State gives private companies €182m to run asylum centres
PRIVATE companies have won contracts worth more than €182m to run asylum seeker accommodation centres, an Irish Independent investigation reveals.
New records show how the slow pace of Ireland's asylum process has proved a cash cow for a small number of companies who secured major state contracts.
With some asylum cases taking up to six years to finalise, the business of providing applicants with food and shelter has been a lucrative one.
Figures obtained under freedom of information rules reveal for the first time the size of the contracts awarded to individual companies
It has also emerged that at least two businesses involved in providing asylum services have made political donations to Fianna Fail.
There is no suggestion that the donations influenced the awarding of contracts.
The Department of Justice has refused to reveal how much contractors were paid over the past two years, claiming the information is commercially sensitive.
However, records released from 2002 to the end of 2007 reveal how 28 companies and individual businesspeople each won contracts worth over €1m to run accommodation centres.
While contractors must meet the cost of all services provided, including staffing, management and housekeeping, out of the contract amount, Companies Office records show that most businesses involved have made handsome profits from the ventures.
The revelations come just weeks after a Department of Justice value-for-money report found that state-owned accommodation was costing the taxpayer less per person than privately owned operations.
The report also found that there was restricted competition between private contractors and that recent increases negotiated in the cost of some contracts were too high.
Changes proposed in a new immigration bill are expected to see the amount of state funds paid to private operators fall as officials aim to speed up the asylum process.
The largest beneficiary of asylum centre contracts revealed in the records was Dundalk-based firm East Coast Catering Ireland, which won contracts worth €47.5m.
Most of the cash was for running the Balseskin Reception Centre at St Margaret's in Co Dublin. It is the main reception centre for newly arrived asylum seekers in the State and has been used to house up to 420 people at a time.
Its directors are Dundalk businessmen Denis Williams and Brian Byrne and Canada-based duo Patrick O'Callaghan and Richard Sheppard.
The most recent accounts filed for the company show after-tax profits of €1.3m for 2006. The same year dividends of €1.1m were paid to shareholders.
The second biggest contract winner was Millstreet Equestrian Services Ltd, a company owned by well-known entrepreneur Noel C Duggan.
Mr Duggan rose to national prominence when his Green Glens Arena in Millstreet, Co Cork, hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1993. He also gave evidence at the Mahon Tribunal, where he testified to making a £5,000 donation to Fianna Fail in 1994.
According to the Department of Justice records, his company won contracts worth €15.9m for asylum centre accommodation in Mallow, Co Cork, Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, and Killarney, Co Kerry. He also runs the Millstreet Accommodation Centre in Co Cork.
The company made post-tax profits of €325,000 in 2008 and €272,500 the previous year. The figures do not differentiate between profits made by the company's asylum services and their equestrian activities.
Foxfield Inns Ltd, a company run by Galway hoteliers Kevin, Sheila and Mary Flannery, won contracts worth almost €15.2m to run an asylum centre with a capacity of 230 in Salthill.
The records did not include figures for the asylum centre in Mosney, Co Meath, which has a contract to house 650 people.