Catering company Aramark has been given a State contract to provide meals to centres for Ukrainian refugees without going through a standard procurement process, Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman has said.
Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Mr O’Gorman said the State had not been able to use “the traditional procurement processes” and had to “short-circuit processes” in order to ensure people were fed and sheltered.
Mr O'Gorman was responding to questions from People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, who said he had been contacted by a local catering company and they had been informed "without any tendering process Aramark have been given all of the contracts for providing catering for the refugee hubs for Ukrainians".
Aramark, a large US multinational company, provides catering services to three direct-provision centres for asylum seekers, located in Athlone, Clare and Cork.
The Dún Laoghaire TD said Aramark was "a very controversial company" which had been criticised for their poor quality of their catering in US prisons and in the direct provision system.
In response, Mr O’Gorman said the State was dealing with a crisis “the country has never had to experience before”.
“We’re dealing with it in a way that ensures that every Ukrainian who comes to this country, who seeks shelter, who seeks security, can be given it,” he said.
“That has meant we haven’t been able to use the traditional procurement processes, we’ve had to short-circuit processes in order to ensure that people get fed, in order to ensure that people get shelter and if we didn’t do that and if we had long delays I have no doubt, deputy, that you and others would be raising and condemning the Government.”
The Dáil Public Accounts Committee is to examine the matter and is expected to question department officials about the details of the Aramark contract, as they are due to appear before the committee next month.
The committee agreed to write to the Department of Public Expenditure on Thursday to query if it had signed off on the contract, at the suggestion of Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy.
In a statement on Thursday, Aramark said: “We are among a large number of companies who have been approached by the State’s International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) to respond to the emergency situation arising from the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
“Having been approached by IPAS, we were, within 24 hours, able to deploy food and catering services to the people in the Ukrainian refugee accommodation service operated by the State. To clarify, we are currently providing food services to one centre. We are proud to be able to deploy our significant capabilities at such short notice during this unprecedented period.
“We operate to the highest international food quality standards which are independently verified.”
A decision earlier this year by the National Gallery of Ireland to award Aramark a contract to run a cafe in the gallery and provide other catering services drew criticism from artists and staff.
The catering contract, worth €7.5 million over three years, led to a number of artists requesting their work be pulled from displays in the gallery. More than 30 staff also signed a letter criticising the decision, due to the company’s links to the direct-provision system.