Rise of anti-immigration movement raises alarm in Government

Department of Children is redacting names of staff managing refugee response amid safety concerns

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman

Ken Foxe

The department responsible for managing Ireland’s refugee response has begun to redact the names of staff members from official records amid concerns for their safety.

An upsurge in right-wing activity, including a series of protests at refugee centres around the country, has raised significant alarm within the Department of Children and Equality.

The department had been ordered to release records relating to a decision to award a catering contract for a refugee centre on an emergency basis and without a tender competition.

However, they decided to withhold the names of all the staff members involved saying release of their names could “reasonably be expected to endanger the life or safety” of those working to provide refugee accommodation.

They said this was being done “due to the current climate and the nature of the work undertaken by the persons involved”.

The records related to the hurried setup of a temporary centre for Ukrainian refugees at Ballyogan in South Dublin in April of last year by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

As part of efforts to get it up and running quickly, a decision was made to award a catering contract on an emergency basis without a formal tender process.

In internal emails, questions were raised over how costs would compare to a similar centre that was already operating in Co Cork.

One email from Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council said: “The key difference is we were providing food options through the night for people who got up and for late arrivals. That meant extra kitchen staff.

“They also have dedicated kitchen and washing facilities in the Cork centres, which we have to bring in as they are not onsite.”

Later that day, Aramark had come back to say they were going to have to pull out as they were no longer in position to resource the centre.

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council asked: “Are you [the Department] in position to contract Aramark directly to our centre? Or do we need to try and come up with a Plan B?”

They also urged a quick response from the department saying: “Just wondering if you have an update? If we want this opened in coming weeks I need to action it ASAP.”

An official from the Department of Children and Equality responded saying: “Apologies for the delay. I am waiting for a reply from the procurement unit but have stressed the urgency. I hope to have the green light later today.”

Further emails said the HSE had raised concerns about “fire safety, health and safety, and cost” but that the council should go ahead with the proposal.

As the month wore on, officials at Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council grew increasingly frustrated with delays.

An email said: “Did you get a chance to look at this yet? We are now looking at opening on the 27th. That will slip to the 28th or later if we delay any further.

“The caterers in particular have equipment that needs to be transported. Agency staff need to be lined up etc … please let me know asap if the department are happy to fund the costs outlined.”

On April 20, the department gave final approval: “While [costs are] on the high side, we are prepared to approve them, in view of the urgent need for this accommodation, and will work with Aramark to secure the catering services separately.”

Asked about the decision to withhold the names of those involved in working on the provision of refugee accommodation, a department spokesman said: “All records related to [the] request were redacted under Section 32(1)(b) [of the FOI Act], which allows for refusal or redaction of records where the release of that record could ‘reasonably be expected to endanger the life or safety of any person.’

“The use of the exemption is considered justified as a safety precaution and to take appropriate regard for the welfare of staff at this time.”

The department also explained how they had relied on an EU derogation arising from the war in Ukraine, which allowed for short-term contracts with providers without “undergoing the standard procurement arrangements”.