Saturday 16 February 2019

Multi-million contracts on asylum centres stay secret

Public Accounts Committee member Derek Nolan
Public Accounts Committee member Derek Nolan
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

THE Government has been criticised for not ensuring more transparency around sums paid to operators of asylum seeker accommodation.

Some €55.2m was spent by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) last year, with most of the money going to the operators of 34 direct provision centres around the country.

However, the Department of Justice has refused to divulge details of the most recent contract rates agreed with operators, citing commercial sensitivities.

A number of the main companies involved - each in receipt of multi-million euro contracts - also have corporate structures which mean their earnings from the State do not have to be disclosed.

These include the company which runs the Mosney reception and integration centre in Co Meath. Its ultimate ownership is held by offshore companies.

TDs who have raised queries about contracts for operators have been told that "details of current contract rates are not provided" and that only financial information which is at least two years old can be released.

Dail Public Accounts Committee member Derek Nolan criticised the department's position.

Transparency

"The public deserves transparency in the system so as to ensure cost effectiveness, but also to have faith that money is spent on those in direct provision, not on excessive profits for what are private companies," said the Labour TD.

Independent TD Roisin Shortall, who was refused access to up-to-date contract figures, said the public had a right to know "who has got these contracts and what they were worth".

Reform Alliance member Denis Naughten, who also sought cost data, said the argument that the figures were commercially sensitive "doesn't stand up". He called for clarity around the margins being made by operators.

The direct provision system has proved hugely controversial as asylum seekers can be forced to live in centres for up to a decade while waiting for a decision on their application. During this time they cannot work and receive an allowance of just €19.10 per adult each week.

Mosney, which has been paid over €100m since direct provision began, deregistered as a PLC in 2012 and became an unlimited company, a move which meant it no longer has to publish accounts. Companies Office records show shares in the business are mainly owned by Sonning Unlimited, a firm whose address is listed as a post office box in the Isle of Man.

The last set of accounts the old Mosney PLC was obliged to publish showed revenues of €7.9m in 2010 and an operating profit of €385,000.

The company then had five directors, Phelim, Paul and Elizabeth McCloskey, Sarah Gates and Ruth Kierans, who shared remuneration packages totalling €924,000 that year.

Bridgestock, a company run by Tullamore businessman Seamus Gillen and Galway property firm owner Eoghan McGinty, has run asylum reception centres in four counties and became an unlimited company in 2011. Its majority shareholder is a company in the British Virgin Islands.

Its last set of public accounts, for 2010, show its then directors, Seamus and Kathleen Gillen, were paid €1.5m in rent by the company.

Another major reception centre operator with held by an offshore company is Millstreet Equestrian Services, the company run by entrepreneur Noel C Duggan.

It has run reception centres in Mallow, Carrick-on-Suir and Killarney and became an unlimited company in 2010.

The shares in the company are held by two firms, Tolasa Ltd and Arbella Ltd, in the Isle of Man.

Companies operating centres are contractually required to direct all media inquiries to the RIA. Queries submitted to the agency via the Department of Justice were not responded to.

Irish Independent

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