Pest infestation at asylum seeker centre saw child hospitalised, inspections find

Residents feel ‘unsafe’ and some staff are not Garda vetted, Hiqa inspections of accommodation find

Asylum seekers are being accommodated in centres with pest infestations, where they feel “unsafe” and where some staff do not have Garda vetting, according to the State’s health watchdog.

Inspections carried out earlier this year by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found a child living in a Co Monaghan centre was hospitalised as a direct result of pests in their family accommodation.

Hiqa conducted its first review of asylum seeker accommodation in January after assuming the role of monitoring and inspecting permanent International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) centres. It follows a commitment by Government, in its 2021 White Paper on ending direct provision, that inspections of centres would be carried out by the watchdog.

Inspectors who visited the Knockalisheen accommodation centre on the outskirts of Limerick city, which is operated by Aramark, found “significant deficits” in standards and noted the housing was “unsuitable” with “underdeveloped governance and oversight”. The centre currently houses 278 people, including 35 children, but has capacity for 354 residents.


Garda vetting was not in place for a number of staff and international police checks had not been carried out on others who had lived abroad, rendering recruitment practices at the centre “not sufficiently safe or effective”, inspectors said. Eleven staff members had not undergone mandatory Children First training, the report notes.

Hiqa warned that the 52 male residents staying in “military-style tents” on the grounds of Knockalisheen were living in conditions that posed “potential risks to their health, safety and welfare”. Men in these tents had “no private space to change their clothing, no privacy screens between beds and no access to storage for personal belongings”, impacting their basic human rights, inspectors said.

Residents reported regular incidents of “drug use, alcohol use and aggressive behaviours” and the centre had an “ineffective risk management system”. Some residents told inspectors they often felt “unsafe”.

The centre also needed “a deep clean” while the manager confirmed there was “little engagement with children”.

Inspectors took the “unusual steps of issuing an immediate action, requesting the service provider to complete a full analysis of all risks in the centre, including risks relating to residents”.

A separate inspection, carried out at St Patrick’s Accommodation Centre on the outskirts of Monaghan town in January, reported “ongoing issues related to pest control” and “high levels of noncompliance” with the national standards.

The centre, which provides own-door accommodation to 338 residents, including 155 children, is operated by Tattonward Limited.

The service provider was directed to take immediate action after inspectors found there were “infestations” in living quarters. In one case, a child was “admitted to hospital as a direct result of the presence of pests in their family accommodation”.

Many bedrooms were overcrowded, with some adults and children sharing beds. In one case, a family of five, who were expecting another baby, were living in small quarters and had no space for a crib. Children also reported a lack of space to do their homework.

Recruitment practices at the centre were “not safe or effective” with no Garda vetting checks on some staff and no police checks on others who had lived outside Ireland. No member of staff had attended training on first aid, human trafficking, disability, anti-bullying or conflict resolution as required by the national standards.

Hiqa inspections also took place in January at Hanratty’s Hotel in Limerick, where 95 people live, and the Hazel Hotel in Kildare, which also has 95 residents.

Residents in Hanratty’s Hotel said they were satisfied with services at the centre and spoke highly of the staff. While recruitment practices were not found to be fully safe and effective, inspectors said the centre was “a supportive space where staff and managers were readily available to residents”.

The Hazel Hotel required “some improvements” but provided a “high-quality service” in a centre where the general welfare of residents was “well promoted” and concerns were effectively dealt with. However, some residents told inspectors they did not always feel safe in their accommodation.

Staff at the four centres inspected in January were given advance notice of the Hiqa review. However, the health and safety watchdog is set to carry out unannounced inspections over the coming months.

There are 6,891 asylum seekers living in 49 permanent IPAS centres, with the vast majority of asylum seekers living in emergency accommodation, which does not fall under Hiqa’s inspection remit. A total of 28,875 international protection applicants are living in 282 centres around the country.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast