Minister apologises to Cahersiveen over way direct provision centre opened

Centre at former Skellig Hotel has had outbreak of Covid-19

The new residents arrived in Cahersiveen on March 18th and 19th, some of them from a hotel in Dublin at which a case of coronavirus infection  was subsequently confirmed in an unrelated guest, he said.

The new residents arrived in Cahersiveen on March 18th and 19th, some of them from a hotel in Dublin at which a case of coronavirus infection was subsequently confirmed in an unrelated guest, he said.

 

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has apologised to the people of Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, for not consulting them about the opening of a direct provision centre in the former Skellig Star hotel in the town where there has been an outbreak of Covid-19.

Both the people of the town and those moved to the former hotel as part of the Department of Justice’s emergency response to the coronavirus pandemic, have complained about the move and an application for an injunction to close the centre is expected to be made this week.

In an open letter published in the Kerryman, Mr Flanagan said he wanted to apologise “most sincerely to the people of Cahersiveen” for the way the centre was opened, but also to outline why it happened in the way it did.

“I know that there has been upset and anger. I know there has been suspicion and worry,” he said. “I can see why they built up, and I really regret the extent to which our actions fuelled them.”

The new residents arrived in Cahersiveen on March 18th and 19th, some of them from a hotel in Dublin at which a case of coronavirus infection (Covid-19) was subsequently confirmed in an unrelated guest, he said.

There have been suggestions that the department knew of that case and recklessly allowed transfers to proceed despite it. “I want to categorically deny that. My department was never told of that case,” he said.

No-one who had been moved to Cahersiveen had been approached as part of the contact tracing process that had taken place after the guest in the Dublin hotel was diagnosed, he said.

Furthermore, it was well over the incubation period of 14 days before anyone moved to the Co Kerry town had begun to show symptoms or were confirmed as being infected, he said.

Speaking on the Today with Sarah McInerney show, on RTÉ Radio 1, on Wednesday Mr Flanagan said the Skellig Star was offered to the department in September of last year and was inspected and designated as suitable. However it was not decided that the facility was needed, so there were no consultations with the local community.

However, with the outbreak of the pandemic the need for additional facilities became acute as it was not safe to have people living in hotels that were operating commercially.

The decision was then made to move people to the Skellig, but it was not possible to engage with the local community. “Remember we were in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.

The Minister said he regretted that locals were not alerted sooner about a case of Covid-19 arising in the centre, and that he accepted the matter had not been handled in the manner in which it would have, had there not been a pandemic.

“As soon as anyone tested positive they were relocated to a place of greater safety.

“I don’t believe there was secrecy,” he said, but because of the pandemic the usual mechanisms by which information is shared had not been observed.

He said his letter had not included an apology to the residents of the centre as he did not believe the Kerryman was a suitable vehicle for apologising to them.

A woman who was moved to the Cahersiveen direct provision centre told Drivetime, also on RTÉ Radio 1, on Wednesday evening that there was a lock on the gate at one stage preventing the people leaving the centre. “We were literally behind bars.”

She said she was moved from Dublin on March 18th, from the Travel Lodge, in Swords, where an Italian man had tested positive for the virus.

She and the others were given 48 hours notice and told they were being moved for their own safety.

She said that after they arrived in Cahersiveen, the former hotel became overcrowded, and that she feared for her life because of the pandemic.