- 29 Jun 20
Without a doubt, protecting children and vulnerable people in the Direct Provision system is very important. But is that requirement now being used to deny residents interaction with locals?
Locals in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, are being refused entry to Skellig Star Hotel, the town’s controversial Direct Provision Centre.
In a startling new development, members of Fáilte Cahersiveen, a group set up to welcome and aid asylum seekers living in Skellig Star Hotel, have told Hot Press that they are now unable to meet residents they have befriended inside the premises.
The centre’s new manager has reportedly told locals that only ‘Garda vetted’ individuals are allowed inside the building. The former director at the centre resigned in recent weeks.
Locals and residents argue that the new, stringent visitation policy effectively means that control is being exerted over the relationship between asylum seekers and locals.
The centre dealt with a major coronavirus outbreak from April to May, which grabbed national headlines.
GARDA VETTED TEACHER
The new policy of exclusion comes against a backdrop of accumulated controversies at the Cahersiveen centre.
The law requires anyone whose work involves access to children or vulnerable adults to be Garda-vetted. In May, however, The Irish Examiner reported that less than half of the staff at Skellig Star Hotel had been Garda vetted by May 7.
While it was clearly necessary to address that deficiency, it is another matter entirely to extend the requirement to people, who are friends of the asylum seekers.
Locals in Cahersiveen told Hot Press that they are now denied the right to socialise with the asylum seekers, even where no interactions of any kind with children are involved.
Helen Richmond, a member of Fáilte Cahersiveen, told Hot Press that she is a ‘Garda vetted teacher’, and yet she can’t see whar she describes as her friends at Skellig Star Hotel.
“It seems I now live in a country where I need to be Garda vetted to visit my friends in their hallway,” she said, “This evening I went to visit a couple of my lovely friends there. The new manager told me that no one can visit unless they have been Garda vetted as a member of ‘Friends of the Centre’ (FOC)’.”
Richmond told Hot Press that the head of security at the centre told her that she must be specifically vetted by the Gardaí as part of FOC. It is the required membership of FOC that is central to her complaint.
“I said ‘I was allowed in on Monday’,” she added. “Then I went to the Guards, and they said they didn’t know anything about it, but they said they are going to go down and inquire.”
FRIENDS OF THE CENTRE
In recent weeks the Department of Justice and the management at Skellig Star Hotel have established a Friends of the Centre group for Skellig Star Hotel. However, Helen refuses to join this group as it implies an acceptance of Direct Provision – to which she is completely opposed.
Last year, the Department of Justice introduced the FOC initiative “to bring together residents, community and voluntary groups to increase integration opportunities and provide support for residents by local communities.”
Nothing wrong with that, you might say. Except that locals and members of Fáilte Cahersiveen believe that it is an attempt by the authorities to control and manage the relationship – and the interactions – between locals and asylum seekers at Skellig Star Hotel.
In a statement issued by Fáilte Cahersiveen, locals have questioned the bona fides of the Justice Department and the new management.
“We don’t need [FOC],” the statement said. “We already are friends of the people seeking asylum by imposing a top-down structure. A FOC group prevents us from making our own choices in who we befriend and find to support each other. It seeks to control our interactions in the community."
In the statement, locals have pledged to fight the new restrictions along with what they have described as the Department of Justice's “attempt to control our genuine relationship with these lovely people.”
Helen Richmond told Hot Press that she has no intention of joining FOC, as she believes that joining a group established by the Department of Justice equates to supporting the Direct Provision system.
“Ethically, I cannot join Friends of the Centre as I am opposed to Direct Provision,” she said. “I’m not a friend of the centre, I’m a friend of people in the centre. We have been supporting the residents since March 18, when no one else was even on the horizon.”
A SYSTEM FAILURE
Speaking to Hot Press, a resident at Skellig Star Hotel, also said that he believed that the new restrictions are designed to control the relationship between locals and asylum seekers.
“Because they will be exposed” the resident said. “And the community will be able to see things by themselves, not just by hearing stories from us. The manager told the residents that every Friday before room-check, they will sound an alarm to let us know that we should make ourselves available in our rooms to have it checked by them. Exactly what happens in prisons.”
The resident expressed hope that the newly appointed Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, of Fine Gael, might put an end to the Direct Provision system.
“The new Minister got some job to do concerning asylum seekers,” the resident added.
Helen McEntee is taking over the Department from fellow party member Charles Flanagan, who had defended the Direct Provision system, on several occasions in the past. The Department’s handling of the coronavirus crisis in Direct Provision, notably the outbreak at the Skellig Star Hotel, prompted mounting public criticism in recent months.
In the eyes of opponents of Direct Provision, this mismanagement may have permanently disqualified the Department of Justice from managing the affairs of asylums seekers – and the signs are that this position may have been taken up by the Green Party in the negotiations to form a new Government.
Eamon Ryan TD, Green Party leader and the new Minister for Climate Action, told RTÉ yesterday that the Department for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration – under the leadership of Green Party’s Roderic O’Gorman TD – will now take responsibility for Direct Provision.
Mr Ryan said that the ambit of responsibilities previously under the Department of Justice was too broad.
“The Justice Department was actually a huge Department, probably too big for any one minister,” Mr Ryan said.
The new coalition Government has pledged to abolish the Direct Provision system and supplant it with a not-for-profit approach to accommodating asylum seekers, by the end of its term.
The newly elected Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, Micheál Martin TD, has also described what led to the prevalence of coronavirus in Direct Provision as a “system failure.”
The former Taoiseach and current Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar TD, recently conceded that Direct Provision Centres were ‘often substandard’.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice declined to comment on Leo Varadkar’s remarks, but told Hot Press that 33 refugee accommodation centres across the State were “makeshift.”
MENTAL HEALTH DIFFICULTIES
Meanwhile, residents have recently told Hot Press that the difficulties in securing employment in Cahersiveen, a small town with a population of less than 1,500, are making them increasingly dependent on the Direct Provision system for financial support.
Out of the nearly 120 people originally moved to the centre, approximately 50 still live in Skellig Star Hotel. Some residents have also received an adverse decision on their asylum-seeking applications.
One Albanian man at Skellig Star Hotel, who was believed to be grappling with mental health difficulties, for example, recently received his notice of deportation and finally agreed to ‘voluntarily’ leave the State.
Since the individual did not speak English, other residents are unsure of the exact nature of his asylum-seeking application.
“His friends and family bought a ticket for him,” a resident told Hot Press.