How asylum became a business

Many of the companies providing shelter are large firms involved in the property, hospitality or catering business

Carl O'Brien has interviewed a number of residents of Ireland's Direct Provision centres for the Irish Times series 'Lives in Limbo'. Here they share some of their insights, frustrations, and hopes for the future. Video: Bryan O'Brien

Sun, Aug 10, 2014, 08:23

It was introduced to ensure that the needs of vulnerable asylum seekers would be met. But private hostel owners, rather than asylum seekers, have been the real beneficiaries of the direct provision system.

In April 2000 the State decided to pay private contractors to provide accommodation for asylum seekers in hostels, hotels, convents, bed and breakfasts, and mobile homes.

The State has given private firms more than €850 million to provide accommodation. All must comply with food hygiene and health and safety law.

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Today, many of the companies providing shelter are large firms involved in the property, hospitality or catering business. Some have moved to reregister themselves as private unlimited companies in recent years, freeing them of any obligation to file accounts. This means their financial affairs do not have to be open to public scrutiny.

In some cases the beneficial owners or part-owners include companies in offshore jurisdictions, such as the Isle of Man and the British Virgin Islands.

Contractors who run direct provision centres are contractually required to direct media inquiries to the Reception and Integration Agency. The agency says all companies are required to go through a tendering process and are contractually obliged to have valid, current tax clearance certificates. The agency could not provide details of individual contracts.

But it is possible to piece together how much individual firms have received from the Department of Justice through purchase orders and other official documents since the direct provision system began.

The biggest recipient is Mosney – formerly known as Mosney Holidays – which has been paid about €105 million for accommodating asylum seekers at the former Butlin’s holiday resort in Co Meath. Shareholders in the firm, which became an unlimited company in 2012, include the Louth businessman Phelim McCloskey and El Molino Hotels Ltd of Drogheda, Co Louth. El Molino, whose secretary is McCloskey, in turn has two shareholders, the Isle of Man-based Sonning Unlimited, and Tymon Company Secretaries Ltd.

East Coast Catering Ireland is the second-biggest recipient of public funds. It has received about €95 million for running accommodation centres at Baleskin, Co Dublin; Hatch Hall, Dublin 2; and Carroll Village, Dundalk. The directors include the Dundalk businessmen Denis Williams and Brian Byrne and the Canada-based businessmen Patrick O’Callaghan and Richard Sheppard. The company became a private unlimited company in 2007. Accounts filed the year before the change show a pretax profit of €1.5 million on revenues of €8 million.

Bridgestock is another major recipient. It has been paid about €70 million for providing accommodation for asylum seekers in Sligo, Galway and Athlone. It became an unlimited company in 2012. Before that, company records indicate it was profitable.

Bridgestock Ltd – then owned by Séamus and Kathleen Gillen of Tullamore, Co Offaly – had net cash flow of €6 million in the year to the end of June 2008, generating an operating profit of €1.57 million. The latest company accounts for Bridgestock – now an unlimited company – show most shares were transferred to a company based in the British Virgin Islands, Bridgestock (BVI) Holdings, in November 2011.

Millstreet Equestrian Services, whose registered address is the Green Glens Arena, provides accommodation under the direct-provision system in Cork, Tipperary and Waterford. The company, which has received at least €56 million from the State, includes Noel C Duggan and Thomas A Duggan as its directors. It became an unlimited company in 2010. Its shareholders are Isle of Man-based firms, Arabella Unlimited, which owns most of the company, and Tolosa Ltd.

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