Thursday, 30 July 2020
Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre and the Future of Direct Provision: Statements
I am sharing time with Senator Boylan. I will take four minutes and she will take two. I will begin by expressing solidarity with the residents of the Skellig Star centre. They are the primary reason we are all here today. I welcome the Minister and thank her joining us. I note the welcome Government Senators have extended to her despite those Senators voting against the motion to invite her earlier this morning. That is an important point to make for the benefit of those watching.
Does the Minister accept that the Skellig Star direct provision centre does not comply with the standards and requirements laid out in the Department of Justice and Equality's guidelines on direct provision published in August 2019? As I understand it, direct provision standards cannot be applied to emergency accommodation. If that is the reality, it sends a shiver down my spine. Fundamentally, that would mean this situation could continue.
I have been engaging with my Dáil colleague, Deputy Daly, who has been working tirelessly with the residents of the Skellig Star and in the local community. It is our understanding that the manager of this facility was told in March, following the building's closure as a hotel in January, that the new owners would reopen it as a direct provision centre within three days. This hotel manager was given three days. No proper training was provided and there was no time for proper Garda vetting. Was it solely a case of getting people in to start generating profits to go into private coffers? That is the crux of the problem with direct provision. This system cannot be about proper care, welfare and support for people who are in extreme need, who sometimes have complex issues relating to post-traumatic stress disorder and other dynamics and who face extreme marginalisation and social isolation when the main driver of some of these centres is solely to generate profit.
Of course, all the feelings I have just referred to are bad enough and, if we are honest, similar problems are widespread in the direct provision and emergency accommodation system but we must then consider the unprecedented dynamic of the Covid-19 crisis. This meant even more complexities in how we care for and protect people and in how we keep them safe. It is clear that the Skellig Star was not and is not properly equipped to deal with the needs of the residents, whether during a pandemic or otherwise. On that basis, will the Minister commit to meeting the residents to hear their concerns directly? I do not doubt for one moment the Minister's sincerity in today professing that she wants to deal with this issue. I take her at her word on that.
Again, on that basis, will the Minister commit to relocating the residents to safer and more appropriate accommodation? Departmental officials should not have had to be despatched to the centre this week to ensure the residents have safe and clean drinking water. This should not be held up as a fine example of Government taking action. It is a basic right and entitlement. It should not be the case that residents of the Skellig Star centre have to go on hunger strike in protest to call for their safety and well-being. I again ask the Minister very directly and sincerely whether she will commit to ensuring the affected residents in the Skellig Star centre are relocated to safer, more appropriate and, crucially, more compliant accommodation as a matter of urgency. Will the Minister give me a date for that relocation?