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The aftermath of the fire on Sandwith Street last year Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie
anti-migrant protests

How arson attacks on properties linked to asylum seekers have escalated over the last six years

The fire at a building in Co Wicklow at the weekend is the latest in a pattern of attacks.

LAST UPDATE | 6 Feb

THE FIRE AT a building in Co Wicklow at the weekend is the latest in an escalating pattern of blazes at buildings subjected to protests by anti-migrant groups.

Gardaí are investigating the fire at the building known as Trudder House in Newtonmountkennedy village in Wicklow, which broke out in the early hours of Saturday morning. The building had been earmarked for asylum seeker accommodation.

Here’s a timeline of fires and arson attacks on properties in use, planned for use, or rumoured-to-be – sometimes wrongly – planned for use to accommodate asylum seekers and Ukrainian refugees.

2018

A 2021 investigation by NoteworthyThe Journal’s investigative platform — pointed to an arson attack at The Caiseal Mara in Moville, Co Donegal in November 2018 as the first significant physical manifestation of a wave of anti-migrant sentiment around that time.

The fire was set after plans were made to accommodate 100 asylum seekers at the hotel. Gardaí said they believed the attack was deliberate. One person was injured in the fire.

2019

Only a few months later in January 2019, a fire was set at the former Shannon Key West Hotel on the Roscommon-Leitrim border. Gardaí said they suspected the attack was planned days in advance and that the perpetrators had been monitoring people coming in and out of the premises. A second fire was set at the Shannon Key West a month later in February 2019.

Later in the year, two fires were set over plans to accommodate asylum seekers in a 25-unit apartment complex in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim: one on a Tesco attached to the apartments, and another on a car belonging to Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny, who lived near the apartments.

Kenny had reported receiving death threats after he made a speech about asylum seekers in the Dáil the previous week.

The spree of arson attacks in 2018 and 2019 subsided somewhat during the pandemic, but over the last 15 months or so, the number rose again significantly.

2022

In November 2022, Kill Equestrian Centre in Co Kildare — which had been proposed as a location to house Ukrainian refugees — was set alight. An anti-migrant protest had been staged outside the premises earlier that day.

2023

At the start of last year, in January 2023, a fire was set at Rawlton House on Sherrard Street in Dublin. Gardaí opened an investigation examining links between the attack and misinformation that had been shared online wrongly claiming that the derelict building was to be used as a direct provision centre.

The violence escalated further in May. Tents belonging to homeless refugees at a makeshift camp on Sandwith Street in Dublin were set alight overnight after demonstrations by anti-migrant protesters. Footage of the scene was shared widely online and captured tents and furniture on fire. Five people have been detained over the incident since.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar condemned the violence, calling it “malign opportunism” and saying a “tiny minority of people are clearly determined to make capital out of a difficult situation”.

In the same month, there were two attacks linked to refugee housing in Buncrana, Co Donegal. A firework was thrown at the direct provision centre at The Sailor’s Rest, where 50 residents were living. Owners said it appeared to be an attempt to throw the firework into the building through a window, but that it missed and exploded on the roof instead.

Not far away, a building in Ludden, Buncrana where businessman Peter Casey said he was going to establish a centre for Ukrainian refugees was set on fire.

Former Gaelscoil Uí Ríordáin in Ballincollig, Co Cork was targeted in July. The disused school building was subject to plans to be used for accommodating Ukrainian refugees.

Speaking to The Journal at the time of the attack, local Fine Gael councillor Garret Kelleher said that Ballincollig is a “community with a huge amount of voluntary effort that goes into maintaining the area to a very high standard” and that he saw the fire as “an attack on us all, an attack on the community.”

In August, Ridge Hall – a vacant building on the Shanganagh Road in Ballybrack that had been rumoured to be subject to plans for housing asylum seekers – was set ablaze. The building’s windows were smashed in a month before during an anti-immigrant protest.

During the violent riots in Dublin city centre in November, rioters targeted a number of locations used to house asylum seeker.

The Holiday Inn Express on Cathal Brugha Street was set on fire because rioters thought that immigrants were inside. In Finglas, a petrol bomb was thrown into a premises earmarked for refugees, setting part of it on fire.

In December, the former Great Southern Hotel in Rosslare, Co Wexford, which was being developed into a direct provision centre, was the victim of a suspected arson attack. 

Soon afterwards, the Ross Lake Hotel in Rosscahill, Co Galway was set alight, prompting widespread criticism from politicians. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said at the time that he was “deeply concerned about recent reports of suspected criminal damage at a number of properties around the country which have been earmarked for accommodating those seeking international protection here, including in Co Galway”. 

On New Year’s Eve, a fire broke out at a vacant pub and guesthouse on Thorncastle Street in Ringsend that was due to house homeless families. There had been several anti-immigration protests in the area beforehand over rumours that the building would be used to house refugees. However, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive confirmed it had intended to use the property for emergency accommodation for families.

2024

A disused convent on the main street of Lanesboro, Co Longford was set on fire in January. The building was going to be used to house 85 Ukrainians, but the owner pulled out of an agreement with the Department of Integration after the fire due to concerns for his family’s safety.

In February, the former St Brigid’s Nursing Home in Crooksling, Brittas went up in flames, with more than 40 firefighters called in to bring the situation under control.

Protests had been held in recent days and weeks outside the site amid rumours that it was to be used as accommodation for asylum seekers and International Protection applicants. In a statement, the Department of Integration said the property was being assessed, but that it had not been contracted to be used as accommodation.

And this weekend, a building known as Trudder House in Newtonmountkennedy village in Wicklow was set on fire.

The Department of Integration had been assessing the site after it accepted a HSE offer to use the vacant building and its grounds to accommodate asylum seekers. Protests have been ongoing at the site in recent weeks. 

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