A safety watchdog has raised concerns with the Government over why staff working in accommodation centres housing refugees from the war in Ukraine, including children, were not being vetted by gardaí.
In correspondence, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said there appeared to be a “lacuna” when it came to safeguarding war refugees who were being housed in “congregated settings”.
Hiqa said that vetting was in place at direct provision centres for asylum seekers and questioned why this “primary protection” for “vulnerable populations” was not required for Ukrainians. In internal discussions, officials at the Department of Equality accepted there was a “discrepancy” in how different groups of refugees were being treated. However, they feared any changes could open a can of worms and that having different rules for different types of accommodation could see them “run into problems”.
In early June, a senior official at the department wrote to colleagues saying: “The reality is that there is a discrepancy in how we treat different groups, but I am not sure we have a strong footing to argue why they are treated differently.”
The official said there could be a “real difficulty” for them to explain why vetting of staff would be necessary in one setting and not in another.
The email concluded: “This is all very complex and we should not go lightly into vetting.” Another official wasn’t so certain that checking of staff would be required in accommodation for refugees from Ukraine.
“To be honest, given the way we procure and contract – essentially we pay the hotel bill – I’m not sure vetting is required under law,” the official wrote. A discussion email said hotel staff did not generally require vetting but that a child safety statement needed to be in place.
“If we introduce a requirement to vet staff in some settings (ie, those housing BoTPs [beneficiaries of temporary protection]) and not others, even though in the same industry, we may run into problems,” the email read.
The official said a similar issue had previously been raised about housing homeless families in hotels and that the department had not pursued seeking Garda checks.
The email said: “It should also be remembered that [these] children are not on their own – but under the care and supervision of family, extended family members or guardians.”
In a letter to Hiqa in late June, the department said it had raised the discrepancy with the Garda National Vetting Bureau, which said it would not be in position to provide the service under current laws.
The letter said: “Garda vetting of employees is a matter for employers to manage for their direct employees.
“The department does not employ staff in accommodation settings for Ukraine. It is best practice in settings where there are children and vulnerable adults to do this, and it is incumbent on accommodation providers to educate themselves in this regard.”
Asked about the discussions, a spokesman for the department said Ireland had supported more than 100,000 people who had fled here following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He said: “Overseeing provision of accommodation on such a scale during this timeframe for all those who require it remains immensely challenging.
“Due to the urgent need to source accommodation, the department has contracted in excess of 59,000 beds to accommodate [people] in more than 980 mainly commercial settings including hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs, hostels, commercial self-catering accommodation and certain other repurposed settings.”
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