- 30 Jul 20
A serious outbreak of Covid-19 at the direct provision centre in Newbridge is linked to a meat factory. Meanwhile, the hunger strike embarked on by residents in the centre in Cahersiveen is continuing.
Over ten asylum seekers living in a Direct Provision Centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare have tested positive for coronavirus so far, Hot Press has learned.
Residents living in Newbridge Direct Provision Centre told us that ‘mass testing’ was carried out at the centre yesterday, and many residents are still awaiting their results.
The contagion at the centre is linked to the recent outbreak of Covid-19 at an Irish Dog Foods Plant in Naas.
Yesterday evening, local publication Kildare Now reported the temporary closure of the factory, adding that a deep-cleaning procedure was underway.
A small county with a population of a little over 222,500, Kildare has reported 24 cases of coronavirus over the past two weeks. Newbridge is the biggest town in the county.
Two asylum seekers, who tested positive at Newbridge, were employees of the Dog Food plant. The individuals tested positive on Friday last, prompting public health officials to recommend blanket testing at the centre.
Hot Press understands that those who have been diagnosed with Covid-19, a disease caused by the coronavirus, are being transferred to an offsite self-isolation facility at Citywest, Co Dublin.
Pandemics and Communal Life
Newbridge Direct Provision Centre is home to over 120 people currently waiting for a decision on their asylum-seeking applications.
Speaking to Hot Press, an asylum seeker at Newbridge Direct Provision Centre said that residents had been advised to stay in their rooms while awaiting results.
The individual said that social-distancing is invariably difficult in communal living spaces, adding however that he was happy with the speedy removal of those residents who had tested positive from the centre.
"It's really hard to live with so many people, you know, but they have given us sanitisers and masks, and it's good that people are being taken away immediately," the resident said.
"But the results are still coming in. We are still waiting."
Meanwhile, far away from Newbridge, a mass hunger strike broke out in a Direct Provision Centre in the Co Kerry town of Cahersiveen on Monday morning.
Asylum seekers have entered the third day of the hunger strike today.
The residents began fasting at about 10am on Monday morning, in protest against harsh living conditions at Skellig Star and demanding to be transferred to a more appropriate facility as well as access to social workers and mental health professionals.
Skellig Star residents argue that a month-long confinement at the former four-star hotel, aimed at containing an outbreak of coronavirus there, has had an adverseeffect on their mental health.
In recent days, residents’ access to clean drinking water was also limited over tap water safety issues in Cahersiveen, prompting staff at Skellig Star to ration drinking water.
Residents insist that tap water safety issues were not clearly communicated to asylum seekers who did not speak English, and that some residents continued to drink unsafe tap water as a result.
Neglect and Outbreaks
Under mounting media scrutiny over an apparent failure in curbing the contagion, the HSE imposed the unorthodox lockdown on Skellig Star Hotel in late April.
The health authority had green-lighted the transfer of a group of asylum seekers from Travelodge Hotel in Swords in mid-March, failing to inform the Justice Department of a Covid-19 outbreak at the hotel.
Some current residents of Skellig Star had also been moved to Kerry from Leitrim, on March 18.
Recent internal HSE documents obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request filed by Cahersiveen locals and supporters of Skellig Star residents, has revealed that ‘incorrect cleaning products’ was used for deep-cleaning of the centre.
Staff at Skellig Star reportedly used a Mr Price cleaning product made out of white vinegar and sold at little over €1 to clean the centre where Covid-19 had taken hold. A resident told us at the time that the centre usually uses Mr Price products for all cleaning and hygienic purposes.
“It has to be Mr Price,” he said.
In an email, dated April 28, sent to IPAS and HSE officials, Dr Ann Sheahan, a specialist in public health medicine, urges the organisations to "consider seeking alternative accommodation for residents immediately."
A HSE ‘check-list’ report for the centre dated April 29 also stated that there was no procedure in place on how to clean and disinfect rooms; the centre's lift hadn't been cleaned; and hand hygiene-dispensers were not placed at the centre.
Laundry rooms also required signages to specify that only one person at a time was allowed inside. Temperature monitoring for all staff and residents still hadn't commenced at that time.
Documents further reveal that social-distancing was not carried out, especially at the centre's "front reception and dining area."
Internal HSE correspondence has also revealed that "two thermometers given by the HSE" were not working.
Starving for Change
Speaking to Hot Press this morning, residents of Skellig Star, who converge at the centre's front reception every day in protest, said they have no plans to suspend their hunger strike.
“We won’t stop until we have our transfer papers in our hands, and it needs to be effective immediately,” one resident said. “We must be moved out of this place to recover.”
The resident said that despite social media reports, a quick visit by inspectors from the International Accommodation Services (IPAS) – a part of the Department of Justice – had little to do with the hunger strike and residents' demands.
"They were here to test food and water quality, so, we started at 10am on Monday, they came at 11am. They didn't know about the hunger strike," one resident said.
"You know that there have been problems in Skellig Star from day one, and we talked to media, we talked to politicians, but nothing happened. After Covid-19 ended here, we again wrote to people asking to be transferred. Still, nothing happened."
One female resident, who sounded weak and exhausted, said that she's so emotionally and physically 'drained' that she has lost her will to live.
“No one here is okay, mentally and emotionally, and after everything that happened with rationing of water, we couldn’t take it anymore,” she said.
"Do they want to see someone die to take action?"
Residents have had the unwavering support of locals in Cahersiveen since their arrival in March.
Cahersiveen locals currently gather twice a day outside the centre to support the residents on hunger strike at Skellig Star.
Residents said that they are grateful that people had travelled from places as far as Tralee to lend their support to the protest.
Visiting Larger Towns
Residents said that a recent letter from the Department of Justice has only fanned the flames of fury at the centre.
In the letter, Oonagh Buckley, Deputy Secretary-General at the Justice Department, emphasised that the Department has “heard your concerns” urging them to break their hunger strike.
“I know the restrictions from the pandemic and your relocation to Kerry have been difficult for you. We regret that you have felt it necessary to take this course of action and ask that you do not put your health in danger,” Ms Buckley wrote. “We have heard your concerns.”
Oonagh Buckley emphasised that IPAS officials had visited the centre to “ensure that you have the supports you need including access to a supply of safe, clean drinking water and food.”
“We are also working on solutions to facilitate the transport needs of residents wishing to visit larger towns in the area, and we will continue to listen to residents as regards other additional supports you may require in the wake of recent events surrounding the centre,” Ms Buckley wrote.
She also stated that applications for transfer are currently being processed.
Residents said in response that the letter fails to address their concerns.
"It doesn't consider what we're feeling and our demands – we wish to be transferred," one resident said.
Asked about the Department of Justice’s year-long contractual agreement with Skellig Star Hotel, which the Former Minister Charles Flanagan cited as an obstacle on the way of its closure, one resident said: “They can later decide what to with Skellig Star, it’s not our business.”
The Department of Justice, under the Ministerial leadership of Fine Gael's Helen McEntee TD is still in charge of accommodating refugees until October, when the responsibility will shift to the ambit of Green Party Minister for Equality and Integration, Roderic O'Gorman TD. Minister O'Gorman highlighted the fact in a tweet on Monday evening, adding that he was working closely with Minister McEntee to aid the asylum seekers, regardless.
Meanwhile, back in Newbridge, another crisis is unfolding.