By Colm McCarthy
A campaign by Direct Provision (DP) residents of the Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen County Kerry, which culminated in the hunger strike by the 32 adult residents, has forced the government to promise to move all residents out of the centre.
In March, Asylum seekers from four separate DP centres in Dublin were moved into the Cahersiveen at a day’s notice, in a number of cases leaving behind jobs. While this was justified publicly as being done to combat Covid-19, it made no sense. A “boutique” hotel, the Skellig Star’s rooms are tiny, leaving little chance for the over 100 people originally moved there to self-isolate. It later emerged that one of the hotels that people were transferred from had already suffered an outbreak of Covid-19, which the HSE had knowledge of. In the next six weeks there were two dozen positive tests among residents.
Lack of a functioning boiler meant that for the first two months of the residents’ stay, there was no central heating. The reduction of the water supply to an insufficient level following a boil water notice in the town was the final straw for residents, before beginning their hunger strike on the 28 of July.
Property prices and the rewards available in urban Ireland for hotels and landlords in short term letting have meant that the Department of Justice have increasingly sought locations in more remote areas for DP centres. These areas often suffer from insufficient infrastructure. Cahersiveen, with a lack of employment and adequate public transport, has seen a steady decline in its population in recent decades.
Unlike in some other areas faced with DP centre controversies, the far-right were unable to gain traction in this instance. Locals in Cahersiveen and residents of the Skellig Star built connections and campaigned alongside each other for a resolution. The campaign has led to a significant victory over the government in attaining a promise to move residents out of the Skellig Star. However, under questioning from Mick Barry TD, Justice Minister Helen McEntee only committed to getting all residents out of the centre by end of the year, showing the need for campaigners to remain vigilant.
Abolish Direct Provision
That the DP system is cruel is its entire point. It is used as a stick by the “pull factor” obsessed powers that be. An unwillingness by the Department of Justice for any chink in the armor of the DP model contributed significantly to the spread of Covid-19 in Ireland. In the last week, four centres in have seen clusters develop.
Who the system does work for, though, is rent seeking capitalists. From 2000-2017 over 1.1 billion euros was paid out to companies running DP centres. These are often well connected to those awarding the contracts, which come with little in the line of overheads or risks, or much in terms of regulation.
The DP system is utterly inhumane and needs to be abolished. The barriers placed in front of asylum seekers’ right to work needs to be scrapped. Solidarity and support to those in the DP system is crucial and should come from the working-class, especially the trade unions, which has the power to force change on this issue and cut across the politics of divide and rule.