A spike in those seeking international protection, the fall-out from the war in Ukraine, and a prevailing housing crisis mean that accommodation is at a premium.
One of the biggest earners in this respect is the Tifco Hotel Group, an off-shore company owned by a hedge fund, Apollo.
In 2022, the group received just over €80m in state funds to provide accommodation for those arriving on these shores.
Among the Tifco properties contracted out to the government for this purpose are a number of Travel Lodge hotels and the Crowne Plaza in Dublin’s Blanchardstown.
Until last year the group’s Crowne Plaza in Santry near Dublin Airport was similarly contracted.
In December 2021, the Santry property was contracted out so that all of its 209 rooms went to the State’s International Protections Support Services (IPSS) agency, which organises accommodation for asylum seekers.
In this arrangement, the rooms were to be exclusively for the use of IPSS, even when some were occasionally unused.
This makes perfect sense as requirements for accommodation can fluctuate on a daily basis.
Unbeknownst to IPSS, some of the rooms in Crowne Plaza were not being made available: Up to seven rooms were being used by the hotel to provide accommodation for its own staff.
These staff members had been recruited in Croatia and were told that they would be provided with accommodation.
The rooms in question were being paid for by the IPSS to house asylum seekers while the employees were staying there.
In April 2022, one of the hotel employees was in the staff canteen early in the morning when she encountered a few of the Croatians. She was surprised that they were up early.
Neither were they togged out in their uniforms as would be the case if they were on duty.
The employee found this strange and investigated further.
Later in the day, she encountered one of the Croatians who told her that another manager had said: “From now on lads, you’re doubling up.”
This inferred that fewer bedrooms would now be used for the staff and they would have to make do.
The employee reported the matter to the group’s management in the form of a protected disclosure.
The matter was investigated under the company’s whistleblowing policy by a senior member of the group’s management.
She prepared a report that, for the greater part, upheld the complaint in the protected disclosure.
The internal investigation found that the staff had been staying in the rooms prior to the signing of the IPSS contract in early December 2021. They continued to live there after that.
Each day, the hotel was obliged to inform the IPSS about its occupancy level so the IPSS could organise whether or not to send more asylum seekers.
According to the investigation, there were 48 days in the first half of 2022 in which the hotel told the IPSS that it had full occupancy.
This obviously did not take account of the rooms being occupied by staff.
However, the investigation found that there were reasons why the staff were being housed in these rooms.
“The staff were only ever accommodated in rooms that were out of order, these rooms were out of order and could not be used to accommodate IPSS guests,” the report stated.
“There were a number of reasons why these rooms were out of order for guests, mainly for maintenance issues such as issues with door locks, window, air conditioning issues, etc.”
So the rooms were deemed unfit for asylum seekers, but acceptable for the long-term accommodation of staff.
- “IPSS were not informed that staff were staying in rooms on the day of the inspection”;
- “IPSS were not informed that there were rooms that were out of order to guests”;
- “These rooms were included in the count as occupied rooms on the room status report that was sent to the IPSS daily”;
- “IPSS trusted the hotel to manage the facility with the ultimate goal of giving them the maximum number of rooms. The employees were accommodated in out-of-order rooms that couldn’t be used regardless.”
The report recommended that IPSS be refunded the value of the number of rooms retained to house staff but only for the 48 days on which the hotel reported no occupancy.
It also recommended that a disciplinary investigation be carried out into the matter.
Last year an Oireachtas committee was told that it cost around €70 a night to house asylum seekers.
If the IPSS demanded a refund for the use of the rooms that it had contracted for but were occupied by hotel staff over the full period, the value would run into six figures.
The staff continued to be housed in the contracted room right up until the completion of the investigation report in July 2022.
Thesubmitted a number of questions to Tifco, none of which were addressed.
Instead, the company issued a statement.
“In response to your query, a matter was brought to our attention by a staff member in the summer of 2022. The matter was immediately investigated, and resolved to the client’s satisfaction,” the statement read.
Earlier this year, the matter was brought to the attention of An Garda Síochána.
By that time, the Tifco employee who had made the protected disclosure had left her employment.
She explained to an officer from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) the details of her allegation.
The garda then pointed out to her that she was a witness, not a complainant, and investigating the matter on that basis might be an issue.
He told her an anecdote about a person who saw a thief rob another person’s wallet. The witness can’t make the complaint. It must be the victim of the crime.
The garda said the best course of action would be for him to contact the government department responsible for the funds.
Theunderstands this was done.
Later, the former Tifco employee sent the garda an email saying that she simply didn’t understand why her complaint couldn’t be acted on.
In his response, the garda referred to the anecdote he had told her.
“I acknowledge that we have a different interpretation of what was said,” the garda wrote.
“You brought to the attention to this bureau an allegation of misappropriation of government funds.”
“I have been in communication with representatives of the government regarding said allegation.
“I made reference to the wallet story as a simple example, to explain the concept of owner, and the roles of complainant, witness, and suspect within our accusatorial court system.
“You did not identify to me anything that was stolen from you. You cannot make a complaint in this instance. I outlined to you that your role may be as a witness. I remain in communication with representatives of government.”
A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said the National Economic Crime Bureau is currently “assessing the matter referenced in your query. A criminal investigation has not been undertaken at this time.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Equality said it is “cooperating with An Garda Síochána in relation to an allegation that is being investigated. The Department cannot comment further on an ongoing investigation.”
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