A bus service to enable visits to nearby major towns, and the transfer of residents who have formally applied to leave the Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre in Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry, is being considered by the Department of Justice.
Officials who visited the centre on Tuesday, as the 32 people continued a hunger strike to leave Cahersiveen, yesterday wrote to ask them to not endanger their health.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act this week show a bus service to Killarney was part of the original plans to convert the hotel to what was a seventh Direct Provision Centre in Co. Kerry.
Just 41 of the original 106 residents transferred from commercial hotels in Dublin during the start of the pandemic in March now remain in the Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen.
Originally, the immediate hotel was to have housed 150 international protection applicants, and further numbers were to have been accommodated at the rear of the hotel in 36 refurbished apartments.
The documents detail how in September 2019, a building associated with Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator who hailed from Cahersiveen, was being viewed by the Department as having potential for use as a recreation and meeting area for the new residents.
“I was also shown a large building at rear of hotel in need of repair - may be a listed building - historical link to Daniel O’Donnell. Building has potential for recreational and community usage,” according to a handwritten note of the visit of September 18.
There was a reluctance to open what was a seventh centre in Co. Kerry. However, Cahersiveen was some distance from the others in Killarney, Kenmare and Tralee, it was felt.
“The contractor will facilitate a bus service to Killarney for residents. The hotel will be available from the start of November,” according to an internal email in the Immigration Service Delivery Section of the Department of Justice of October 18.
The main impetus in the opening of the centre in Cahersiveen in what was a trading hotel was “a wind-down out of expensive hotel options.”
The Skellig Star, trading as a hotel at the time officials visited in September and not yet in the ownership of the company proposing to host it as an accommodation centre, was changing hands and was to come into operation on November 4.
It is not clear why this was postponed and the Department denied it was being considered. The opening suddenly, and without consultation, during the pandemic was presented as being based on Covid-19 considerations, rather than the original cost-saving objective.
An average of €100 per bed was being spent on emergency accommodation in Dublin and it was in this light the transfer to Cahersiveen was envisaged as urgent, the documents repeatedly demonstrated.
Yesterday’s letter to the hunger strikers in Cahersiveen states: “A number of residents have made applications for transfer and these will be considered in the coming days in line with the planned relaxation of current restrictions on transfer and the availability of suitable alternative accommodation.
“We are also working on solutions to facilitate the transport needs of residents wishing to visit larger towns in the area…” the letter of July 29th says.
Access to a social worker, and the transfer to "appropriate accommodation" in either Mosney or Tullamore Accommodation centres are among the demands by the more than 30 hunger strikers.
"We have sent emails several times highlighting how we have suffered physically, socially, mentally and emotionally due to the treatment suffered at the hands of IPAS during covid and post covid," the hunger strikers say in a statement issued to the press.