Joint letter to An Taoiseach regarding the Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre
On the 03rd June 2020 Nasc, the Irish Refugee Council, Doras and Graham Clifford, Founder of the Sanctuary Runners, wrote to the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD asking for clarity on the circumstances of the transfer of international protection applicants to Cahersiveen in light of new evidence arising from the Oireachtas Special Committee on the Covid 19 response and reporting from the Irish Examiner.
Full text of letter below.
We are writing to you on foot of the report in the Irish Examiner, “Trust has been eroded in how State operates” [28/05/2020] regarding the Skellig Star direct provision centre in Cahersiveen.
In recent days, a number of discrepancies have been brought to light between various statements given by the Minister for Justice and Equality, justice officials, and senior officials from the HSE. These discrepancies emerge from news reports and a statement by Norma Foley, TD in the Oireachtas Special Committee on the Covid 19 response on the 26/05/2020. It is distressing both for the residents of the Skellig Star centre and for the people of Cahersiveen. Both sincerely believe that their health and wellbeing may have been endangered by the actions of the State. They are unable to rely on assurances given publicly by the HSE and by the Department of Justice.
In the absence of an appropriate independent body with investigative powers, we are now calling on you, as An Taoiseach, to make a statement clarifying the circumstances of the transfer of international protection applications to Cahersiveen including the questions below. We also call for this matter to be referred to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality for investigation once the committee is constituted.
- On what date was it first communicated to the Department of Justice or to the HSE that a resident of the Skellig Star hotel was displaying Covid 19 symptoms?
The Minister for Justice and Equality and his department officials have repeatedly stated that residents transferred to the Skellig Star hotel from the Travelodge Hotel in Swords had not contracted the virus prior to their transfer to Cahersiveen. Their contention is that the first case of Covid 19 in the Skellig Star was on the 30/03/2020. This would have been outside the incubation period following the residents’ transfer to Cahersiveen. I refer to the open letter from the Minister, published in the Kerryman newspaper [20/05/2020] wherein he states, “In fact, and this I believe is a really crucial point, it was well over a fortnight (the incubation period) before any of our residents in Cahersiveen began to show symptoms or were confirmed as positive for COVID 19.”
This is directly contradicted by Deputy Foley, who stated, “I have verifiable evidence of a written communication from the Skellig Star to the Department of Justice and Equality on 24 March confirming a suspected case of Covid-19. The resident concerned was placed in isolation on 20 March, one day after arrival in Cahersiveen.” This is corroborated by the above-mentioned Irish Examiner report which states, “The Irish Examiner has had sight of this email sent to the IPAS section of the department which deals with direct provision.”
- What actions, if any, were taken from the date that the first resident of the Skellig Star centre displayed symptoms to minimise the risk of transmission to fellow residents, staff and the people of Cahersiveen?
Deputy Foley has stated that “no professional deep cleansing of the Skellig Star has ever taken place, from 18 March to this very day, 26 May”. This is collaborated by various news outlets and by reports given by centre residents to NGOs.
- When was an agreement reached between the Department of Justice and Mr Paul Collins or any other agent of Remcoll that the Skellig Star would become a direct provision centre?
The Minister for Justice and Equality and his officials have repeatedly stated that the decision to move international protection applicants to the Skellig Star was done in a matter of days. However, Radio Kerry has reported “Department of Justice says Cahersiveen direct provision centre originally had a planned capacity for 300 residents” [27/05/2020] . Freedom of Information requests have revealed that an agreement in principle had been reached to open a centre in Cahersiveen in the Skellig Star premises in November 2019. Radio Kerry further reported that local media were told in January that there were no plans to move residents to Cahersiveen.
The date of the agreement in principle is important. This not only determines whether the people of Cahersiveen were misled, it also goes to essential questions as to the inspection process for determining the suitability for direct provision centres. Was an agreement-in-principle reached on the basis of one Department of Justice official’s cursory, visual inspection of the premises?
We appreciate your time and would be grateful for a response on these pressing matters.
Fiona Finn, CEO Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre
Nick Henderson, CEO Irish Refugee Council
Graham Clifford, Founder The Sanctuary Runners
John Lannon, CEO Doras