Reports have just come in, via the Irish Refugee Council, that the residents of Lissywollen Direct Provision Centre in Athlone have been refusing food since yesterday.
Those living there collectively outlined their main frustrations with management of the centre at the start of the month. So, far there has been no response. This not the first time that the catering company involved in running the centre has been shy when faced with complaints. That company is called Aramark.
During the May elections, local Councillors were publicly challenged over conditions at the Lissywollen site. While most were critical of it, one in particular, a called Cllr Kevin “Boxer” Moran declared it to have a “state of the art catering company” and described the meals as “splendid.” Accounts filed by the US owned group show €180.7m in revenue was recorded from its operations in Ireland with 13.5pc in the UK and 5.6pc in other countries. The company has also been awarded the Food and Beverage contract for Croke Park.
An inspection report was carried out by the Reception and Integration Agency on November 14th 2013 and a letter was sent to management informing them that “a number of issues were raised and you are required to deal with any hazards or risks detailed in this report immediately.” A follow up letter was sent on 2nd of January 2014 as no response had come from management according to the RIA.
When a response did come from Aramark, it was oddly dated December 4th and outlined some of the work done which included simple things like replacing washing machines that were “out of commission at the time of the inspection.” They also provided more outdoor play equipment, as well as games consoles, a new TV and pool table inside. It’s believed nearly 60% of those living in direct provision at the centre are children out of a total 257 occupants.
The company has been popping up in news reports here for a while. Back in October 2012, a closure order was served on them under the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act over the kitchen and related areas at the same centre
Those that have come through the direct provision system have previously told rabble that fear of reprisals prevent protest, but this is the second resident led action to break out in under a month. Residents in Mount Trenchard in Limerick undertook hunger strikes and are still the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) to respond to their calls to have the centre shut down.
What follows are extracts from the letter sent to management:
“Residents are not happy that management act swiftly on hearsay and yet take no action on serious issues which affect our day to day living, which have been highlighted to you. This is quite concerning and instills no confidence that you have our best interests at heart.”
“Residents have been complaining for a long time about the standard of the food that is served on a daily basis. Nothing has been done in this area, instead, people have been told statements such as: “You have come to Ireland, you have to eat Irish food and if you don’t like it, go back where you are came from.””
“Things are changed whenever it suits management with no explanation or consultation with the residents is made.”
“The small carton (of juice) children receive whilst in school is too small for teenagers to last them from 8am – 4pm. We are also supplementing our children’s lunches, which is another expense off our small weekly allowance.”
“We are given salad ingredients to make salad in our own mobile homes, often it is not washed properly or has gone off.”
“When issuing bread, please consider the size of the family as at times, 1 loaf is not enough for a big family for 2 days.”
“Seat covers in the mobile homes and mattresses and bed linen should be replaced as most of it is in a terrible state.”
The company at the centre of this dispute, Aramark Ireland, traded here in the past as Campbell Catering and it’s a subsidiary of a larger US operation and integrated services group. While it claims to be in the business of “delivering experiences that enrich and nourish lives every day” – a section about its ethical reputation on Wikipedia will leave you wincing. Earlier this month, Aramark in the US was fined for the provison of poor prison food and found itself hounded by a Detroit Free Press investigation that uncovered plenty more unsavory shenanigans.
Clearly someone has sent the US outfits brand bible of cutting corners and courting controversy to those running the show in Athlone and they are applying it with gusto.