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Residents in Caherciveen Direct Provision centre to be moved as hunger strike ends

The Justice Minister says she ‘deeply regrets’ the hunger strike by asylum seekers in Co Kerry.

Helen McEntee said the Direct Provision system for asylum seekers cannot be replaced overnight.
Helen McEntee said the Direct Provision system for asylum seekers cannot be replaced overnight.
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JUSTICE MINISTER HELEN McEntee has said that Direct Provision residents of the Skellig Star hotel in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry are to be moved. 

A number of asylum seekers in the hotel had gone on hunger strike in recent days saying they had been“traumatised” from living in the centre and were seeking to be moved out immediately.

The 30 men and women began a fast on Tuesday in the centre and have alleged their water and food was rationed.

Speaking in the Seanad this evening the minister said that a number of residents have asked for a transfer from the centre and, as travel restrictions have eased, they will get to move out soon.

McEntee said she “regrets” the situation that has arisen at the centre.

“It is a matter of deep regret for me as Minister for Justice and I’m very sorry that the residents of the Skellig Star felt their concerns required this type of action,” she said.

When a group of people feel that they need to put their own health at risk by refusing food to have their concerns listened to, then it is a very serious situation.

“I want to acknowledge how difficult this has been for residents and the challenges they have faced during the pandemic. I accept that the outbreak of Covid-19 in the centre was distressing for staff and residents, and the wider community.”

Ms McEntee said her officials visited the centre and that residents have access to clean drinking water and meals.

“However, I am conscious that because they can’t cook their own meals it is a difficult situation for residents to be in.”

Sinn Féin Kerry TD Pa Daly this evening welcomed the decision of the residents to end their hunger strike. 

“I know from dealing with the residents of the Skellig Star in recent months that going on hunger strike was not a decision they took lightly,” he said. 

The unsuitability of the centre as a direct provision has been clear since the centre was opened and it fails almost all the requirements of a direct provision centre laid out in the Department of Justice’s own regulations.

“Within weeks of opening, over a quarter of the residents tested positive for Covid-19 and there was a lack of rooms and space for them to self-isolate. The residents have been exhausted by the process of trying to raise their concernsm,” he addes.

System

Despite today’s development, Minister McEntee said the overall system of Direct Provision will not change overnight.

The replacement of the Direct Provision system will not happen overnight unfortunately. The existing centres will continue to operate in the short to medium term but changes will be made.

“While it ensures that the basic needs of people are met, people claiming international protection need more than just that. They need a holistic system that is responsive to their needs and respects their dignity, right to privacy and a family life.”

A white paper on replacing Direct Provision will be drafted by the end of the year, she said.

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It comes after a report prepared by Dr Catherine Day suggested major changes to the existing Direct Provision system.

She said the report published by the Day Commission will feed into that and will influence the white paper.

“This Government has committed to ending the current system of Direct Provision within the lifetime of this Government and replacing it with a new system of international protection accommodation policy – one that is centred on a not-for-profit approach.”

Senator Eileen Flynn, a Traveller rights activist, said the Direct Provision system is “dangerous” for asylum seekers.

“Asylum seekers are living in hell under this State,” she said.

“We have a long history in Ireland of putting unwanted people behind high walls and hiding us away from wider society – and I know as a member of a group of unwanted people what that feels like.”

Flynn said there have been numerous government reports into Direct Provision since it was introduced 20 years ago, and called on the minister to set a date for when it will. 

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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