Asylum seekers feel ‘unsafe’ in Co Laois centre, Hiqa report finds

Authority found ‘multiple risks existed’ at the Hibernian Hotel in Abbeyleix after inspections earlier this year

Asylum seekers living in an accommodation centre in Co Laois say they feel “unsafe” in their living environment, according to the State’s health watchdog.

Inspections carried out earlier this year by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found “multiple risks existed” at the Hibernian Hotel in Abbeyleix, Co Laois, with inspectors issuing “immediate and urgent actions” in relation to fire safety and staff vetting.

Most residents told inspectors they did not always feel safe around other residents in the centre, with some choosing to isolate in their bedrooms. Others said they did “not always feel listened to” nor were they “treated fairly” and that their concerns were “not always responded to appropriately”.

Multiple residents revealed they had never participated in a fire drill nor were they aware of evacuation plans in the case of an emergency, prompting the inspector to issue an immediate action request that a fire drill be carried out within 24 hours.


Records revealed just two fire drills had been conducted over a five-year period.

Inspectors also found mould in several bedrooms, including those where children slept. Maintenance records showed this was a recurring issue and that the provider had not developed a comprehensive plan to address the issue.

No staff had been vetted under national guidelines for working with children and vulnerable people, while the provider did not have a policy on adult safeguarding. As a result, inspectors issued an urgent compliance action request to ensure all staff were vetted without delay.

Inspectors noted that ongoing conflicts between some residents had not been risk assessed nor managed in an appropriate manner. They also found management had “limited oversight of risk” in the centre and warned of “unsafe recruitment practices” and “poor communication with residents”.

The centre has capacity for 63 people but was accommodating 40 residents, including 19 children, when the announced Hiqa inspection was carried out on February 20th, 2024.

Some three-quarters of residents on the day of the inspection had received refugee or subsidiary protection status but said they were unable to secure private rental accommodation outside the centre.

Hiqa conducted its first review of asylum seeker accommodation in January after assuming the role of monitoring and inspecting permanent International Protection Accommodation Service centres. It follows a commitment by Government, in its 2021 White Paper on ending direct provision, that inspections of centres would be carried out by the watchdog.

Inspections were carried out at eight international protection centres between February and March 2024. This included a review of Atlantic House in Tramore, Co Waterford, in late February where 78 men were being accommodated.

Hiqa found most operations at the centre were carried out in an “ad hoc basis with no clear rationale or consistency” and no evidence of staff meetings nor an organised system of staff communication. Recruitment practices were neither safe nor effective and no staff members had undertaken adult safeguarding training, said the report.

Inspectors found medicines were “inappropriately stored” with “no guidance or records” on how to administer these medicines. Inspectors also found staff had differing accounts of the dosage and frequency of when medicines should be given to residents.

However, the report notes staff and residents knew each other well and engaged in a “friendly and open manner”. While food and other cooking materials were available from the on-site store, residents complained items were priced too high and found it was cheaper to buy items outside the centre. As a result, residents spent “a large amount of their personal allowance” on supplementing their diet.

Another announced inspection – carried out in February at Emmet Lodge, which only accommodates 11 men, in Dublin – found residents received “good quality support” and “felt safe living in the centre”. While most residents spoke English, the centre manager could also communicate with the men through French, Italian and Arabic.

However, Hiqa inspectors reported a “lack of transparency” in how decisions were made and found recruitment practices were not safe or effective.

Staff recruitment practices were also reported as unsafe during an announced inspection of in Cork City of Glenvera Hotel, which accommodates 110 men. Inspectors found bunk beds in rooms meant floor space was limited, while residents reported that sleeping arrangements at the centre did not provide them with “privacy or dignity”. Inspectors also found residents were not provided with sufficient bedding, linen or toiletries.

Hiqa inspections were also carried out in February and March at the Slaney Court centre in Co Wicklow; Millstreet Accommodation Service in Co Cork; Johnston Marina in Co Kerry and Globe House in Co Sligo.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast