More than half of the staff at the controversial direct provision centre in Caherciveen, Co Kerry, had not been Garda vetted by May 7, almost two months after the residents moved in, the Irish Examiner has learned.
It has also emerged that most, if not all, of the staff had not completed a mandatory Tusla course required of anybody working in a centre with children by that date.
It is not clear if all the staff have now been Garda vetted and have completed the Tusla course at this stage, with a number of questions to the Department of Justice going unanswered by the time of going to press.
Local residents have claimed those working at the centre “were hotel staff and wholly unprepared to deal with the risks and had no medical expertise in controlling the spread of Covid-19”.
Charlie Flanagan, the justice minister, had an unprecedented open letter of apology to the people of Kerry and Caherciveen published in local newspapers in which he admitted mistakes in how he and his department handled the relocation of the 100 asylum seekers from Dublin to Caherciveen on March 18. More than 25 people, including three staff, have tested positive for Covid-19 to date.
He also took to the airwaves yesterday when he extended that apology to include the residents. But he stood over the decision to relocate the residents, and rejected calls to close the centre at the Skellig Star Hotel in the town.
However, the apology appears to have backfired, with locals and opposition parties saying it does not go far enough and reiterating calls for the centre to be closed.
Residents in Caherciveen went as far as taking out a full-page advertisement in today’s Kerry’s Eye newspaper rejecting the apology.
The 1,000-word response from the Caherciveen Community and Business Alliance says the minister did not address the real issue.
“The crux of the issue for us, minister, is that there has been concealment of the risk to the residents of the hotel, to the staff and to the people of Caherciveen and Kerry since March ... there was a clear conflict of interest here Profits v Management of Public Health Risk.”
The response says staff “were hotel staff and wholly unprepared to deal with the risks and had no medical expertise in controlling the spread of Covid-19”.
A major issue, according to the letter, was the failure to inform people that some residents displayed symptoms soon after arriving at the centre, and local people were not informed about the dangers for three weeks.
“That was 3 full weeks that the residents didn’t know there was an immediate risk in this over crowded hotel where strangers were sharing rooms, 3 full weeks that the local staff were going home to their families and other villages in S Kerry, 3 full weeks that Cahersiveen or Kerry didn’t know of the real risk of the presence of Covid19 in the hotel. And 4 weeks before the HSE got involved on the ground. Neither HSE nor HIQA have any remit over a DPC run by a For Profit company.”
A statement from asylum seekers at the centre, provided to Radio Kerry, thanked the minister for accepting the move to the hotel “was wrong”, but they said the decision to move people on March 18 still needed to be addressed. The residents, who had been in lockdown for the past three weeks, were allowed out for the first time yesterday. A protest is being held at the hotel today.
Flanagan's statements - fact or fiction?
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan made a number of statements yesterday about the direct provision centre in Caherciveen, Co Kerry, which contradict the version of events confirmed by the Irish Examiner through extensive documentation and interviews with parties intimately aware of the circumstances around the setting up and running of the centre in the Skellig Star hotel.
STATEMENT: “There was a full assessment carried out as to the suitability or otherwise.” — Charlie Flanagan on Kerry Today with Jerry O’Sullivan.
“Absolutely, there was a full assessment (of the Skellig Star hotel).” — Charlie Flanagan on Today with Sarah McInerney.
THE FACTS: An official from the department visited the hotel on September 18, 2019. There was no inspection of any element of the hotel. When queried by the Irish Examiner about an “inspection”, a statement from the department said that elements of the hotel were “identified”.
STATEMENT: “We discussed it with the health authorities and the HSE (in relation to moving asylum seekers to Caherciveen).” — Charlie Flanaganon Kerry Today with Jerry O’Sullivan.
THE FACTS: In a letter to councillor Michael Cahill, a HSE official wrote the following on the move to Caherciveen.
“The decision to open a direct provision centre, the location of the centre, and the decision to transfer people into that centre at a time of a pandemic was entirely a decision of the Department of Justice.
“The HSE received limited notice in regard to the opening of the centre and voiced its concern at the time in regard to the timing of the move and the access of the centre’s residents to health services at a time when all of our healthcare services are being stretched to their limit.”
STATEMENT: “Any single person who had a desire to have a room on their own have one… we have accommodated people on that basis.” — Charlie Flanagan on Today with Sarah McInerney.
THE FACTS: This was not done at the outset and for a number of weeks at least due to the numbers of residents. Some rooms have remained empty because residents don’t want to stay in rooms from which infected people have departed. There has been no deep cleaning of the hotel despite reports.
STATEMENT: “We made arrangements for people to self-isolate”. — Charlie Flanagan on Today with Sarah McInerney.
THE FACTS: The department was informed by April 2 there was no more room for self- isolating due to the numbers obliged to do so by then.
STATEMENT: “Social distancing measures were acted on pretty speedily.” — Charlie Flanagan on Today with Sarah McInerney.
THE FACTS: For at least 10 days after arriving, residents ate in the communal dining area and queued up for their meals.
STATEMENT: “The process about opening the centre began last September, is that right?” — Sarah McInerney on Today with Sarah McInerney.
“No, that’s not right.” — Mr Flanagan.
THE FACTS: That is right.
STATEMENT: “In fact, and this I believe is a really crucial point, it was well over a fortnight [the incubation period] before any of our residents in Caherciveen began to show symptoms or were confirmed as positive for Covid-19.” — Mr Flanagan in open letter to the people of
Caherciveen, explaining why none of the residents could have contracted the virus in Dublin prior to arrival in Kerry.
THE FACTS: The first display of symptoms was on March 21, three days after arrival. The department was informed of this on March 24. The first symptoms that resulted in a positive diagnosis for the virus was on March 29, 11 days after the asylum seekers arrived.