*Photograph: John Mangan

Miltown Malbay’s Direct Provision centre is to close at the end of this week.

Residents were informed that the temporary DP centre which is located at The Central Hostel is to close and they will be moved to alternative accommodation having requested to move. All transfers will be completed by the end of the week.

Up until December, 35 men lived in the Miltown Malbay hostel before 15 were transferred to Clare Lodge in Ennis and others to a Galway travel lodge. 19 residents were living at the facility in June but at the time of the closure the figure had dropped to seven.

Speaking to The Clare Echo on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice confirmed that the residents were leaving Miltown Malbay but were unable to specify as to where they would now live. “Restrictions on transfers were necessary as a precaution during the pandemic. While transfers can now take place in limited circumstances, our ability to respond to transfer requests is contingent on public health advice and subject to availability within the accommodation system”.

“Our stated aim is to reduce the reliance on emergency accommodation but given existing demand, that can only be achieved through increasing the number of dedicated Direct Provision bed spaces. The pandemic has impacted the Department’s ability to open new centres. However the sourcing and provision of suitable accommodation to facilitate independent living for residents remains a priority,” the spokesperson outlined.

An inspection carried out by the Department of Justice in June found no health and safety issues. It followed calls from the Miltown Malbay Welcome Group for the immediate closure of the centre. The findings of the investigation were called “another shameful cover-up” by members of the group.

In a statement to The Clare Echo on Wednesday, the Miltown Malbay Welcome Group said they are relieved the Direct Provision centre will close. “Although we are saddened to think that we are losing the men who have added so much to our small community, we hope that they will now be accommodated in places where their safety, dignity, human rights and privacy are respected”.

Residents had written to Minister for Justice and Equality, Helen McEntee (FG) and Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman (GP) plus the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to flag their living conditions. Minister McEntee has been praised by the voluntary group for her quick actions in dealing with their concerns.

“We strongly feel that the practice of using any available accommodation, with untrained staff and management for the provision of services to those who come here seeking protection without any assessment of vulnerability or particular needs is a dangerous dereliction of duty by the Department of Justice and Equality and we hope that the closure of the Central Hostel is just the first step in ensuring Ireland begins to comply with its obligations under the Reception Conditions Regulation,” a spokesperson for the group added.

Miltown Malbay has embraced the arrival of Direct Provision residents, their departure will be a loss to the community. “The men brought life and energy to the town of Miltown Malbay. They were actively involved in many community organisations, including the Tidy Towns and Biodiversity groups. Our community enjoyed African Dance workshops, drumming groups, swimming in Spanish Point, Kizomba dancing and many other multi-cultural events, and we are sad to lose this wonderful group of men from our town. However, it has been through this integration that we have got to know the men that lived here, and as the friendships grew, we began to learn of the conditions they were enduring in the hostel. Our only course of action was to stand in solidarity with the men.

“While we are very sad to say goodbye to the men leaving Miltown Malbay, we will take comfort in the fact that these people, who came to Ireland seeking protection and safety deserved better that the treatment and conditions they endured in the Central Hostel. We look forward to keeping in touch with them and we thank them and admire them for their efforts. We look forward to the end of the direct provision system itself as it has no place in the Ireland of equals we wish to live in”.

Speaking on Wednesday, Deputy Cathal Crowe (FF) who had sought the closure of the DP centre said it was “a relief” for residents that they would be transferred in the coming days. “I will be pressing the importance with Minister McEntee of setting up an inspectorate system so that where standards of care are not met, centres can be closed. We shouldn’t procrastinate with these issues”.

He told The Clare Echo, “I had previously suggested to the Minister that an independent forum be set up in Miltown, chaired by Michael ‘Malty’ McDonagh, in which the residents could make statements on their conditions, if they wanted to, and the advocacy group could also speak on their behalf. I am relieved that this will not go ahead and that the Minister has listened to the concerns I have been relaying to her Department.”

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