A picket has been placed outside the Legal Aid Board Offices of the Department of Justice in Cahersiveen calling for the resignation of the minister Charlie Flanagan over his handling of a controversial Direct Provision Centre in the town.
The waterfront offices are around 100 metres from the town centre Skellig Star Hotel which was suddenly turned into a direct provision centre in mid March, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
At least 25 of the more than 100 asylum seekers, including children, transferred from Dublin to the hotel later tested positive for Covid-19. The first case was within a day of arrival. However the community in Cahersiveen was not informed by the HSE or the Department of Justice of any outbreak until much later.
Among the up to 80 people protesting today were seven residents from the Skellig Star Hotel. They were joined by people from Killarney, Ballinskelligs as well as Cahersiveen.
They are calling for the boutique hotel to be shut down as a Direct Provision Centre, saying it is not and was never fit for that purpose.
Jack Fitzpatrick chairman of the Cahersiveen Community and Business Alliance, organisers said the community had been "misled" consistently by the minister and the department. This was not just about the outbreak but also about the plans for the hotel, he said.
Not only was the outbreak sooner than admitted to, but the whole arrangements to turn the town’s only hotel into a Direct Provision Centre were in place months earlier, Mr Fitzpatrick said.
There has been no consultation with the community, he also said.
“ A Freedom of Information response reveals that a decision was made and the Skellig Star hotel was sanctioned for use on 18th October, 2019 with a proposed opening date of November 4th, 2019. No community consultation has taken place,” the Alliance said in a statement.
“Other issues pointing to no confidence in this Minister is the disregard of the law by both the DOJE and the private operator. Contravention of the National Vetting Bureau Act (2012) is evident as staff were not Garda Vetted. The DOJE continue to do business with an operator in breach of legislation to protect children and vulnerable people. We call for Minister Flanagan’s immediate resignation,” according to a press statement issued by the Alliance.
The Legal Aid Board in Cahersiveen houses around 50 people .No staff were in the building during the protest.
In a statement the board said it had no role in the Direct Provision System, and while funded by the Department of Justice it was not part of that Department.
“While the largest share of the Board's annual funding comes from the State through the Department of Justice, the Board is not part of the Department. It has a statutorily guaranteed independence in relation to the performance of its functions including the provision of civil legal aid services to persons of limited means,” it said.
The board also said its role in civil legal aid” includes the provision of legal services to applicants for international protection (asylum),”.
The Board has consistently provided or facilitated the provision of legal aid to the majority of persons who are legally represented in the international protection process the statement said.
In 2019 the Legal Aid Board dealt with 2,500 applications for legal aid from persons who had applied for international protection in Ireland.
Protestors plan to take the protest to the larger garda payroll offices of the Department of Justice in Killarney, they also said.