Lismore group welcoming refugees cites potential economic benefit for town

Campaigners mount counter-demonstration after Sunday’s protest against use of defunct hotel for emergency accommodation

A campaign group set up to welcome asylum seekers to Lismore says it is receiving significant support locally and it is hopeful more people will join them when they see that those coming to stay in the Co Waterford town can contribute both socially and economically.

Lismore for All member Jane Jermyn told The Irish Times she and other members of the group were buoyed by the support they got when they mounted a demonstration outside the Lismore House Hotel on Monday.

“We were out on the streets today with our signs saying that Lismore welcomes everyone and we had a lot of people coming up to us to say they agreed with us. We only started a few days ago and already we have over 30 members without any real effort to recruit people,” she said.

On Sunday a crowd of up to 300 people gathered in the town to protest at the decision by the Department of Children, Equality and Integration to start using the defunct hotel as temporary emergency accommodation for 117 International Protection (IP) applicants.


Protest organiser Brian Buckley said local people were angry over the lack of consultation over putting a direct provision centre in the middle of the town, saying direct provision centres had been condemned by groups like Amnesty International as inhumane.

Ms Jermyn said she agreed with Mr Buckley that direction provision centres were inhumane but she said the Government was in an emergency situation.

“We don’t support direct provision, we hate direct provision, but the situation is such that last year some 15,000 International Protection applicants came into Ireland – almost five times the numbers that came in each year from 2017 to 2019. So the Government has an emergency on its hands.”

Fellow Lismore For All member Brian Rooney said he could understand that people felt aggrieved about the lack of consultation over the decision to accommodate asylum seekers in the Lismore House Hotel but the Co Waterford town was not unique in this regard.

“There seems to a common thread in all these cases and that’s that local communities are not being consulted. There needs to be greater communication because misinformation thrives in a vacuum and I’ve no doubt if there was more preparatory work done here people would be reassured,” he said.

It had been reported that an initial group of 69 of the 117 asylum seekers destined for the Lismore House Hotel would arrive on Monday but a spokesman for Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said that they will come on a phased basis with the first arrivals expected in the coming days.

The hotel, which was built in 1797, was the main source of tourist accommodation in the town until its closure in 2016.

Many of those who participated in Sunday’s protest were local businesspeople and one business owner, Joanne Roche, made the point that Lismore as a heritage town was hugely dependent on tourism and needed a hotel if tourism in the town was to recover from the impact of Covid-19.

But Ms Jermyn expressed some doubt about that argument, making the point that regular hotel visitors would not necessarily benefit all businesses in town. She instanced businesses like pharmacies, hardware stores and hairdressers as ones that would not benefit from such visitors.

“I think the business argument [against turning the hotel into temporary emergency accommodation] is problematical and businesspeople need to start thinking outside the box for a minute because there will be economic benefits to asylum seekers coming to town.

“The people coming now only get €40 a week but take half of that and they each spend €20 a week in town - that adds up to €120,000 a year and that’s them only spending half their allowance. They will probably spend more so I don’t think the economic argument holds water at all.”

Ms Jermyn also expressed concern that the protests by local people might be hijacked by sinister elements as some right-wing activists tried to do in 2019 when they arrived in town and infiltrated a meeting organised to get support for a refugee Syrian family.

”Unfortunately, the businesses that are protesting against the hotel being converted because they say they just want to ‘Save Our Main Street’, they are not used to dealing with the far-right and they need to be careful that what they are saying is not twisted by far-right elements.

“We had an experience here in 2019 when we organised a meeting to organise support for a Syrian brother and sister coming here and some right-wing activists came down here and they planted themselves around the hall and started making these outrageous, unfounded claims.

“Fortunately it backfired because a lot of people, who were sitting on the fence, said: Who the hell are these people to be coming in here to tell us what to do?

“We counteracted them the last time and proved that Lismore is a very welcoming place when we raised €10,000 locally to support the Syrian family and I would be very hopeful that the people of Lismore will respond in a similar way this time by welcoming these new arrivals

“We already had 23 Ukrainians arrive in town and nobody has noticed them, and I think the sooner these people arrive the better because once people get to meet them and their children start going to school and they get involved in the community, people will accept them.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times