The Justice Minister should apologise to the Dáil following his apology to the residents of Caherciveen, Labour's justice spokesman has said.
Yesterday therevealed that Charlie Flanagan had written an unprecedented letter to the people of the Kerry town over the opening of a Direct Provision centre there in March. The centre has become a source of controversy since it was revealed that a number of residents tested Covid-19 positive and were living in shared accommodation.
In total, 25 people including three staff have tested positive for the virus at the former Skellig Star hotel in the town. Residents who test positive are now moved to another facility.
In Minister Flanagan's letter, he apologises for the manner in which the centre was opened, saying that the urgency was due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
However, previous Irish Examiner reporting revealed that the Department of Justice had examined the centre some six months ago with view to using it for Direct Provision.
"I want to apologise most sincerely to the people of Cahirciveen for the way in which we had to open the Direct Provision Centre in the Skellig Star.
"In early March, my officials realised we needed new centres and we needed them quickly.
"It was not tenable in a health emergency to have large numbers of international protection applications in emergency hotel accommodation, sharing facilities with other guests.”
Labour's justice spokesperson, the Cork East TD Sean Sherlock, said that the apology to the people of Caherciveen is not enough.
"“The Minister for Justice has taken the extraordinary step of publishing an apology to the people of Kerry in their local newspaper.
What he has failed to do is fully explain what has happened in Cahersiveen, nor has he apologised to the asylum seekers he was responsible for, and to date he has not fully explained why they were placed in an unfit facility.
“The Minister for Justice should now make an apology to the Dáil and to the refugees he has utterly failed. Last week he failed to adequately answer questions in the Dáil last Wednesday when I raised this centre with him and the treatment of residents in Direct Provision.”
Independent TD Thomas Pringle said the situation shows that Direct Provision should not be the responsibility of the Department of Justice.
"The Department of Justice is not the right place to support or deal with Asylum Seekers. The Department does not have the mindset to allow it to deal with the needs of communities or residents of direct provision.
"Coming from a mindset of state security and policing control means that the department looks on asylum seekers as a threat to the state and not with a view to how we can meet our requirements to deal with asylum seekers as human beings first and foremost who are in vital need of our support and assistance.
"After listening to Minister Charlie Flanagan’s interview on RTE radio there is no doubt that the political parties have a difficulty in dealing fairly with people who require help and cannot vote but it is exacerbated by the Department of Justice structure.
"The Department is used to dealing with state protection which is not I believe where responsibility for the asylum process should lie."
Kerry TD Danny Healy Rae, meanwhile, rejected the Minister's apology, saying that the centre must close.
"I heard his apology, while it is something very small it isn't much good to the people of Caherciveen who've gone through so much for so long now, for many months, when he's saying he won't close the place down.
"Clearly the place isn't suitable."