Monday night's arson attack on the Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey was premeditated and involved "careful planning", the local Garda superintendent has said.
Garda Superintendent Kevin English said on Tuesday that he believed those responsible for the fire at the hotel on the Leitrim/Roscommon border, which was earmarked for use as a direct provision centre, had spent a number of days in the local area planning the attack.
“I’m satisfied that they had to be in the locality for a period of time keeping the hotel under observation and monitoring the movement of people to and from the hotel,” said Supt English in a recording posted to the Shannonside website.
Monday's fire was the second fire to break out this year at the Leitrim hotel, which was due to open as an accommodation centre for 80 asylum seekers. The first arson attack was on January 10th and resulted in significant damage to the hotel. The owners of the hotel had just completed repairs to the property when Monday's incident occurred, according to the Department of Justice.
Two small fires were discovered by security personnel at the centre at about 9.54pm on Monday. They were quickly brought under control using fire extinguishers and there was minimal damage to the building. There were three people in the building at the time - two security personnel and a general foreman - but no one was injured.
Supt English confirmed evidence had been discovered of forced entry into the hotel and expressed concern that those responsible would “show such determination to bypass” the people inside the building. Asked whether Monday’s fire was connected to last month’s attack, he said it was too early to determine whether there was a connection. He said security at the hotel would be reviewed and “strengthened and increased” if necessary.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan accused those responsible for Monday's fire of showing "reckless disregard for the safety of human life" and said recent events in Moville and Rooskey represented "an unacceptable and worrying development and should be condemned by all".
The Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville, Co Donegal, which was also set to open as a direct provision centre with a capacity of 100 people, was severely damaged in a fire in November.
The Minister for Justice warned that these arson attacks were impeding the State’s ability to provide “compassionate services” to those in need of support.
“We must ensure that people arriving to seek our protection can be offered shelter, food and any urgent medical care that they require. An act of hatred against the most vulnerable in society is an attack on society itself.”
Fianna Fáil TD for Roscommon Eugene Murphy called for 24-hour Garda surveillance of the hotel following Monday’s incident in the interest of public safety.
Mr Murphy said Rooskey residents did not approve of the recent attacks but were “nervous and confused” about the development of the former hotel as a direct provision centre. The main concern is the number of people coming to live in the centre, he said, noting that 100 new arrivals would increase the size of the village by 20 per cent. Some 564 people live in Rooskey, according to the 2016 Census.
“Their criticism was never about having people coming in, it was the amount of people. In general the people of that area are not racist but the situation has been handled so badly and people feel the Government are not being up-front with them.”
Rooskey local Eileen Heavin told RTÉ’s News at One that those responsible for the fires had “given the village a bad name”.
“They have no respect for themselves or anybody else. There was security there and they still did it. They’re not going to stop at this.”
There are currently 5,972 people living in direct provision with capacity for 6,156 people across the State’s 40 centres.
The Department of Justice issued an urgent call in January for expressions of interest from hotels and guest houses willing to provide emergency full-board accommodation for asylum seekers for up to six months. This accommodation would be used as an “interim measure” while efforts were made to locate more sites for direct provision centres.
Just two of the 38 of the State’s direct provision centres are located in Dublin with one, Clondalkin Towers, set to close this summer.
UCD’s Dr Liam Thornton says a decision was made in 1999, when the direct provision system was first established, that centres should not be located in the capital city. “They felt locating centres in a capital would attract more people. Direct provision was never supposed to be in Dublin for fear of attracting asylum seekers.”
Asked if the Department of Justice had considered a new approach in locating premises for asylum centres rather than calls for tender, Minister of State David Stanton said the department was open to “any suggestions or ideas” in providing immediate accommodation for people seeking asylum.