An official inspection of the Direct Provision centre in Salthill found cooking appliances in several bedrooms of the accommodation for asylum seekers.
The annual inspection of the Eglinton in Salthill, by the International Protection Procurement Services, on behalf of the State, highlighted some issues for Maplestar Ltd, the operator of the accommodation, to resolve.
The inspection took place in November 2020, and the report was released by the Department of Justice to Galway City Tribune last week.
The hotel can accommodate 210 at capacity; on the day of the inspection there were 143 people living there, including families and single women.
No visitors were allowed at the centre during Covid-19, according to the report.
Meals are provided at the centre, but the report highlighted that a number of residents used their own cooking facilities in their bedrooms, which was against house rules.
During the inspection rice cookers were found in five bedrooms. In a letter of response to the inspector, management at the Eglinton outlined that it had rectified a number of issues, including removing rice cookers from bedrooms.
One resident “was informed of the dangers of cooking in the room and cooker was removed by management”, according to the response.
The report notes that meals prepared by a chef employed by the centre are served three times a day. Lunches for schoolchildren are also provided and there is access to snacks outside of the centre’s breakfast, lunch and dinner hours.
Some other mostly cosmetic issues in relation to rooms were mentioned by the inspector, and were subsequently dealt with, according to management.
A previous annual inspection report in 2019 had also highlighted that cooking facilities were being used in some of the bedrooms in the hotel.
“I can understand that even if you did have communal cooking facilities why you would be tempted to use other things in your own space. It’s very sad. I actually get shivers even thinking about it because people can be in Direct Provision for long periods of time,” said Galway-based senator, Pauline O’Reilly.
“Particularly for families, but also for single people, you have to have some element of privacy. When you look at human rights, people do have an entitlement. So even in the best-case scenario in these communal settings with a communal kitchen that’s not what families should have to survive. It could be a case that you’re not getting on with other people, all kinds of social issues arise when you’re living with people for a long period of time.”
She said that abolishing Direct Provision was a top priority of the Green Party in Government, and had brought forward a white paper on it. She wants “own-door accommodation”
“The timeline to get this done over the lifetime of the Government will be a challenge. Obviously, that’s the commitment and that’s one of the key things for us,” said Senator O’Reilly.
“We have to be careful in any conversation around this not to be pitting people against each other. I don’t think that is the reality. Actually, the numbers in Direct Provision are relatively low in the overall population. And so, it should be achievable [to end DP] in terms of housing.
“The whole purpose of the plan is that people who can afford to pay, will pay for their housing. It’s not a case of everybody gets something for free. It’s a case-by-case basis just like it is with anyone else in the population.
“Whether you pay or not will depend on your means. You could be coming from areas of conflict where people have very high skill levels but they’re fleeing conflict or disaster zones,” she added.
The Department of Justice confirmed that phasing out of Direct Provision had commenced.
“Emergency accommodation is being phased out. This accommodation is not suitable for long-term use, and comes with a high degree of congregation. Single people who do not know each other can end up sharing rooms. Good progress has been made in terms of closing emergency accommodation this year and moving residents into accommodation with better standards,” it said.
The Department also pointed to a number of other short-term improvements.
Asylum seekers can now open Irish bank accounts, which was not the case up until this year.
A spokesperson said that secondary school students living in DP no longer have to pay international fees when applying for post-leaving cert and third level courses; they pay the same rates as Irish students.
Galway City Council turns down Mad Yolk Farm site
An application to retain farming-related development on a site in Roscam has been turned down by Galway City Council.
The local authority has refused to grant retention permission to applicant Brian Dilleen for subsurface piping to be used for agricultural irrigation at ‘Mad Yolk Farm’ on Rosshill Road.
It also refused permission for the retention of a bore-hole well, water pump and concrete plinth; and two water holding tanks for 6,500 litres; and other associated site works.
In its written decision, the Planning Department at City Hall said: “The proposed development, would if permitted, facilitate the use of the site for the provision of sixty 15.5m high seed beds, which have been deemed by the planning authority not to be exempted development.
“Therefore a grant of permission for the proposed development would facilitate the unauthorised development and usage on the site, contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”
The site has been the subject of enforcement action by the local authority.
A lengthy Appropriate Assessment Screening report, submitted with the planning application, concluded “beyond reasonable scientific doubt, in view of the best scientific knowledge, on the basis of objective information and in light of the conservation objectives of the relevant European sites, that the proposed retention and development, individually or in combination with other plans and projects, has not and will not have a significant effect on any European site”.
