A welcoming committee is being set up in Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry for a group of over 100 asylum seekers, arriving later today, Wednesday, despite concerns and strong criticism about lack of consultation.
There are also fears that a key piece of tourism infrastructure will not be available this summer.
The contract with the company which now runs the Skellig Star Hotel in the centre of Cahersiveen was singed on Monday, just two hours before local politicians were informed by the Department of Justice the hotel was to become a centre for asylum seekers currently living in Dublin hotels, as part of the emergency response to the coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, pandemic .
The agreement is to provide accommodation for 150 people for 12 months.
There has been heavy criticism of the lack of consultation. Cllr Johnny Healy-Rae ( Ind) has accused the Department of taking advantage of the virus to move people to Cahersiveen where medical and other services were already stretched.
However his fellow councillor in the Kenmare area, Cllr Norma Moriarty (FF) said while there was a genuine sense of loss that a beautiful hotel was being taken out of operation, “it is never the wrong time to do the right thing.”
“Our objective now is to make a success of this. In what are very restrictive times. There are positive offers of help and support including from the IFA, the farmers organisation,” Cllr Moriarty said.
Family resource and other centres would become involved, she said.
People had concerns, and she understood this and she would like to see the hotel returned to a tourist facility in time.
Of the 105 residents arriving this afternoon, there are 66 singles, mostly female, 16 female one parent one child families; and one parent with two children and two couples, according to the profile given by the department.
“The balance of the 150 residents will be transferred in the coming weeks,” the Department has said.
School places would be arranged and residents in the new centre will have access to local health services similar to the local community in Cahersiveen, it said.
Access to GP services will be through the medical card system.
“If the concerns locally are that the people may have recently arrived from a region affected by Covid-19, I can confirm that no one in the group of 105 has been in this country for less than two months and all have been health screened by the HSE-led medical team at our reception centre in Baleseskin, North Dublin on their arrival,” the Department wrote to Cllr Michael Cahill.
In a statement on Monday , the Department said they understood that the residents of Cahersiveen, and surrounding areas, will have questions and some concerns regarding the announcement.
“This decision has not been taken lightly. We are in unprecedented times. The Department has a duty to protect all persons seeking international protection, and this is one step that we are taking in this regard,” it said.
To ensure the safety and wellbeing of applicants, they needed to transfer those who are currently in emergency accommodation in commercial hotels to dedicated accommodation centres to ensure that they can be supported by a centre management team and receive all HSE information and guidance in an appropriate and timely way, the statement said.
The contract with the former Skellig Star hotel in Cahersiveen is for a 12 month period. It is to provide accommodation for 150 single people across 56 bedrooms and was offered to the Department under the Expressions of Interest process.
The Skellig Star Hotel, formerly known as the Watermarque Hotel, underwent a €3 million revamp in 2017 when it was purchased by a group of Irish and Chinese Investors.
The Department of Justice earlier this year denied that there were plans for a direct provision centre for the town of Cahersiveen.