Dublin's Hatch Hall, currently in use as a direct provision centre, is to become a five-star hotel with the company behind Ashford Castle set to make a substantial investment in the former Jesuit-owned building.
The listed building in Dublin 2, which first opened its doors in 1913, was used for 90 years as a hall of residence for UCD students, including former taoiseach Brian Cowen, and Ryanair's chief executive Michael O'Leary.
It has been used by the Department of Justice as a direct provision centre for more than a decade, but is to be renovated to offer more high end accommodation in the capital.
The Red Carnation Group, which has pumped more than €75 million into an extensive renovation of Ashford Castle since 2015, made the announcement at an internal company event held in London on Sunday night.
The luxury hotel chain was founded in the 1950s by a South African woman called Bea Tollman. As a teenager, she and her husband Stanley had started out with a B&B and grew the business from there. She named her company after Stanley's favourite flower, which he liked to wear in his lapel.
The Tollmans now have 16 high-end hotels in the UK, South Africa, Switzerland, the US and Ireland.
Red Carnation acquired Ashford Castle out of receivership for €20 million in 2013.
Galway maths teacher turned property mogul Gerry Barrett had bought Ashford and its 365 acres overlooking Lough Corrib from a group of Irish-Americans in 2008. He paid €50 million, and planned to spend millions more upgrading it.
Within three years his dream turned into his nightmare. His loans went into the National Asset Management Agency (the "bad bank" set up by the government to deal with the financial crisis) and his hotel went on the market for a fraction of what he'd paid.
Coincidentally, Mr Barrett also bought and tried to develop Hatch Hall, but had a planning application for a hotel rejected and then got into financial difficulty before his plan to redevelop the site as a luxury apartment block could be realised.
The Department of Justice said it had yet to be formally notified of any moves to convert Hatch Hall into a hotel.
A spokesman said it was “currently contracted to the Department as an accommodation centre... until the 16th January 2020. The Department has not been formally notified of any intention by the contractor to terminate the contract earlier than this date.”
He said that if any attempt was made to terminate the contract before its expiry date, “the Department will take all appropriate steps including by seeking to re-accommodate those still in the protection process within RIA’s accommodation portfolio and by providing residents with status or permission to remain with assistance to move on from accommodation centres.”
Hatch Hall is one of just two direct provision centres located in Dublin. The other, at the Clondalkin Towers Hotel, was due to close recently but the contract was extended until summer 2019.