Galway hotel fire: Gardaí believe blaze at premises due to house 70 asylum seekers started deliberately

Ross Lake House Hotel in Rosscahill had been named by the Department of Integration as an accommodation centre

Gardaí believe a fire that has destroyed much of a disused hotel earmarked for asylum-seeker accommodation was set deliberately.

One line of investigation is that the blaze was started to ensure the hotel could not be used as a centre for asylum seekers from next Thursday, as was planned.

However, Garda sources stressed the investigation into the late-night blaze in Co Galway was at an early stage. They added it would take some time to confirm where in the building, and precisely how, the fire was started.

The incident at the Ross Lake House is the latest fire which affected facilities about to be used for accommodation for international protection (IP) applicants or Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion of their country.


Video footage of the fire emerged in the early hours of Sunday, with those images heavily shared across social media, including via accounts linked to previous far-right rhetoric and events.

A local protest had begun at the disused hotel in Rosscahill, a remote area between Moycullen and Oughterard, in recent days when a portacabin was placed across the entrance, blocking it. A group of people also maintained a presence outside, keeping warm by lighting fires in steel drums.

That blockade was aimed at frustrating the preparation of the hotel for 70 asylum seekers, with some those involved saying the protest would remain in place for as long as required.

However, at about 11.30pm on Saturday the alarm was raised when a blaze was spotted at the property, with the fire having already caused extensive damage to the building by the time gardaí and fire-fighters arrived.

The Ross Lake House Hotel had been purchased by US owners and they had planned to renovate and restore the building, under the original name of Killaguile House. It was not clear if they still owned the property when an agreement was reached for it to be used to accommodate IP applicants.

The Americans who purchased the building had not replied to a request for comment from The Irish Times on Sunday.

Last Friday, the Department of Integration confirmed a one-year agreement had been entered into for the housing of 70 IP applicants.

Last month, heavy plant machinery was destroyed in an arson attack in Co Wexford as works were under way to ready the Great Southern Hotel, Rosslare, for asylum-seeker accommodation.

Also last month, during the riots in central Dublin, a petrol bomb was thrown through the front of a premises in Finglas, Dublin, earmarked for refugees. It was the second time this year the centre had been attacked. On the same night, the front windows of Dublin City Dorms on Parnell Street were smashed by rioters.

In August, Ridge Hall, a property in Ballybrack, south Dublin, was set on fire after it was rumoured in the area it was to be used to accommodate asylum seekers. In July, another arson attack took place in Co Cork, at the former Gaelscoil Uí Ríordáin school as plans were under way to house Ukrainians seeking refuge from Russia’s invasion of their country.

In May, a centre for refugees in Buncrana, Co Donegal, was targeted by arsonists. In the same month a makeshift camp on Sandwith Street in Dublin’s south inner city was destroyed, with tents set on fire after a small number of people living there had fled.

In January, a fire was set at Rawlton House, a former boys’ school on Sherrard Street, in Dublin’s inner city, after it was rumoured refugees were to be housed there.

In November 2022, Kill Equestrian Centre, just outside Kill, Co Kildare, was set alight after it was earmarked for about 350 people from Ukraine.

In 2019, the Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey on the Leitrim/Roscommon border was targeted twice by arsonists in a matter of weeks as it had been due to open as accommodation for about 80 people.

The department said the Rosscahill facility had been secured at a time when very large numbers of international protection applicants and Ukrainians had come to the Republic. It explained 25,926 people seeking international protection were being provided with “State-sourced accommodation and support services”.

“In addition to that, since February 2022, we are also providing accommodation to 73,414 people who have fled the war in Ukraine, resulting in over 99,300 people in State-provided or pledged accommodation in Ireland, and that number continues to increase,” the department statement said. “In the last six months, there has been an average of 560 people seeking accommodation every week.”

Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman described the fire as “deeply disturbing”, also referencing comments made in recent days about plans for the hotel.

“Politicians across the board should condemn this disgraceful act and the fearmongering that led to it,” the Green Party TD said of the fire in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday.

A spokesperson for the Department said that it “condemned any violence or intimidation towards international protection applicants”.

“All those seeking protection have a right to safety while their application is examined,” they added.

“The department also strongly condemns any alleged attempts to drive division and hostility towards those who come to Ireland seeking asylum. Acts such as these achieve nothing but endanger people’s lives and homes. The incident in Galway is currently under investigation by An Garda Síochána.”

Those comments were echoed by Senator Pauline O’Reilly, chair of the Green Party and MEP candidate, and in whose constituency the attack took place.

“I’m disgusted at this fire in my constituency and at the attitude of some local politicians over the past couple of days,” she said. “I beg of people to show their common humanity.”

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she was “appalled by the disturbing scenes in Galway”, adding there was “no justification for arson”. She said a Garda investigation was under way and urged anyone with information about the attack to contact gardaí.

“In recent times, so many communities across Ireland have demonstrated great solidarity to those who come here seeking shelter and protection,” she said in a statement.

“While people have the right to protest, people do not have the right to cause damage to property, to cause people to fear for their safety or to threaten public order. These acts do not represent the values of Irish people.”

Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD also condemned the fire, referring to it as a hate-based attack. “This is not who we are as a people,” he said. “We are so much better than this. We must not tolerate this hatred.”

Garda Headquarters said gardaí were investigating the attack as “a criminal-damage incident by fire”, adding the scene had been preserved for examination by the Garda Technical Bureau.

“The incident happened at around 11.35pm and afterwards fire services brought the fire under control,” it said. “There were no persons inside the building at the time of the incident.”

Gardaí appealed for anyone who may have information regarding the attack to contact Clifden Garda station, where the investigation team was based.

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Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times