Up to 300 people attended a protest rally in Lismore in Co Waterford over plans to use a historic hotel in the centre of town as a temporary emergency accommodation centre for asylum seekers.
Protest organiser, Brian Buckley said the government had shown scant regard for locals when they decided to use the Lismore House Hotel as a temporary emergency accommodation centre for some 117 asylum seekers without consulting with locals.
“The government of this country have taken a decision to put a direct provision centre in the heart of this town, in the largest building on Main Street and they have done it without any consultation with local people – we only heard on Monday that it was to be direct provision centre,” he said.
“There are numerous reports from various organisations such as Amnesty International saying that Direct Provision Centres are inhumane and they do not work and we don’t want the good name of Lismore to be stained by an association with such a system,” he said.
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Mr Buckley said that the Lismore House Hotel, which was built in 1797, was the main source of tourist accommodation in the town up until its closure in 2016 but to re-open it now as a direct provision centre would bring no economic or social benefit to the town.
Asked by The Irish Times if he would be happy for asylum seekers to be accommodated elsewhere in Lismore if some other accommodation could be found, Mr Buckley said that accommodating such large numbers as 100 plus people would put services and amenities in the town under severe strain.
“The people coming here aren’t an issue – Lismore has always welcomed people and we will continue to do so but 117 people is about 10pc of our population and that’s going to put a huge strain on our schools and GP services which are already under pressure,” he said.
“How many derelict buildings are there around the country, how many greenfield sites are there around the country – would taxpayers’ money not better spent on investing in these properties rather than taking a vital facility like the hotel out of this town?”
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Businesswoman, Joanne Roche, who runs the thrift shop, Out of the Clozet on Main St, said that she was concerned that using the Lismore House Hotel to accommodate asylum seekers would seriously impact on the town’s ability to revive its tourism industry in the wake of Covid 19.
“We are a heritage town and tourism is our livelihood, we rely on it for a successful economy and we were led to believe the hotel would reopen to cater for tourists – there was contact between the hotel owners and the Heritage Centre about how it could facilitate bus tours coming to the town.
“After Covid, the town has been trying to build itself back up but now we’re just worried about how turning the hotel into a direct provision centre will impact on Lismore because there is currently no accommodation in town, and we need hotel accommodation to grow as a tourist town.”
Ms Roche said that she had sympathies for people fleeing war and oppression but if Ireland is to open its borders to people seeking asylum, then proper services and facilities need to be put in place by the government to accommodate and cater for their needs.
The owners of the Lismore House Hotel, a company called MCHT Ltd could not be contacted for comment, but The Irish Times has learned from a briefing note prepared by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth that the first residents will arrive on Monday.
“The capacity is for 117 people to be accommodated on a phased basis, 69 spaces from January 30th, 26 spaces from February 26th and finally another 20 spaces from March 20th and the resident breakdown will be for families and single females. This will not be a centre for single males.