Refugees to be housed at Mullingar barracks, department confirms

Decision to house 120 international protection applicants at Columb Barracks prompts local concerns

The Department of Integration has confirmed that 120 single male international protection applicants will be housed at Columb Barracks in Mullingar.

Since its closure in 2012, the 10-hectare (25-acre) barracks in the centre of the Westmeath town has been used by up to 30 community groups, who voiced their concerns regarding the disruption this may cause to their activities.

The department spokesperson said: “The intention is that no person should have to stay at Columb Barracks for more than three weeks before being moved on to more suitable accommodation.

“This is in response to the current challenge whereby adult international protection applicants are not offered accommodation due to lack of availability.”


The plan, aided by the Department of Defence, is for both Ukrainian and other international refugees to be housed at the facility.

According to a spokesperson, 15 tents will be erected “for a limited period” of up to eight weeks to accommodate these applicants, at the former military facility. It plans to use the site “for a maximum of 12 months”.

While the tents are in use, the department will procure and install Portakabins for more medium-term use, the department said.

Local speculation that the barracks would be used for the purpose of accommodating refugees began on Monday morning as members of the Irish Army’s Engineer Corps were onsite assessing the facility. This led to a statement issued by the Columb Barracks Restoration & Regeneration Committee (CBRRC), which criticised the lack of prior consultation involved.

It said that, if managed properly, development at the barracks could be transformative for both the site and Mullingar as a whole. “The lack of communication from the Government and Civil Service on this matter has been a serious impediment to creating community buy-in from the people of Mullingar,” the group said.

The Department of Integration said that it is aware of “a number of community, sporting and other groups currently using the site”. It said that these groups will not be affected as the accommodation area will be separate.

Helen Donnelly, chair of CBRRC, a voluntary organisation that aims to transform the site, voiced concerns over the plan.

“We have 150 vulnerable children and adults coming into the barracks every week to attend classes and do workshops and cannot allow them to be exposed to people who are possibly not Garda vetted,” she said.

“We are not in the business of excluding people, this barracks should be used – but it needs to be done in a proper fashion. If it is done right and suits everybody, it can work.”

Longford/Westmeath TD Sorca Clarke criticised the Government’s handling of the situation.

“There is an information vacuum out there that is only causing more problems. It creates a void for the far right to latch on to and can divide communities. We don’t want that happening here,” she said.

“I have emails from schools who are wondering what’s going on, they’re frightened and they’re trying to get prepared.

“The information should be free flowing and nothing is forthcoming. We are a welcoming community that is willing to work towards positive outcomes, but this vacuum of information is troublesome.”