Wall of silence: Home Office suggests it is dangerous to divulge public details about the transformation of the Carrickfergus hotel into a base for foreign nationals
The Home Office has categorically rejected all inquiries about the status of people staying in the city and the cost of hiring the Belfast Loughshore Hotel to cover their stay.
He suggested that it would be dangerous to answer such questions.
The case sparked controversy when it came to light in July, at a time when the hotel was closed to guests due to Covid.
It is expected to reopen to the public in March.
The news that foreign nationals were staying there sparked many rumors, with some people claiming they had been brought by bus into the city from the Republic or Britain.
DUP adviser Marc Collins said at the time: “I can already see the allegations of racism that are going to come my way, but that is not what it is about at all.
“I’m all for helping those who need help when they really need it, but there are questions that need to be asked around this situation …
“Are the people concerned vaccinated against Covid-19?
“Should they be in quarantine after traveling from a so-called ‘red list country’?
“Have extensive background checks been done?
“Does anyone have a criminal history? “
He added that “at the end of the day we have a lot within our own communities that need help … people in crisis, homeless, dependent on food banks, etc. .
This drew sharp criticism, among others, from the Methodist minister of Carrickfergus, Sahr Yambasu, from West Africa.
“How, I wonder, Mr. Collins would feel if he, a member of his family [or constituents] were the recipients of such an attitude and such a point of view when they needed it? He asked.
ALL QUESTIONS REGARDING THE USE OF THE HOTEL ARE IN STONE … AGAIN:
At the time, the newsletter sought to shed light on the situation by asking the Home Office press office:
How many people are staying there and what is their status? (For example, asylum seekers awaiting processing of their application?)
Where do the arrivals come from?
And do the interior ministry, the council or both finance the stay?
Now he has also fended off attempts to uncover the facts through the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).
While press offices often refuse to respond to reporters, issue vague statements, or attempt to tell a story, freedom of information law requires public bodies to give direct responses to requests for information.
The newsletter called for responses under the Freedom of Information Act, asking:
1) “Can you tell us how many people are accommodated at the request of the Home Office at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel in Carrickfergus?
2) “Can you tell us what their status is (refugee, rejected asylum seeker, pending asylum seeker, etc.) and the length of their stay?
3) “Can you tell us the cost so far to the Home Office of accommodating people there and the total expected cost?” “
The response states that “the Home Office does not confirm or deny whether it has the information you requested.”
He added that he can withhold information “if the confirmation or refusal endangers the health or safety of any individual.”
And with regard to costs in particular, he said these were “commercially confidential”.
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