I thank Deputies Murphy, Barry and Pringle for raising this extremely important matter. Deputy Smith also raised it but she is not here.
I referred to this earlier today and it still stands true. I am sorry that residents of the Skellig Star in Cahersiveen felt that for their concerns to be heard this was the only course of action they could take. It is a matter of deep regret to me but also to my Department and the officials who work in this area. I have taken their concerns seriously as have officials in my Department. When a group of people feel they need to put their health at risk by refusing food or by not eating we need to listen to their grievances. We are listening to the residents in Cahersiveen and I am glad they are now eating and we can move forward.
Covid-19 has presented us all with difficult challenges and circumstances but, in particular, the residents in Cahersiveen who have been relocated and moved from where they were, potentially from friends and other family members. Restrictions were imposed on them because of the pandemic, albeit on all of us, but the virus itself made their situation particularly difficult and I acknowledge that.
I also fully appreciate the outbreak that was in the centre, the challenges that caused and how distressing it was for residents, staff, the community and for people engaging with the residents. Thankfully, the outbreak was declared over on 20 May. Since then, and in the interim, several measures have been introduced to try to make life that little bit more comfortable for the residents but, particularly, for the children who are there. I spoke of this earlier. These children were potentially in school, the same as anybody else. Obviously, we have done everything we can through their parents with my own Department, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Tusla and others to make sure they were able to continue in their education and that, where possible, they had access to the right technology to make sure they could continue learning. This applies to all children in direct provision.
My officials have been on site in recent days to assess the situation first-hand but, most important, to listen to the concerns of the residents. I also asked them to examine issues raised around the provision of meals and any issues arising following the boiled water notice that was and is currently in place in the entire town. Following their visits, they have informed me they are satisfied that residents have access to clean and safe drinking water and meals. Again, I acknowledge the inability to cook their own meals is difficult. It is not a situation anybody wants to be in.
I am conscious that residents still have outstanding issues and concerns and these are being followed up as a matter of priority. Several residents have made applications for transfer from Cahersiveen to alternative accommodation. Two days ago, the Department wrote to residents informing them the restrictions around transfers are now being relaxed. This was in place across the entire country because of Covid-19. They were necessary in terms of precautionary measures during the pandemic but as we have been able to manage the effects of the pandemic, those restrictions are now being eased.
The centre in Cahersiveen was opened as emergency accommodation at the outset of the pandemic and it is always the Department's policy to withdraw from emergency accommodation as quickly as possible. However, it is not always possible to do this as quickly as we would like. My officials will be implementing that policy regarding Cahersiveen. Places for first families are currently being identified and I gave a commitment earlier today that those families' moves will be completed by the end of next week. Other residents in the centre will be moved to more permanent accommodation as soon as spaces can be found in the coming months. I have given a commitment that I want this to be done by the end of the year. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Gorman, who will take over this role, very much agrees with this.
In the interim, my officials are working on solutions to facilitate the transport needs of residents who wish to visit the larger towns which they should be able to do. We will continue to listen to residents to try to provide any additional supports they require in the wake of recent events surrounding the centre. Since we opened the centre in March our goal and our priority has been to ensure the health, well-being and welfare of the residents. It has been to the fore of my mind, that of my predecessor, the then Minister of Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and all the officials in the Department. I will continue to do everything I can to support them, as will the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman when he takes over this role.