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Charlie Flanagan apologises to Cahersiveen locals and residents in Direct Provision centre

There have been a number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the centre since April.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Updated May 20th 2020, 10:33 AM

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE Charlie Flanagan has rejected calls to close a Direct Provision centre in Kerry, but has apologised to local residents for the manner in which it opened.

In an open letter in The Kerryman newspaper today, Flanagan said he felt he had no choice but to open the centre at the former Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen in March due to the impending coronavirus crisis.

And in a radio interview this morning, the minister also issued an apology to residents living in the centre.

There have been a number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the centre, which was opened by the Department of Justice & Equality on 18 March as part of its response to the health crisis.

Some of those who have tested positive have been moved off-site to an isolation facility.

Flanagan’s letter comes after a HSE warning that some centres may be “insufficient or unsuitable” for self-isolation, according to a letter obtained by TheJournal.ie.

Last night, public health officials confirmed 171 cases of Covid-19 among people living in Direct Provision. This includes 13 clusters.

Migrants rights groups and local residents have called for asylum seekers to be moved out of the former Skellig Star Hotel due to the crisis. But in his letter, Flanagan said this would not happen.

“On behalf of [junior minister David Stanton] and myself, I want to apologise most sincerely to the people of Cahersiveen for the way in which we had to open the Direct Provision centre in the Skellig Star, but I also want to outline why we had to do it in the way we did,” he wrote.

Flanagan acknowledged there had been “upset and anger” at the circumstances in which the centre had been opened, and said that the process is usually a difficult one which had been exasperated by the onset of the Covid-19 crisis.

He explained that it was not tenable in a health emergency to have large numbers of asylum seekers in emergency hotel accommodation, sharing facilities with other guests, as had been the case with the residents of the Skellig Star Hotel.

“So we moved people in within days,” he said.

“It was fast. I admit that. It left little or no time for engagement. I admit that. It was presented as a fait accompli. I admit that too. All I can say in my department’s defence is we simply did not feel we had a choice.”

The minister acknowledged concern and worry followed, particularly after Covid-19 was confirmed in a guest at a Dublin hotel where residents at the centre had previously been staying.

But he said that nobody in that hotel was approached as a trace contact, and that there was no indication that anyone who had moved from the hotel – where the guest who tested positive had only stayed for one night – was unwell or waiting a test or test result.

“All I can say about Cahersiveen… is that it is really difficult to look at the facts and the timeframe, and conclude that there was any link between the single case in the Dublin hotel and the residents in the Skellig Star becoming ill,” he wrote.

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“As to what the source of their illness was, we will almost certainly never know.”

Later, Flanagan said that his department would continue to make life comfortable for this living in the Skellig Star, and would help communicate with residents through an NGO and via a telephone support service for residents.

He added that there was goodwill in Kerry towards asylum seekers, and that he hoped that the government had not damaged this as a result of events surrounding the opening of the Skellig Star.

“The centre is operating and will continue to do so. I just hope we can welcome you into it when the current restrictions are lifted,” he concluded.

Speaking later this morning on Today with Sarah McInerney, Flanagan was asked if he would apologise to residents living in the former hotel.

“I do so now through you,” he said. “I don’t believe The Kerryman is a high seller in the hotel, and I don’t say that flippantly.”

The mister was also questioned about whether he would be comfortable sharing a bedroom with a stranger at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I would regard that as very challenging,” he said, before adding that extra rooms were made available for families and those who wished to separate themselves from other residents.

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