Private firms have been paid over €1.3bn to provide direct provision accommodation, with several contractors earning more than €100m from the taxpayer.
Figures obtained by thefrom the Department of Justice reveal that the Government spend on direct provision, introduced as a temporary solution in 2000, has more than doubled in the past five years from €53.2m in 2014 to €130m in 2019.
The revelations come as former Labour minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin claims he faced strong resistance to delivering change to the direct provision system when in office.
As of March 1, 5,645 people were being accommodated in the 39 direct provision centres nationwide.
Today, for the first time, we publish the total amount of monies paid to private operators since the system began in 2000 and reveal the identities of the biggest earners who have rolling contracts with the State.
- The largest earner in terms of government-contracted accommodation is Mosney Holiday PLC. Director Phelim McCloskey and his wife Elizabeth are the owners of the former Butlin’s holiday camp, and were paid just under €140m between 2000 and 2018. In 2019, they were paid a further €10.8m;
- East Coast Catering, owned by Canada-based Irishman Patrick O’Callaghan, running direct provision centres in Dublin and Dundalk, was paid €130m up to 2018 and received a further €11m in 2019;
- Bridgestock Ltd, which has housed more than 500 asylum seekers in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, and in Sligo was paid €109,457,663 between 2002 and 2017 and a further €7m in 2019.
- Millstreet Equestrian Services, with an address in Tipperary, provides accommodation under the direct provision system in Cork, Tipperary, and Waterford, with directors listed as Noel C Duggan and Thomas A Duggan. The company was paid €77,244,129 by the State from 2000 to 2017. In 2019, it was paid a further €11.6m.
The full cost of running the facilities will vary from centre to centre, depending on capacity, among other factors, and are tendered out to other operators, meaning the bill for the direct provision system is much higher than €1.3bn.
Mr Ó Ríordáin, a Labour TD and a former minister with responsibility for direct provision, said he faced strong resistance from Fine Gael and officials in the Department of Justice from reforming the system.
“Have to say that not every official in the department was the same, but certainly, I felt that it was an unsympathetic department when it comes to this issue,” he told the.
“It’s a big department that deals with a lot of things — the guards and security and so on — and this just felt like a small stone in the shoe of the department.
They never seemed to have the feel for it.
“They had a feeling that any moves to make direct provision more humane or anything in that direction would create what they called a ‘pull factor’ and they would use that phrase all the time.
“So we launched a report in the National Library and I remember being asked by the press our response to it, and I said ‘this is going to be implemented’, but the minister [Frances Fitzgerald] said it was ‘food for thought’.
I knew then this wasn’t going to happen.
Last week, ombudsman Peter Tyndall, in his annual report for 2019, reported that 168 complaints were received, up from 152 in 2018.
In response, the Department of Justice said it established an expert group on the provision of support, including accommodation, to persons in the International Protection Process (Asylum Seekers). That group is due to report this year.
Since it was created, more than 65,000 vulnerable people have been assisted by the system.
The offer of accommodation from the department is voluntary and residents can source their own accommodation at any time, said a spokesman.
The department pointed to the fact that the ombudsman has welcomed the sustained improvements being implemented in the direct provision system.
“We recognise that our programme of improvements must be continuous and that there is much more for us to do,” a spokesman said.