Department ‘didn’t know’ asylum seekers had virus before moving them to Kerry

‘Everyone who tested positive was removed very quickly’, Minister tells Dáil

The Department of Justice was unaware that any of the asylum seekers moved to Cahirsiveen, Co Kerry from Dublin during the pandemic had contracted Covid-19, according to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

One hundred and five people seeking international protection were transferred the Skellig Star direct provision centre in March. At least 25 people within the centre subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.

Mr Flanagan told the Dáil the Department only became aware that coronavirus was an issue following their arrival.

“Everyone who tested positive was removed very quickly,” he said. “There is no one in the Skellig Star who is now positive,” where there are now 69 residents, including a number of children.


Minister of State David Stanton said he had been told that "none of the people in our direct provision centres are very seriously ill. I just wanted to report that good news anyway.

“Some people have symptoms and some people have no symptoms.”

The Ministers were responding to trenchant criticism in the Dáil by a number of oppositions TDs of the Government’s handling of the plight of those in direct provision in dealing with coronavirus.

The situation in the Skelligs Star hotel in the Co Kerry town was raised following an outbreak of Covid-19 after 120 asylum seekers were moved from Dublin to the hotel.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said “somebody in your department decided to send applicants from overcrowded conditions, to remote hotels, some of them still overcrowded where they couldn’t’ socially isolate, where they share bathrooms and shower facilities, communal bathrooms and shared meals”.

Ms Smith added that testing began on April 14th at the hotel. Four people tested positive but it was only on April 28th that a dedicated medically qualified person was appointed to the Skelligs centre.

She said the Government contracted out responsibility to a private company “with no medical experience or expertise in public health who until this week had one cleaner with no public health experience cleaning 15 rooms in which people are infected”.

Independent Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae said the HSE opposed moving the asylum seekers to Cahirciveen but “nevertheless ye brought these unfortunate people from a hotel in Dublin, where there had been cases of the coronavirus”.

He said it was believed 24 people including staff working there had contracted the virus.

“For many days when people presented with the virus in the Centre more were in and out of the centre and around the town.

“And at that stage locals started to worry about their own health and avoided the town of Cahirsiveen and many of them are still doing that because they want to protect their own health.”

Calling for the hotel to be closed as a direct provision centre he said “it is evident now minister that the Skellig Star is not suitable. They were packed in there in the first place on top of each other - three or four in a room. That’s not acceptable.”

Mr Stanton said the HSE “has confirmed to us that there should be no more movement into or out of the centre at this time unless directed by public health.

“Residents have been asked by the HSE to remain in the centre where they continue to monitor the situation. That’s the public health advice that we have.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times