an EROC is entirely an operational matter for the Department of Justice and Equality.” – He stated “I beleive that lessons need to be learned and that in future local communities need to be given more credit. Consultation can avoid negative backlash and sentiment and if done correctly engagement with local communities can be productive and provide an essenital contribution to the success of projects of this nature.
Basically, the department wouldn’t reveal the value of the contract which has been awarded as there are more centres to be opened and that information is considered commercially sensitive. There are no guaranteed benefits to the local community although I suppose we’ll remain optimistic about the potential there is for now. We’ve been told that in the centre in Monesterevan the goods and services were sourced locally and jobs given to locals, I intend to travel there to make sure this is the case. The Department are insisting whatever resources are required will be provided, but that remains to be seen. It will be possible that the numbers in the EROC will grow to over 200 and if that is the case it would be a 10% increase Ballaghaderreen’s popultion. I hope it’s reflected five fold in the increase in services, because that is the increase that will be required at a minimum.
We’re being told that everything will be fine and that there is nothing to worry about. I just hope that these people who have survived the devastation of war don’t have to face into further hardship when they arrive here in their new home, in which I am sure they will be welcomed. Establishing an EROC may not be new business for the department but I hope they are as prepared as they think they are when they see just how stretched services currently are in this region. I proposed at Wednesday’s briefing that by the end of February that oireachtas members should meet with all stakeholders to ensure the jigsaw has been put together to ensure services are delivered.
NOTE: BELOW PLEASE FIND THE 15 QUESTIONS- AND ANSWERS RECEIVED THAT I SENT TO THE MINISTER OF STATE ON SUNDAY NIGHT LAST- FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Dear Deputy Fitzmaurice,
I refer to your correspondence of 9th January regarding Syrian family’s
accommodation in county Roscommon.
Please see below response which I trust answers your queries.
Private Secretary to the Minister of State
for Equality, Immigration and Integration
1) When was the contract signed with the suppliers of accommodation
A. In mid – December 2016. This followed a call for expressions of
interest which was published in the national media in October 2015.
2) Is the contract for two years
3) Are the people employed to cook and wash and clean clothes being given
out by the department separate or is it an inclusive contract with
A. It is an inclusive contract
4) If it is inclusive contract that food , and all the other services
mentioned above are supplied with accommodation is there any clause in it
that all services have to be supplied by businesses in the town of
Ballaghaderreen or that all staff have to be sourced from the town and
A. No. The supply of services to the hotel is a matter for the
contractor to either deliver directly or to out source to another business
5) Was this venue brought up at cabinet meeting and if so when and was all
cabinet aware of decision
A. No. The opening of an EROC is entirely an operational matter for the
Department of Justice and Equality.
6) Was HSE services in area informed and if so when and is there a plan in
place that can be looked at
A. All the main state Agencies (Education, Social Protection, HSE etc.)
were informed at national level. Each body then takes the matter up at
local level. The response of each service provider will depend on the make
up and needs of the cohort which arrives in Ireland and not just the
numbers that arrive in Ireland. Discussions are ongoing with the various
service providers. Solutions will be found to any problems that may arise.
Both the Department and the relevant service providers are well used to
dealing with and resolving any service issues that arise locally in this
context. The establishment of an institution such as an EROC is not a new
All of the key service providers such as the HSE, Department of Education
and the Department of Social Protection are represented on the overarching
Government Taskforce which has been established to coordinate services and
the IRPP. The IRPP also holds regular weekly meetings with all its clients
in EROCs and any issues, including service issues, that arise are speedily
brought to our attention. Moreover, the management in all of the EROCs are
very hands on and when they become aware of any service issues they act on
them and also inform the IRPP.
The IRPP is proactively involved in the welfare of the client group and
liaises on an ongoing basis with all service providers.
7) Are the children going to local schools or learning with adults in house
or are crèches being used
A. This is a matter that the Department of Education and Skills will
address with IRPP over the coming weeks once they have the opportunity to
assess the needs of the children that arrive. The answer will depend on a
range of factors that includes an assessment of education needs and local
capacity. There is a range of possible solutions depending on need, length
of stay in the EROC and local capacity. The IRPP team will work closely
with the relevant bodies to ensure that the outcome is not one which is
detrimental to local schools or the community.
8) When was Roscommon co council first told or spoken to about intension
A. A letter was issued to the Chief Executive of Roscommon County
Council on 5th January 2017.
9) Is there new bus services laid on or what transport arrangements are put
A. The reasonable transport needs of those in the EROC is covered by the
contract. Should additional and relevant transport needs arise then other
transport arrangements can be approved by the Department of Justice and
Equality. The contract is sufficiently flexible to cater for a range of
events and needs.
10) Will all teachers and sna, s be hired locally
A. While the IRPP staff work closely with the Department and local
schools, this is the type of operational issues that only be directly
addressed by the statutory service provider and employer.
11) Is there regional funding coming to Ballaghaderreen to help employment
and hope work can be got for these family’s in time
A. The families in question are being accommodated in the EROC in
Ballaghaderreen for approximately six months for an initial period of
recuperation, recovery and orientation. After that they will be provided
with permanent housing elsewhere across the country. The EROC is about
initial reception and orientation which is a necessary precursor to
resettlement elsewhere in the State. It is not a facility for permanent
resettlement in Ballaghaderreen. The persons concerned will not require
homes or employment in the locality.
12) Is there now an allocation of additional money for housing for people
of Ballaghaderreen that are on housing list and for unfinished estates
A. The persons to be accommodated in the EROCs will not be taking up any
accommodation that would otherwise be used by those on the housing list.
They will be temporarily residing in the hotel which has been closed for
many years and in “shell” apartments which are part of the hotel complex
and which are to be finished as part of the current contract. There will
no impact on local housing that arises from this facility.
13) Is there any extra gardai being allocated to the town
A. While the allocation of Gardaí is the responsibility of the Garda
Commissioner it should be said that the opening of an EROC does not give
rise to a requirement for the deployment of additional Gardaí. The EROC
clientele are usually just delighted to have the opportunity to get on with
their lives and a second chance at a new start. IRPP will of course liaise
with local Gardaí at the appropriate level prior to the arrival of any
persons in the EROC and contact has already been made in this regard.
14) Is there a team coming to public meeting in Ballaghaderreen to explain
to people exactly the procedure
A. IRPP policy is to work through established democratic institutions
and mechanisms including the local authority, local councillors, members of
the Oireachtas, media etc. This is the best way to disseminate accurate
information. IRPP staff will also, over a period of time, meet local
service providers and individuals seeking to assist.
15 ) Is there any Dept staff to brief the TDs and senators
A. Staff of the IRPP are happy to brief local representatives and a
brief will be provided at the meeting.