Department was warned direct provision centre was unsuitable for self-isolation
Former hotel used as an emergency centre since March had an outbreak of coronavirus
The Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen which has been used as as emergency centre for asylum seekers. Photograph: Alan Landers
A senior public health official warned the Department of Justice in April that the controversial direct provision centre in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, was “totally unsuitable” accommodation for asylum seekers forced to self-isolate due to an outbreak of coronavirus.
The warning was contained in an email from Dr Anne Sheahan, who is acting director of public health, HSE South, and a specialist in public health medicine, to officials in the department on April 28th.
The email was one of a number of records provided to Right to Know by the group Solidarity with Skellig Star Hotel Residents, which obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act.
The former 56-bedroom hotel, known as the Skellig Star, has been used as an emergency centre since March 18th when more than 100 residents were sent there. An outbreak of coronavirus occurred soon after.
The email from Dr Sheahan, which was sent on April 28th, said that while all positive cases of the virus had been moved to an off-site location, a “considerable number” of residents who had been designated as close contacts of coronavirus remained on site.
“Public health advice has been given which includes single or family unit accommodation for the period of self-isolation,” she said.
“I have been given a description of the location and layout of the hotel. It appears that the hotel is located on O’Connell St, right on the street, which means that the residents have no privacy from the public when entering the foyer/reception area or dining area.
“There is only a small lift that residents are asked to enter on their own, but this cannot be monitored. Owing to the volume of residents in and out of the lift, it would be impossible to ensure adequate cleaning of lift space.
“There is only a small yard out back which the residents have been unable to use because of building materials etc. There is no other area to allow residents to take brief exercise and this would mean keeping people in their rooms 24 hours per day. This is unacceptable.
“I am concerned that this location is totally unsuitable to accommodate these residents for the next 14 days while they try to self-isolate – no place to get exercise or get fresh air and if they need to go out they cannot practise social distancing.
“From a public health perspective I would urge you to consider seeking alternative accommodation for residents immediately.”
A reply from officials in the department later that day said the matter was discussed at a meeting of the outbreak control team.
“It was agreed at the meeting that ways of ensuring the public health recommendations arising from that meeting – which included deep cleaning and restricting room occupancy to one person or one family per room – would be explored between the social inclusion lead, ourselves in the department, and the management company,” it said.
“This was done by way of a telecom between IPAS [International Protection Accommodation Service] and the centre owner last night.
“Arrangements are now being put in place forthwith to reduce occupancy levels to one small family or one single person per ensuite room and ensure recommended cleaning regime takes place.”
Also contained in the records are notes of the outbreak control team, which contain a checklist of issues with the facility.
These include social distancing and queue management systems not being carried out, as well as the absence of social distancing stickers on the floor.
The notes highlight incorrect cleaning products being used, as well as the absence of detergent or disinfectant. “This needs to be actioned immediately,” it said.
“No procedure on how to clean and disinfect rooms. Rooms that have already been cleaned from positive Covid patients required to be re-cleaned and disinfected using correct products.”
At the end of July the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee indicated that the centre would be closed down on a phased basis within a few months.