Late announcement of refugee centre ‘unfortunate’, says junior minister

David Stanton says centre in Ballaghaderreen will cater for Syrian families

David Stanton TD: emphasised that local economy could benefit from refugee centre in former Abbeyfields Hotel

David Stanton TD: emphasised that local economy could benefit from refugee centre in former Abbeyfields Hotel

 

The Minister for State overseeing the arrival of 4,000 Syrian refugees to Ireland has said fast-moving changes in circumstances had led to the very late disclosure that Ballaghaderreen would house a reception centre. David Stanton, a junior minister in the Department of Justice, said on Sunday that the manner of the announcement that a disused hotel on the outskirts of the Roscommon town would be used as an emergency reception and orientation centre (EROC) for 80 Syrian asylum seekers was “unfortunate” .

However, Mr Stanton said there were rational reasons behind the announcement and the lack of wider consultation beforehand.

He said the centre would accommodate Syrian families who were now in reception centres in Greece and Italy. He said that until just before Christmas there was uncertainty as to how many people who had sought refuge in those EU countries would be travelling to Ireland. He said a visit to Greece by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone in the run-up to Christmas had resulted in progress being made with local authorities, including a commitment to bring in 80 people a month in 2017.

Certainty over numbers

Mr Stanton said it was only when there was certainty over numbers that the department could finalise the contract with the company that owns the former hotel, which was the most suitable facility available in the country. He said he was bound by privacy until the contract was signed last week. Immediately after that, he said, he began contacting local officials and also his Dáil colleagues in the constituency.

“It is unfortunate that we could not have had a consultation six months ago, but we did not know then if we would have the numbers,” he said.

Mr Stanton said it was very early days as yet and that the first families would not be arriving into Ballaghaderreen until early March. They will first stay in the EROC in Balseskin in Co Dublin for orientation before going to Roscommon.

“I am very anxious to meet with people and to give as much information as possible,” said Mr Stanton, who said he will be briefing TDs from the area this week. “I will make as much information available as I can.”

The lack of communication and consultation has been criticised by local TDs Michael Fitzmaurice (Independent) and Eugene Murphy (Fianna Fáil). Mr Fitzmaurice said that nobody in Ballaghaderreen was against any of the refugees per se. He did criticise the manner in which the announcement was “foisted” on people and the information vacuum on how it would be managed. He pointed to the area being an “ambulance black spot”, to the paucity of mental health services, and to medical services generally being stretched to capacity.

Mr Murphy said he himself had called for refugees to be accommodated in Roscommon in a Dáil speech last year.

“The problem is there was no communication with the local community,” he said. “Ballaghaderreen has been left behind. This was done so quickly and so quietly that it caused upset and anger.”

Local economy

Mr Stanton emphasised that the local economy in Ballaghaderreen could benefit substantially from the EROC in the former Abbeyfields Hotel, which may eventually cater for up to 250 Syrian people at one time during the two-year contract. He instanced employment opportunities for pre-school teachers, other teachers, laundry services, catering services, security and general maintenance as well as further retail spending in the town.

The former hotel is not the first but the fourth EROC in Ireland. There are already three, in Balseskin, Co Dublin; Monasterevin, Co Kildare; and another former hotel, the Clonea Strand in Co Waterford. As of last week, more than 760 people from war-ravaged Syria had already been accommodated in Ireland across 14 counties. Further EROC provisions will be needed to accommodate the other 3,200 or so who will arrive over the next two years.