Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said he could not travel to Cahirciveen to apologise directly to the people in Direct Provision in the Skellig Star hotel because of Covid-19 restrictions.
The minister was commenting after he issued an apology to the people of Cahirciveen and Kerry through a letter in the form of an advertisement in local newspapers, a copy of which was obtained by the Irish Examiner.
“I am subject to the same restrictions as everybody else,” he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney show.
“I didn’t deem it appropriate to address people in Direct Provision through the Kerryman,” he said.
Mr Flanagan said he felt he needed to explain the situation to the people of Kerry and to apologise for not alerting the locals sooner when it was confirmed that there was a case of Covid-19 in the direct provision centre.
“Remember we were in the middle of a pandemic.”
Action had to be taken swiftly which meant that the usual protocols such as informing locals had not been taken, he said.
The minister said that either he or officials from his department are in contact with management of the Direct Provision centre in the former Skellig Star hotel on a daily basis.
Mr Flanagan acknowledged that there had been problems with a boiler for hot water in the former hotel, this issue has still not been dealt with because of the difficulty in having it repaired during a pandemic. But, he said that every room had been furnished with an electrical heater and there were heaters in communal spaces.
Where possible social distancing is observed in the centre and ever family has their own room. Unfortunately, he said not everyone could have their own room.
“We don’t have a bedroom for everybody, ideally we would have an apartment for everybody, but we don’t have the resources for 7,000 apartments.”
The people in Direct Provision are not refugees, said Mr Flanagan. They are people who have arrived in country suddenly and the State is obliged to offer them board, shelter and accommodation, he said.
The minister said and his officials had always sought to make life as comfortable as possible for people in direct provision.
The Skellig Star hotel had been assessed last September after the Department of Justice had sought expressions of interest in providing accommodation which could be used for direct provision. It was designated as suitable, but it was not until March when the need became acute that the hotel was required, he said.
“Because of the pandemic we weren’t able to consult with locals. I regret that locals were not alerted sooner.”
He regretted that locals were not alerted sooner about the case of Covid-19 and he said that he accepted the matter had not been handled in the manner in which it would had there not been a pandemic.
“As soon as anyone tested positive they were relocated to a place of greater safety. I don’t believe there was secrecy,” he said, but because of the pandemic the usual mechanisms by which information is shared had not been observed.
Mr Flanagan said he had no problem addressing the issue again in the Dáil. He said he had no problem apologising to the people in the centre, but would not do so through the local newspaper.