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Evidence that Covid-19 was ‘transported by bus’ to Co Kerry town

Norma Foley disputed a number of claims made by the Department of Justice over the dates of confirmed Covid-19 cases at the Cahersiveen centre.

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Oonagh Buckley, deputy secretary general at the Department of Justice (Oireactas TV)

Oonagh Buckley, deputy secretary general at the Department of Justice (Oireactas TV)

Oonagh Buckley, deputy secretary general at the Department of Justice (Oireactas TV)

A Fianna Fail TD said she has “unequivocal evidence” that a resident of a direct provision centre had Covid-19 as they were being transferred to a Co Kerry town.

Norma Foley disputed a number of claims made by the Department of Justice over the dates of confirmed Covid-19 cases at the Cahersiveen centre.

The TD told the special Covid-19 Oireachtas committee that she has evidence which shows Covid-19 was “transported by bus” to the former Skellig Star Hotel.

Residents and local people have expressed concern over the lack of space and residents’ ability to adhere to social distancing, with many calling for the centre to be shut down.

The HSE said they first became aware of a confirmed case at the Skellig Star on March 30, however Ms Foley said the date “puzzles me” as she had written communication from the hotel to the Department of Justice on March 24, which confirmed a suspected case of Covid-19.

“This is hugely important to the residents of the Skellig Star and the residents of Cahersiveen,” she added.

“This timeline confirms equivocally that Covid-19 was transported by bus on 18th and 19th of March to Skellig Star and the community of Cahersiveen.

“I portion absolute culpability to the HSE and Department of Justice for not conducting the necessary Covid-19 testing prior to leaving Dublin.

“At the very least, this was a grave oversight and at worst, a unequivocal dereliction of duty of care to all concerned.”

She also stated that untrained staff were left in charge when residents were moved to the centre on March 18.

Ms Foley also told the committee that a professional deep clean has never taken place at the centre since March 18.

She added: “That is despite 25 confirmed cases of Covid-19. I will tell you how it’s being cleaned – Mr Price Star Drops.

“A white vinegar-based cleaning spray, that costs 1.49 euro a bottle. That’s what is being used during this entire pandemic to clean the hotel.

“It is utterly shambolic, it is utterly unacceptable. Do the honourable thing and close the building.”

Oonagh Buckley, deputy secretary general at the Department of Justice, told the committee there had been “teething problems” when they opened the former hotel to the residents.

“We opened the centre much faster than normal, we didn’t have time to do what we would normally do,” Ms Buckley added.

There were also concerns raised about workers at the centre who were not garda vetted.

Ms Buckley said those concerns were addressed in the last week, however Sinn Fein’s Pa Daly said that was “unacceptable”.

There are a total of 7,700 residents living in asylum centres across 84 locations.

The committee heard that there have been 14 outbreaks of Covid-19 across the centres.

Around 600 residents have been relocated over recent weeks.

There was some confusion over the number of direct provision residents that have been tested for Covid-19.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, of the HSE’s Public Health division, corrected previous figures he provided to the committee, stating that just under 2,700 tests have been carried out – with 180 people testing positive for Covid-19.

People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said that the health pandemic has “exposed the horrors and inhumanity” of direct provision centres.

A letter sent from the Department of Justice to the residents following another confirmed case of Covid-19 reminded residents about “social distancing”.

Ms Smith said the contents of the letter suggested that residents were “being blamed for their own plight”.

This was denied by the Department of Justice.

PA