Additional reporting: Aoife Moore
The central heating system in the Kerry direct provision centre where at least 25 people have tested positive for Covid-19 has been in disrepair since last December.
The Skellig Star hotel in the south Kerry town of Caherciveen has been at the centre of a major coronavirus outbreak over the last month. At least 95 asylum seekers were accommodated in the hotel on March 18 and at least a quarter have since tested positive for the virus.
A number of children were among those who arrived in the hotel from Dublin.
As a result of the lack of heating, up to 50 standalone oil heaters had to be sourced in Tralee, 40 miles away.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said that an issue arose with the boiler in the hotel on the day the asylum seekers arrived.
That is factually inaccurate. The incident with the boiler system occurred on December 28 — two and a half months before the asylum seekers arrived. A fire engine attended at the scene on that evening and the heating system has been out of action since then.
A request for further clarity on the Department’s knowledge about when the heating system failed was not addressed in a later reply.
The Irish Examiner has also learned that an elevator engineering company is demanding to know why one of their engineers was inaccurately told that Covid 19 was not present in the hotel when he attended for a routine service.
Kone Engineering, based in Shannon, has written to the hotel pointing out that its engineer was assured three times that the virus was not present in the hotel before he conducted a service on April 19. On leaving the premises, a garda told him there were six confirmed cases in the hotel. It later emerged that the first four positive cases were confirmed on April 14.
The company wrote that its engineer cannot now fulfill his duties in any other location because he worked in a premises where the virus was present and that Kone relies on open and honest feedback from its customers.
The asylum seekers who have tested positive have been moved to another location in Cork. Those who remain have displayed signs saying they want to be moved from the hotel as soon as possible as it is not suitable accommodation.
In response to a question as to whether the hotel was audited for suitability as a direct provision centre prior to signing contracts, a spokesperson for the Department said a senior official “visited the premises as part of the assessment carried out".
In a later reply the Department said this official visited on September 25, 2019 and “identified a modern commercial kitchen and dining areas with all bedrooms ensuite”.
The Irish Examiner has established that the visit did not include an audit to determine how many people could be accommodated in each bedroom. This was conducted by another official soon after the asylum seekers had already moved in.
There was no consultation with the local community in advance of the opening. The reason given by the Department of Justice for the sudden arrival of 105 asylum seekers in the town was that it was an emergency response to the coronavirus. The asylum seekers were moved from the greater Dublin area with less than 24 hours notice.
Meanwhile Health Minister Simon Harris has confirmed that 160 healthcare workers here are currently resident in Direct Provision.
Mr Harris added: "When we’’re thanking front line workers, we should remember those 160." I want to thank them, because some individuals don’’t extend a céad míle fáilte to people from other countries." There have been 164 cases of confirmed Covid-19 in Direct Provision residential facilities.
At a glance: