State pays firms €890m for running centres that hold asylum seekers
The State has paid private businesses almost €890m to run centres used in the discredited direct provision system for asylum seekers.
Data obtained by the Irish Independent details how some firms have earned huge sums from the system, under which people applying for refugee status must live in State-sponsored accommodation and are not allowed work.
Plans to introduce a new tendering system have been put on hold while a report by an independent review group, set up to examine the direct provision system, is examined by the Government.
Initially brought in as a short term measure, direct provision has become a huge money spinner for firms awarded contracts by the Government.
Data shows 134 firms or individuals were contracted to provide direct provision services since its introduction in 2000.
The companies are paid €30 each day per person in the case of privately owned centres and €15.50 per person in centres owned by the State.
An analysis of the figures shows a core set of companies have consistently had their contracts renewed - with 20 companies having been paid at least €10m or more by the state in the last 15 years.
The biggest beneficiary has been Mosney Irish Holidays, the firm which runs a direct provision centre in Co Meath.
It has received payments totalling €113.2m since 2000.
East Coast Catering Ltd, the company which runs the Balseskin reception centre in Co Dublin, has been paid €107m since 2001.
Bridgestock Ltd, which has run reception centres throughout the west of Ireland, has been paid €91.7m to date, while the company run by businessman Noel C Duggan, Millstreet Equestrian Services Ltd, has received contracts worth €65.3m.
Several of the firms have moved from being limited companies to being unlimited ones in recent years, meaning they do not have to disclose accounts or reveal profits.
The ultimate ownership of a number of firms is also held by other companies offshore.
There are currently over 4,400 residents living in 34 centres around the country. More than half have had to live in a centre for at least four years.
Direct provision providers contacted by the Irish Independent said they were not permitted to comment and that queries should be directed to the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA).
A value-for-money study conducted in 2010 recommended a more open tendering system amid concern not enough companies were applying to provide services. However, the RIA said the implementation of a new system had been stalled by a legal challenge to the direct provision model.
A recent analysis of the direct provision system in by a Government-appointed working group has also delayed moves to change the tendering system.
"Quite clearly there would be no point in designing a complex tendering process and find that during its operation the whole basis for it had fundamentally changed as a result of external factors such as a court finding or the working group process," the agency said in a statement.
The RIA said each firm tendering to provide direct provision services needed to have a valid tax clearance certificate.
It said there was no contractual requirement for companies providing services to be registered in Ireland, but it understood all were currently registered here. A rigorous inspection system is in place to ensure quality and standards.