Monsignor John Byrne allowed entry to direct provision centre for asylum seekers

Department of Justice says priest’s comments had upset staff at Montague Hotel direct provision centre

Fr Paddy Byrne, Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin,  Monsignor John Byrne and Senator John Whelan at the Montague Hotel direct provision centre. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan

Fr Paddy Byrne, Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Monsignor John Byrne and Senator John Whelan at the Montague Hotel direct provision centre. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan

 

A parish priest was finally allowed entry to a direct provision centre for asylum seekers on Monday after a controversial decision to refuse him access was reversed.

Msgr John Byrne, the parish priest of Portlaoise, accompanied Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin on a visit to the former Montague Hotel in Emo, Co Laois, which provides shelter for 160 asylum seekers.

Msgr Byrne said he received a phone call from the proprietor Seán Lyons at the weekend telling him he would be refused entry because of comments he had made about the centre.

However, after the issue received extensive coverage in the media, a message was relayed to him from the Department of Justice to say he would be allowed access after all.

‘Inhumane’

“My visit to the centre today confirms in my mind that the system needs to be changed,” he said. “There are families spending seven or eight years waiting for their status. It is inhumane. These are children growing up in a system which is totally unsuitable to meet their needs. Children only have one chance at childhood.”

“I’ve compared the system to an open prison. I see young people who aren’t able to be involved in any recreation or activity outside school. People are isolated and they’re caught in a limbo.”

In a statement, the State body responsible for the system said management at the centre were concerned about reported comments made by Msgr Byrne which had “upset staff working in the centre”.

The Reception and Integration Agency added: “Despite this, the proprietor agreed to the Monsignor’s visit today where the opportunity will be taken to show him the centre in full and to discuss directly with him his specific concerns.”

Msgr Byrne said he had never directly criticised the Montague or staff at the centre, who he said were doing their best in a difficult system. Rather, he had spoken out about the wider direct provision regime which has cost the State more than €800 million to date.

Companies

Mr Lyons could not be contacted yesterday. He is a director of companies involved in running three direct provision centres.

These firms received more than €5 million last year for running the Montague and two centres in Dublin. In all, they provide beds for about 500 asylum seekers.

Last September asylum seekers living at the Montague Hotel refused food in a protest over what they said were living conditions and delays in processing their applications.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said a new working group which is reviewing the State’s handling of asylum seekers offers the possibility of creating a more humane and efficient system.

The Minister also said a High Court ruling just over a week ago – which found that “house rules” in the direct provision system were unlawful – highlighted the need for change.