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Covid-19 transported to Direct Provision centre in Caherciveen from Dublin, Dáil committee told

Fianna Fáil TD Norma Foley made the claims at a sitting of the Dáil Covid-19 committee today.

Skellig Star Hotel, Cahericiveen, Co Kerry
Skellig Star Hotel, Cahericiveen, Co Kerry
Image: GoogleMaps

A DÁIL COMMITTEE has been told that Covid-19 was “unequivocally” transported from Dublin to a Direct Provision centre in Caherciveen, Co Kerry.

The Covid-19 committee this afternoon heard from Fianna Fáil TD for Kerry Norma Foley who said she had seen correspondence from the former Skellig Star Hotel to the Department of Justice on 24 March which confirmed a suspected case of Covid-19. 

Foley said the letter showed a person suspected of having the virus was placed in self-isolation on 20 March, two days after asylum seekers were transferred to Skellig Star from Travel Lodge Hotel in Swords, Co Dublin, where a case of Covid-19 was confirmed in mid-March. 

Since the Direct Provision centre opened at Skellig Star, migrant rights groups and asylum seekers living there have called for the centre to be closed, after more than 20 people tested positive for Covid-19. 

Questions have been raised in recent weeks over whether or not the Department knew of the confirmed case in mid-March before transferring people from Dublin to Caherciveen. 

Department officials have maintained they were only informed of the earlier case when they received a letter from Catherine Murphy TD. 

Since early March, asylum seekers have been moved from Direct Provision centres to decrease capacity in existing centres and to allow for social distancing. Skellig Star is one of a number of premises contracted by the Department during this time. 

Foley today claimed that the transferral of people by bus from Dublin to Caherciveen on 18 and 19 March resulted in the virus travelling to Co Kerry. 

“The timeline might not be important to the HSE or the Department of Justice, it is hugely, hugely important to the residents of the Skellig Star and the people of Caherciveen,” she said.

“This timeline proves unequivocally that Covid-19 was transported by bus on the 18th and 19th of March to the Skellig Star and the community of Caherciveen. I say this with absolutely no blame to the residents of Skellig Star, but I do apportion absolute culpability to the HSE and the Department of Justice for not conducting the necessary Covid-19 testing prior to leaving Dublin.”

Foley said this was a “grave oversight” and also told the committee this afternoon that she had been told that “deep cleaning” at the Skellig Star had been carried out using Mr Price Stardrops white vinegar spray, which costs €1.49 per bottle. 

In response, Oonagh Buckley, Deputy Secretary General at the Department of Justice asked Foley to provide the correspondence in question if she had “verifiable evidence” of these claims. 

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The committee also heard that the Department learned last week that staff working at Skellig Star had not been properly vetted which she described as “a very serious thing”. Buckley confirmed that all staff had been vetted as of yesterday. 

The committee also heard today that 2,700 people living in Direct Provision had now been tested for Covid-19 with 180 confirmed cases. 

In addition, HSE Primary Care Operations Lead Siobhán McArdle told the committee the HSE did not want to “apportion blame” to asylum seekers at Skellig Star after a recent letter was circulated among residents. 

The letter said that due to a lack of self-isolation on the part of some people at Skellig Star quarantine was being enforced for a further 14 days.

The letter has been criticised for appearing to blame residents. Said McArdle today: “The authors [of the letter] didn’t want to apportion blame.”

The Department of Justice & Equality has been contacted for comment. 

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