At least €13 million in State funds has been spent on running a direct provision centre in Co Limerick which will close its doors on Friday after residents complained about living conditions.
The Mount Trenchard centre, which has been described by residents as "an open-air prison" similar to "Guantanamo Bay", is currently transferring its final few residents to direct provision centres across Ireland.
Department of Justice figures released to The Irish Times reveal the State paid contractor Baycaster Limited €9,699,400 between 2004 and 2015 to house asylum seekers at the former stately home. Some €1.1 million was paid to the contractor to operate the centre in 2016, according to data provided by the department.
Additional statistics published online show €1,061,480 was spent in 2017 and €1,106,700 in 2018 totalling €12,967,620 over 15 years. Figures for 2019 were not available.
The department announced earlier this month that its contract with Baycaster Limited would end in February and would not be renewed. Its commitment to close the centre followed a report from Limerick charity Doras Luimní which said residents were facing “the most challenging” asylum conditions in the country and called for the centre’s immediate closure.
The Doras report, as well as a large number of complaints from residents and migrants groups, were key factors in the decision to close the centre, according to a senior source in the Department of Justice.
A spokesman for the department said it was moving all residents from Mount Trenchard to “dedicated accommodation centres” by the end of January.
One of the last residents at the centre awaiting transfer said his mental health deteriorated in Foynes, while some residents "completely lost their minds".
“I have friends who came here normal, as free people and now they’re nothing. They cannot cope with the situation,” said the man, who did not want to be identified as he feared his comments might affect his asylum application.
He said he shared a room for years in Mount Trenchard with seven other men. Photos taken inside the centre reveal beds are separated into cubicles by tall wooden boards and curtains.
While he is now being transferred, he was not optimistic about the future and feels punished by the State.
“I have not committed any crime but I’m treated like a commodity, not a human. My crime was applying for asylum here. My mental health is really bad and so many times in these years I’ve felt like I want to kill myself. I don’t like myself anymore.”
‘Nobody was listening’
Those placed in Mount Trenchard were isolated from the outside world, he said. “Some people use drugs to cope with the situation. Nobody was listening to us, nobody was serious about our problems.”
Frustration among residents often resulted in fights breaking out with many men fed up with the bad food, poor hygiene and lack of privacy, he said.
A justice spokesman said no complaints had been raised regarding conduct of staff at Mount Trenchard and that all residents were entitled to lodge any grievances using the department’s dedicated email or telephone line.
Regular clinics and inspections were held at Mount Trenchard and any complaints raised were investigated, the spokesman said, adding that residents in all centres could also contact the Ombudsman regarding concerns.
“The department is not aware of drug use in the centre,” he said.
Asked whether former residents suffering mental health issues would be offered additional health support, the spokesman said the department was working closely with the HSE to provide a range of health services to all residents.