- 16 May 20
It might sound like a good result for the residents at the Skellig Star Hotel, whose plight has been highlighted in recent weeks by Hot Press, but it comes with a caveat: any inquiry will have to wait till after the Covid-19 crisis has ended. “Why not do it by Zoom?” residents asked Hot Press. Main photograph by Alan Landers.
The Ombudsman is to become involved in an assessment of the conditions in Direct Provision centres, which have led to a serious outbreak of Covid-19 in these facilities. The decision of the office of the Ombudsman is a response to complaints made by residents of the Cahersiveen centre, based in the Skellig Star Hotel, which has been the subject of extensive reports on hotpress.com over the past ten days.
While that is clearly a positive outcome for the residents, there are conditions attached, with which the residents who are stuck in the Skellig Star Hotel are naturally extremely unhappy. The inquiry, the office of the Ombudsman says, will have to wait till the Covid-19 crisis has passed.
“What is the point of doing an inquiry then?” one resident said in response. “We need action now, not is six months time.”
Meanwhile, in a related development, Hot Press has learned that two more people have tested positive for coronavirus in a Wicklow-based Direct Provision Centre. That brings to three the number of residents who have tested positive for coronavirus at the centre in the Wicklow Grand Hotel.
As reported by Hot Press, the first man who tested positive was denied access to the centre following his discharge from hospital. Facing homelessness, the individual sought the assistance of the local social welfare officer, who arranged for him to stay at the hospital for longer than was required, during his recommended self-isolation period.
One of the two new cases has been moved to an offsite facility in Dublin. However, the other was still self-isolating to the best of his ability at the Wicklow Grand Hotel this weekend. Hot Press understands that one of the asylum seekers who tested positive had been working at Knockrobin Hill nursing home.
The coronavirus crisis has hit Irish nursing homes very badly, with huge losses of life being incurred, since the early days of the pandemic.
DETAIS OF THE RESPONSE OF THE OMBUDSMAN
As readers will be aware, the direct provision centre in Cahersiveen is among the worst hit in Ireland. Asylum seekers have been greatly upset by the conditions in the Skellig Star Hotel and the apparent impossibility of maintaining social distancing, amid an outbreak of coronavirus that has shown no sign of letting up.
It was against this background that they wrote to the office of the Ombudsman, with an official complaint.
Hot Press has seen the response from the office of the Ombudsman. In it, Sean Garvey, a senior investigator at the office, makes it clear that there are huge differences in the evidence offered by the residents and by the so called International Protection Office (IPAS), which is part of the Department of Justice.
“On first reading, the IPAS response appears reasonable,” Sean Garvey tells the residents, “but you will see from it that the IPAS position on the points you raise is very different from yours. In situations such as this where we have two very different positions on the same points, we find the best way for us to examine complaints is to visit the centre in question, so we can see the situation for ourselves."
Sean Garvey continues, however, that the current health emergency has made a visit impossible. The representative of the Ombudsman promises that once the “crisis has passed” an investigator will visit the infamous Skellig Star Hotel.
“This means, unfortunately, it could be some time until we get to visit the centre,” Mr Garvey writes, “When we do visit the centre, we talk to residents and management about the issues in your complaint, so we can form our own view on them. In the meantime, I wish you every good health and safety in these difficult times."
FEMALE PERSONAL PRODUCTS
Mr Garvey’s response to residents also includes IPAS’s counterclaims, which are contained in a message consisting, mostly, of bullet points.
On the issue of separation, the letter claims that residents “who are not related to each other have been offered single rooms”; yet “a number of residents have indicated their preference to remain sharing rooms with their current inhabitant.”
The letter also says that Skellig Star Hotel is capacious and can house up to 150 persons, and is therefore suitable for effective social-distancing, contradicting what residents have repeatedly told Hot Press.
IPAS also insists that self-isolation rooms are “fully disinfected” and that “these rooms may then be offered to other residents in order to offer single rooms to everybody.”
And IPAS points to the presence of an "HSE medical professional on-site during the day.”
The latter fact is not disputed. However, a Cahersiveen local, who often helps the residents with their shopping, told Hot Press that the person was "overworked and seemed exhausted. It would be very difficult for anyone to manage the situation there on their own.”
This, of course, is a matter of opinion. But it is one shared by the residents with whom Hot Press has spoken.
The IPAS response to the office of the Ombudsman also says:
– that an outdoor facility for exercise is available to residents;
– that the HSE and the Department of Justice have “taken appropriate action to ensure the safety and welfare of all residents and will continue to do so";
– that “arrangements are in place whereby any specific items residents need can be ordered from local shop and delivered.”
A Cahersiveen local told Hot Press this week that female residents are finding it increasingly difficult to ask male security guards to get intimate female personal products. Therefore, they rely on local female volunteers to satisfy those needs.
Speaking to Hot Press, a resident at Skellig Star Hotel argued that the investigators at the Office of the Ombudsman should examine the situation through video calls.
“They can very well call some residents individually instead of waiting after the pandemic,” the individual said. “Many people are using Zoom effectively. I don’t see why they can’t do it. This is an urgent situation. We really need action now.”
The asylum seekers in the Skellig Star Hotel are demanding that they should be transferred immediately to a safe, self-contained facility.
Meanwhile, the Irish Independent reported, yesterday, that Fine Gael and Fine Fáil have privately expressed doubts about the feasibility of plans to replace the Direct Provision system with own-door accommodation for asylum seekers.
The two parties, who in recent days have entered formal negotiations on the formation of a government with the Green Party, had previously made a commitment to scrapping the system in a letter to Green Party officials.
The Green Party has proposed replacing the current system of communal living for asylum seekers with a not-for-profit network of accommodation centres run by approved housing bodies.
• The man photograph shows asylum seekers from Georgia holding hand-written messages to the window, in their own language, saying MOVE US OUT