Asylum-seeker centre ‘will not offer positive view’ of Wicklow town, group says

Business chamber claims direct provision centre in hotel will do ‘serious damage’ to local economy

The Grand Hotel in Wicklow town. Photograph: Google Maps

The Grand Hotel in Wicklow town. Photograph: Google Maps

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A direct-provision centre recently opened in a Wicklow town hotel “will not offer a positive view” of the area to tourists, a local business group has said.

Last month it was announced the Grand Hotel, near the entrance to the town, would be repurposed as a direct-provision centre for more than 100 asylum seekers.

In a letter to Wicklow County Council representatives, Robin Bradley, head of the Wicklow Town and District Chamber, said the centre “will not offer a positive view of our town” to visitors.

In a letter from November 15th, Mr Bradley said if the decision to open the centre proceeded, the business chamber felt it would do “serious damage” to the local economy. The decision would lead to a drop in footfall, and “will result in the closure of long-established businesses, [and] the loss of associated jobs,” he said.

“This proposal, if proceeded with, will place many of these businesses and individual livelihoods under threat,” his letter said.

The letter, sent to councillors and seen by The Irish Times, said the decision would “damage the local tourism industry,” by removing the only hotel in Wicklow town.

In a letter from Wicklow Town Team to the Department of Justice, the tourism group also criticised the decision to open the centre in the hotel.

Rosemary Kavanagh, chairwoman of the group, said the local community “feel very aggrieved that there was no prior consultation” over the decision.

The letter said although the group was “sympathetic to the plight of these vulnerable people,” housing asylum seekers in the former hotel was “not appropriate”.

The Grand Hotel function room and bar continue to operate as normal.

In recent weeks Wicklow County Council moved a planned staff Christmas party from the function room to another venue. A spokesman for the local authority said the party organisers felt it would not be appropriate to hold the event “in a venue where individuals from other countries who were experiencing difficulties were being accommodated”.

Adrian Shanagher, part-owner of the Grand Hotel, said several groups had cancelled functions in the venue following the controversy.

There was an “extremely outspoken and racist” element to some opposition to the new direct-provision centre on social media from far-right groups and figures, Mr Shanagher said.

Several local politicians had also sought to use opposition to the centre as a “PR exercise to grab headlines” ahead of local elections in May, or a potential upcoming general election, he said.

Mr Shanagher said his picture and address had been shared online, and some social media posts had contained threats to firebomb the hotel.

The direct-provision system is operating at near full capacity and in recent months has struggled to accommodate new asylum seekers entering Ireland.

Established in 2000, the system was initially described as an “interim” one that would provide accommodation for six months while people awaited an outcome on their application.

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