Unpublished inspection reports into State-funded asylum accommodation centres show evidence of overcrowding, poor fire safety practices and lapses in hygiene levels across several centres.
In total, there are 34 asylum accommodation centres run by private companies which accommodate 4,600 people. About a third of residents, some 1,700, are children.
Records obtained by The Irish Times show at least three centres run by private contractors were warned in the past year that their contracts would be terminated within a 30-day period unless they addressed poor standards.
Among the issues highlighted by inspectors across accommodation centres over the past 12 months were:
A family of six confined to live in a single bedroom;
Serious breaches of fire safety, including blocked emergency exits and fire alarms without batteries;
Residents using pan fryers, microwaves or rice-cookers in their bedrooms;
Breaches in child protection, such as children being left alone or children minding younger siblings;
Residents being served cold food due to inadequate kitchen facilities;
Bedrooms in need of repainting and “deep cleaning”, as well as leaks, faulty heating systems and rotten floorboards.
In all cases, management resolved these issues to the satisfaction of inspectors attached to the State body responsible for accommodation provision, the Reception and Integration Agency. Last year private contractors were given €62 million for the provision of food and accommodation to asylum seekers.
In total, it is estimated that the State has spent about €775 million since the direct provision system was established in 2000. All firms are contractually required to comply with legal requirements in relation to health and safety, and food safety.
The volume of lapses in standards or general maintenance issues in some centres took inspectors by surprise.
Fire safety issues
In the case of the Old Convent in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, which provides accommodation for 290 residents, inspectors gave the centre 30 days to remedy fire safety issues raised last October.
Inspectors warned in March this year that the number of issues highlighted at the Old Convent was “too extensive to catalogue” individually.
Bridgestock Ltd, which operates the Old Convent facility, later satisfied inspectors that it had either tackled all the issues highlighted on the two occasions, or was in the process of doing so. The company declined to comment, directing queries to the Reception and Integration Agency.
The agency said all centres which it used had been under contract for a considerable period of time and were aware of the importance of maintaining high standards.
In a statement, the agency said it was impossible to establish how many centres had been served with 30-day notices for breaching standards without an examination of each file. But it said that in recent years no centre has had its contract terminated as a result of a breach of standards and any closures had been linked to capacity issues.