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"An emergency measure" - Ballaghaderreen refugees to eventually be integrated across Ireland

The Abbeyfield Hotel has been selected to house some 240 refugees, mostly of Syrian extraction.

abbey The Abbeyfield Hotel, Ballaghaderreen Source: Google Maps

Updated 16.48

AN IMPROMPTU MEETING of Roscommon County Council has told concerned local representatives that 80 refugees who are expected to be accommodated in a newly refurbished hotel will eventually be integrated in different communities throughout the country.

The refugees, who are mostly of Syrian extraction, are expected to be housed in the Abbeyfield Hotel in Ballaghaderreen on the Mayo border side of the county within the next 10 to 15 days. A further 80 people are expected to arrive in February, and then another 80 on top of that in March.

At present Ballaghaderreen has a population of just under 2,000 people.

Councillors were first made aware of the plans yesterday afternoon after an email from the Department to the council executive.

Roscommon’s CEO subsequently called this morning’s meeting in order that Department officials might brief the county’s councillors as to what plans are in train and what facilities will be available to the refugees.

“Some of it was informative, though the whole thing is a fait accompli,” said local Athleague councillor Ivan Connaughton of the meeting who, while bemoaning the lack of consultation with local agencies, said he expects the refugees to be “welcomed with open arms”.

“We were informed that the reason we were given such little notice is because the accommodating of these refugees is an emergency measure,” he said.

The people of Ballaghaderreen are a welcoming people, and they will welcome these arrivals. But the question needs to be asked, this move will increase the local population by 20%, will it overstretch the services available locally?
The Department of Justice says this was the only suitable location in the country. Has the Department looked into what services the town actually has?
“We did get a commitment that these refugees will be integrated throughout different communities and towns throughout the country,” Connaughton added.

Department response

The Abbeyfield Hotel contains 35 bedrooms, with a further 29 apartments on its grounds. It’s understood the contract to house the incoming refugees extends for two years, with plans in place to house a maximum of 240 people.

The relevant refugee relocation strand, whom the Ballaghaderreen centre will seek to house, is focused on families and children. 240 people have thus far arrive in Ireland under that strand, nearly 50% of them minors. A further 166 are expected to arrive in Ireland from Greece in the coming months.

The Department of Justice, in response to a query from TheJournal.ie, described the prospective facility in Ballaghaderreen as an Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre (EROC) which will be used to temporarily accommodate asylum seekers.

“These cohorts are expected to receive a grant of international protection within a period of roughly 12 weeks, their stay in EROCs is intended to be short-term after which they will be housed somewhere in Ireland,” a Department spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that Roscommon council was the first to be informed of the plan “at the earliest possible opportunity”.

The Department has an overriding responsibility to accommodate refugees, often at short notice given operational realities. This limits the opportunity to consult broadly prior to signing a contract and it should be noted that the operational reality of accommodating refugees in a particular location only arises once a contract is signed.

Little details are available at present concerning what plans and facilities will be provided for the incoming refugees, although a pre-school facility has been mooted.

Roscommon County Council meanwhile acknowledged that the first it heard of the new plan was after being contacted yesterday at 4pm by the Department of Justice.

In a briefing document circulated at this morning’s meeting, the selection of the Ballaghaderreen property was justified as “it was the only one available that met requirements and would be ready in reasonable time”.

That document also affirms that the selection of a property for such purposes also gives due consideration to the availability of appropriate services locally.

The briefing document can be viewed here.

Earlier

ballagha Market Street, Ballaghaderreen Source: Google Maps

Fine Gael Senator Maura Hopkins, a Ballaghaderreen native, in advance of this morning’s meeting said that “a number of questions need to be answered” with regard to the move.

“I’m not convinced that appropriate plans are in place for this,” she told TheJournal.ie. “There has been no engagement or consultation with the people of Ballaghaderreen, and like all small towns, this is a very close-knit local community.”

You’re talking about 250 people coming in. Ballaghaderreen has a population of just under 2,000. That’s one in eight people when this happens.
I’m very much in favour of Roscommon doing its fair share, but one in eight would be significant for any community -we need to be sure the proper resources are put in place.

“We need to know what extra resources will be put in place in order to be convinced that these people are properly supported. But we also need to be sure that the community and town of Ballaghaderreen is able to cope with the arrival of people who need a high level of support,” Hopkins added.

Lack of warning

Fine Gael councillor from Castlerea Liam Callaghan meanwhile suggested that the biggest issue surrounding the announcement is the lack of warning given by the Department of Justice.

“The news only came through late to be honest,” he told TheJournal.ie.

“It’s hard to gauge as yet, it came as a shock initially. The Abbeyfield closed during the boom and was only renovated during the summer.”

It had been expected that the hotel would  reopen as a tourist facility for connecting with Knock and type of thing, which would have been a great boost to the town. But that’s out the window now. So from that line there’ll be disappointment.

There’ll be concern in relation to how the refugees would be integrated, where they’ll go to school. The Abbeyfield is surrounded by residences, all this has to be tracked out today. But the biggest problem is there was no word on it, and it’s something that’s obviously been planned for quite some time, yet there was no dialogue with us.

Callaghan added that he presumed “people would be open enough” to the idea of refugees coming to their town.

“These people have gone through trauma, that has to be respected,” he said.

Boyle councillor Rachel Doherty of Fianna Fáil said that she was not in a position to comment on the situation as yet as things are relatively unclear at present.

“The email only came through yesterday evening,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll have a lot of questions, but this broke so late, we wouldn’t even be in a position to gauge local opinion as yet.”

Athlone representative Paddy Kilduff meanwhile described the issue as a “fait accompli”:

“We’re being brought in to be told this is happening. The best we can hope for is that there will be proper facilities in place.”

First published 10.30am

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