Lack of audits for private accommodation for child migrants ‘unfathomable’

Hotels and B&Bs are not suitable places for children to grow up, says Ombudsman for Children, and calls for move away from emergency responses

The health and safety of thousands of children living in emergency accommodation centres is at serious risk due to a lack of safeguarding and oversight of hotels, B&B and temporary living settings, a children’s watchdog has warned.

The State’s decision not to audit emergency accommodation used to house international protection applicants and their children is “unfathomable”, the Office of the Ombudsman for Children has said.

On Thursday it published a special report on the safety and welfare of children in direct provision – the first of its kind since the body was established nearly 20 years ago.

Its 2021 direct provision recommendations, which were accepted at the time, have “not been progressed”, Ombudsman for Children Niall Muldoon said, adding that it was “incomprehensible” that the housing system created more than two decades ago for asylum seekers remains in place.


The special report calls on the International Protection Accommodation Service to cease using commercial hotels, which are “inappropriate and unprotected settings for children to reside”, and to focus on “medium to long-term housing planning for those seeking asylum”. There is also an urgent need for a “robust quality assurance mechanism” and “independent inspectorate” to ensure Hiqa carries out inspections of all 49 designated direct provision centre and 175 emergency accommodation centres, says the report.

To date only three pilot inspections have taken place in permanent centres, while emergency centres are not included within the Hiqa remit, it says.

In its third recommendation the report reiterated the need for vulnerability assessments of children within 30 days of their asylum application being made, and warned that lack of information and support was stopping people from registering their children.

Director of investigations at the Ombudsman for Children’s office, Nuala Ward, noted that the State was spending over €40 million per month on an “ad hoc system” of private hoteliers and B&Bs to accommodate new arrivals with “little or no oversight or governance”.

“We have seen multiple Oireachtas committees into how RTÉ administered over €200 million of taxpayers’ money every year. Double that is being paid into this system with no adequate oversight,” she said. “At a minimum we need to know that the service meets the basic standards of child safety and welfare.”

Ms Ward also rejected the narrative that the current issues had only arisen due to the recent influx in arrivals. “These are systematic issues that have been around for years and years that should and could have been addressed through dedicated and concerted effort”.

Nick Henderson, director of the Irish Refugee Council, said it was “astonishing” that Hiqa inspections would not be carried out at the 175 emergency accommodation centres currently housing around 2,700 children. He described the report’s findings as “devastating in their clarity and simplicity”, and said “huge scale and ambition” was needed across Government to deal with the crisis.

Long-term planning and cross-departmental Government participation was needed now, said Dr Muldoon, adding that he respected the constraints faced by the smaller Department of Children and Equality which oversees housing for asylum seekers and Ukrainian refugees.

Asked about a potential influx of refugees from Gaza, Dr Muldoon said planning should not focus on “individual crises” but on long-term solutions. “We want to see action that commits to the next five to 10 years. We need the Oireachtas to take this seriously and hold the Government to account for how we are treating fellow human beings.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast