Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
452. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the reason asylum seekers were moved to a location (details supplied) in County Kerry following a confirmed case of Covid-19 at their place of residence in Dublin. [6284/20]
458. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the reason the residents and business community of Cahersiveen, County Kerry were not informed of the Covid-19 outbreak at a location (details supplied) when it was first confirmed. [6290/20]
463. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the reason social distancing was not immediately implemented at a location (details supplied) following the first four confirmed Covid-19 cases. [6295/20]
465. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the reason residents at a location (details supplied) that were sharing communal areas such as a dining room, laundry room and so on were not asked to self-isolate for 14 days following the first confirmed cases of Covid-19. [6297/20]
467. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality his views on whether the entire process at a location (details supplied) was poorly managed from the beginning and as a result put the lives and well-being of residents, the employees of the hotel and the residents of Cahersiveen and the Iveragh Peninsula, County Kerry at risk. [6299/20]
469. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to issue an apology to the residents and employees at a location (details supplied) and to the residents of Cahersiveen and Iveragh, County Kerry for the distress caused. [6301/20]
470. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if the immediate closure of the direct provision centre in Cahersiveen, County Kerry will be ordered in view of the fact it is viewed as not fit for purpose. [6302/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 452 to 470, inclusive, together.
I want to assure the Deputy that I, Minister Flanagan and our officials take the safety and wellbeing of all international protection applicants and the community in which they reside extremely seriously. That has always been our priority.
I do appreciate that the circumstances in which the Skellig Accommodation Centre was opened did not allow for full engagement with local representatives, communities and services; to inform and reassure them and to answer their questions. That is certainly something that I, Minister Flanagan and our officials regret. But, during a public health emergency the decision to move people to a dedicated accommodation centre was seen as an appropriate positive response.
All centres are following the guidelines for our centres that have been published by the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre. These are publicly available at its website www.hpsc.ie. That guidance exists precisely because it is recognised that congregated settings such as Direct Provision centres present specific challenges in this pandemic. My Department is working closely with the HSE in doing so, and while the HSE advice has evolved over time, we have been assured by both it and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer that our approach is appropriate.
At the very outset of the crisis, my Department discussed with the HSE the fact that we were accommodating some people in commercial hotels that the Department did not have exclusive use of. This was seen as higher risk at that time in the early stages of the pandemic.
For that reason, we needed to move people to dedicated accommodation centres where they could receive the full set of State supports and services. To do this, we needed to open more accommodation. The Skellig Star hotel in Cahersiveen had been offered to us and was available for immediate occupancy.
We also opened new centres in Rosslare Harbour and Tullamore and temporary accommodation in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick.
In total, 600 people were relocated to support social and physical distancing including just over 100 people to the new centre in Cahersiveen.
The residents arrived in Caherciveen on March 18th and 19th. Some of them did come from a hotel in Dublin at which a case of COVID-19 was subsequently confirmed in an unrelated guest. My Department was not told of that confirmed case until it was brought to Minister Flanagan’s attention by Deputy Catherine Murphy on 6 April 2020.
From subsequent discussions with management at the hotel, our understanding is that the guest involved had only stayed at the hotel for one night in early March when they fell ill. The guest was removed to hospital and their close contacts were asked by the HSE to self-isolate for 14 days as is the norm. No one that we were accommodating in the hotel was approached as a traced contact, and there was no indication whatsoever that anyone we relocated from that hotel was in any way unwell, was awaiting a test or a test result. In fact, it was well over a fortnight after they arrived before any of our residents in Cahersiveen began to show symptoms and were confirmed as positive for COVID 19.
As the Deputy will appreciate, medical information such as testing, test results and the release of data relating to same are matters for the HSE in a public health context. We can confirm that, in line with our agreed policy with the HSE, anyone who has tested positive has been moved to a dedicated self-isolation facility where they are cared for until such time as the HSE considers that they can safely return to their centre. Everyone else in the centre was asked to self-isolate while the HSE continued to monitor the situation. Thankfully, the HSE has confirmed that that period of self-isolation has ended today (20 May 2020) and all residents are now subject to the same restrictions as anyone else under Phase 1 of the Government’s Roadmap.
There are currently 69 residents (including 9 children) onsite in the centre, which has capacity for 150 residents, and 56 bedrooms. Residents are a mix of single people and small sized families. All single residents have been offered their own bedroom and all bedrooms in the centre are en suite. Some residents have declined this offer and have indicated that they wish to self-isolate with their roommate as a family unit. We continue to encourage these residents to accept the offer of their own room at this time.
Guidance has been provided by the HSE to centre management on the enhanced cleaning arrangements required at this time including through an onsite visit by a HSE infection control specialist. This applies to bedrooms, corridors, staircases, the dining room, kitchen, laundry room, lift, public toilets and reception and public areas. This is being strictly adhered to by centre management and staff.
My Department is working closely with the HSE and centre management to provide additional supports for residents during this time. There is a HSE Community Development Worker onsite at the Centre seven days a week to monitor the health of residents. This person is supported by a wider healthcare team. Additional outdoor space has been opened up with some seating provided and, exercise equipment has been set up in the outdoor area for residents’ use. This outdoor equipment has been installed with the knowledge and support of HSE public health, and will be operated under their direction for safe use.
The residents are currently provided with three meals and snacks daily. However, in line with the overall policy objectives for accommodation centres, the service provider plans to introduce independent living arrangements with cooking facilities for residents in the coming period. In the meantime, the chefs in the centre are working with the residents to find out about preferred meals and staff have been asked to source and provide ethnic snacks for residents. Kettles have been provided in rooms so that residents can make refreshments throughout the day rather than using communal facilities and meals are also being delivered to rooms. The centre has a good Wi-Fi service and phone credit has also been provided for residents so that they can keep in touch with family and friends.
The current restrictions are especially difficult for children. In addition to the upgrades to the outdoor space, toys, puzzles and tablets have been being provided for children and laptops have also been provided for residents’ use. The Tusla official seconded to work with my Department has contacted the families to see what additional supports they need and to discuss any concerns they might have.
Officials from my Department began virtual clinics with residents earlier this week and a telephone support service for residents is also being established with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).
The Deputy can be assured that my Department will continue to work with accommodation centre management, health agencies and NGOs to provide every support possible to residents at this unprecedented and difficult time for all.