A borehole Impact Assessment Report concluded that the proposed retention development “on the hydraulic properties of the aquifer is considered negligible”.
It said that there was “no potential for significant effects on water quality, groundwater dependent habitats or species associated with any European site”.
Six objections were lodged by neighbours, including one from the Roshill/Roscam Residents Association, which argued the Further Information submitted by the applicant did “little to allay our concerns” about the impact of the development on an “extremely sensitive site”.
The applicant has until June 29 to appeal the decision to An Bórd Pleanála.
NUIG student accommodation firm records loss
The property company which operates student accommodation on behalf of NUI Galway recorded a €3.4 million increase in turnover in 2019.
However, Atalia Student Residences DAC (Designated Activity Company), which is owned by the university, recorded a loss for the year of €6,300.
Accounts for the company for the year ended August 31, 2019, show that while there was a loss, retained profits are at more than €1.6 million. The accounts are the most up to date available from the Companies Registration Office.
The previous year, the company made a profit of more than €460,000.
Atalia Student Residences operates the 764-bed Corrib Village apartment complex and the 429-bed Goldcrest Village.
The figures show that the company’s overall turnover jumped by 52% – from €6.4m to €9.8m.
Turnover for accommodation services was up from €5.2m to €8.4m; and from conferences and events was up from €850,000 to €1.1m. Turnover from shops was down from almost €328,000 to €290,000.
Outside of the academic year, both complexes are used as accommodation for conference delegates, while Corrib Village is also used for short-term holiday lets.
The accounts show fixed assets – including fixtures and fittings, plant and machinery and office equipment – valued at €1.5m. Its current assets were valued at more than €7m, including ‘cash at bank and in hand’ of almost €6.9m (up from €5.6m last year).
The company owed creditors €6.9m, including €5.2m in deferred income.
It employed 38 people (which includes its five directors) last year, up from 31 the previous year.
As well as operating the student accommodation complexes, the company also markets conference facilities and services on behalf of the university.
It pays rent to NUIG but the figure is not included in the company accounts. In 2018, the rent figure was just over €2.25m.
In Corrib Village, a single bedroom with a private en suite for the academic year costs €5,950. For Goldcrest Village, the figure is €6,760.
Call for two-way cycling under Galway City outdoor dining plan
Bike users want the local authority to examine the introduction of two-way cycling on one-way city centre streets.
Galway Cycling Campaign has again called for cycling to be allowed both ways. It comes as Galway City Council prepares to cordon-off parts of city centre streets to traffic, and make Dominick Street Lower one-way, to facilitate outdoor dining.
The cycling organisation said that the proposed pedestrianisation plan at the Small Crane, and the one-way system on Dominick Street, will result in lengthy diversions for people on bikes.
It has pointed out that school children and their guardians who cycle along Raleigh Row, and turn right towards Sea Road, will probably continue to do so even when the Small Crane is cordoned off to traffic, because the alternative route – via Henry Street – is too long a detour.
Similarly, it has been suggested that food-delivery services on bikes are unlikely to go the ‘long way round’ via Mill Street and New Road to get from Bridge Mills to restaurants on Dominick Street and would be tempted to cycle the ‘wrong way’ down the proposed one-way street or on the footpath.
Shane Foran, committee member of Galway Cycling Campaign, said now would be an ideal time to introduce two-way cycling on some one-way streets.
“It’s not controversial,” insisted Mr Foran. “It’s a general principle in other countries, if you are putting in new traffic arrangements, you would try and keep access for people on bikes.”
The regulation is contained in the National Cycle Policy Framework 2009; and a specific objective was contained in two of the most recent previous City Development Plans.
He said a former minister and Galway West TD, the late Bobby Molloy, had the vision to change the legislation in the late 1990s – but it hasn’t yet been embraced here.
“Bobby Molloy, who couldn’t be classed as an eco warrior, changed the law in 1998, so that it is available to local authorities to put up a sign granting an exemption from restrictions for people cycling on one-way streets.
“The road stays one-way for cars, and two ways for bicycles. Clearly that’s not going to be a sensible to do everywhere, like Merchants’ Road. In those situations, you might need a cycle track or lane to segregate people from traffic.
“But if it’s a low traffic street, with low speeds or relatively lower volumes of cars, then it should be possible for people on bicycles to cycle in both directions and still have it one-way for cars, without it being a major safety issue. It works in other countries,” said Mr Foran.