Aramark awarded catering contract for Ukrainian refugee centres

The organisation has faced severe criticism in the past due to the “poor quality” of its service.

Silver trays of cutlery as Aramark is awarded the catering contract for Ukrainian refugee centres.
Image: Pexels

American food company Aramark has been awarded the catering contract for new Ukrainian refugee centres in Ireland, despite not going through the usual selection procedure. The reason for this, according to Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman TD, is because the Government “had to move quickly”, therefore not allowing them “to use the traditional procurement processes.”

He added, “That is why 16,000 are being fed,” and emphasised that officials are dealing with the current surge in immigration as a result of the Russian invasion, ensuring that all Ukrainian people who arrive here will receive shelter. Minister O’Gorman also commented that had the Government not acted swiftly in terms of securing catering, they would have faced criticism for the delay.

Aramark receiving the contract for the refugee centres housing Ukrainian immigrants is a controversial move by the Government. The organisation has faced scrutiny in Ireland and abroad for their means of operation, with People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett outlining they have been “criticised for the poor quality of their catering in US prisons, [and] for the poor quality of some of the catering they provide for the people in Direct Provision.”

He also drew attention to the recent controversy surrounding the National Gallery of Ireland, which continues to employ Aramark despite artist and staff protests. Employees who opposed the two companies’ partnership initially penned a letter to the gallery’s board warning of “irreparable reputational damage” due to Aramark’s links with Direct Provision, and later, four artists including Brian Teeling and Emma Roche pulled their work from one of the establishment’s exhibitions.

Brian Teeling’s Zurich Prize-nominated portrait, Declan Flynn In Dublin, was originally commissioned for GCN’s 2021 Pride magazine, in memory of the Irishman who was killed in a homophobic attack in 1982.

As well as this, a public petition was created with the aim of cutting ties between the gallery and the catering provider, and a protest spearheaded by the End Direct Provision action group took place outside the building.

In the aftermath of this recent conflict, it is being reported today, Thursday, April 28, that the National Gallery’s director Sean Rainbird told his staff to “think hard about the possible consequences before you initiate an action, and think carefully about how you raise the issue.”

He added in the email sent on March 31: “The invasion of Ukraine brought an abrupt end to the extensive ration within the wider arts community to our cafe tender […] It perhaps also brought a sense of perspective about a true upheaval, not least as thousands of refugees arriving here will need to be accommodated somewhere, something preoccupying the OPW very closely.”

Rainbird continued: “The internal impact, after a period of concentrated activity to provide a public response – currently posted on our website – has placed a large amount of work onto a few sets of shoulders […] The way this panned out made it difficult for the gallery to speak with one voice, something we strive to achieve, and for good reason.”

Speaking to The Irish Times, one gallery staff member said they responded to the email with “shock… I think baffled is another word”.

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