Michael Clifford: Minister’s apology fails to address key issues in Caherciveen

The letter of apology from the Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan concerning a Direct Provision centre in Cahirciveen avoids the real issues that have left people “angry and upset” and harbouring “suspicion and worry”.
Michael Clifford: Minister’s apology fails to address key issues in Caherciveen

A resident at the Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre in Cahersiveen Co Kerry joins with Cahersiveen residents . Picture: Alan Landers.
A resident at the Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre in Cahersiveen Co Kerry joins with Cahersiveen residents . Picture: Alan Landers.

The

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Neither is there any apology in the missive for the asylum seekers whose lives have been hugely impacted by what has been, on many different levels, a shambles.

Mr Flanagan does address the absence of consultation locally before the centre opened with very little notice on March 18.

He says this was largely due to the pandemic and that before the health emergency the department’s evolving policy had been to engage with local people.

Except there was nothing sudden about earmarking the Skellig Star as a direct provision centre. The process had begun last summer.

An official visited in September of last year. In January, the department denied to local media that a centre was being planned, saying “no contract” had been signed.

So while the pandemic required an urgent response, plans had long been in place to locate a direct provision centre in Cahirciveen.

There was plenty of time for engagement with the local community if there was any interest in doing so.

The minister does not address the failure to inspect the Skellig Star hotel ahead of sending 100 asylum seekers, including pregnant women and children, to stay there on March 18-19.

As reported in the Irish Examiner an official visited

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There was no proper inspection. This was confirmed after the asylum seekers moved in when a problem arose over the small size of the bedrooms.

Any such issue would have been immediately apparent if a full inspection had been conducted some six months earlier.

When the official did visit in September 2019 the hotel was not in possession of the company now running it which might explain why a proper inspection was not conducted.

The minister does not mention in his apology that there was no central heating in the hotel and had not been for over two months before the asylum seekers arrived.

When this matter was put to the department by the Irish Examiner the response was an issue arose with the boiler on the day the residents moved in (March 18).

This is factually inaccurate.

The issue arose on December 28 and was still not addressed when the asylum seekers arrived from Dublin.

One can debate whether the people of Cahirciveen are due an apology for these two issues, but it is indisputable that the asylum seekers are entitled to one.

While the lack of engagement with the community ahead of the centre opening caused initial anger and disappointment, most people accepted the “fait accompli”.

A committee was organised and efforts made to welcome the town’s newest residents.

The anger, upset, suspicion and worry among local people can be traced directly to how the centre was run, both prior to, and subsequent to, the outbreak of the virus in mid-April, weeks after it was opened.

The Irish Examiner has learned that two managers left in the first four weeks.

Despite subsequent claims, there was no training for the staff on how to deal with any outbreak in a congregated setting.

Strangers had to share bedrooms in the 56 room hotel. Multiple sources have confirmed that social distancing was absent with shared dining facilities, and no measures taken in elevators, corridors, dining or common areas.

Mr Flanagan addresses an allegation that the initial outbreak originated with a resident who had arrived in Cahirciveen from a hotel in Dublin where it was known the virus was present.

“We will almost certainly never know”, Mr Flanagan asserts. He goes on to infer that the infection could not have come from Dublin.

Nowhere in Mr Flanagan’s apology is there mention of the failure to inform local people of the outbreak. The first positive results were returned on April 13.

A local businessman, Jack Fitzpatrick, said he received information about the outbreak on April 18 and he and a delegation met management of the centre in a nearby carpark.

The outbreak was confirmed then, 21 days after the first positive case went into self-isolation.

The failure to notify the local people of the risk in that period saw trust collapse.

Very little subsequently done has managed to rebuild that trust and therein lies the major problem that has now developed in the community’s attitude to the centre.

On Kerry radio and in print local representatives have repeatedly made it plain that they don’t blame the asylum seekers for the shambles that has unfolded.

Their issue is entirely with the department and the company running the centre.

Mr Flanagan’s apology, with its avoidance of the main points of conflict, is unlikely to change that.

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