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Fears over legal challenge 'disrupting' asylum seekers led to Direct Provision centre being scrapped

The proposal was affected by a number of legal and planning issues, as well as suspected arson attacks.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Justice and Equality was concerned that a potential legal challenge to the opening of a Direct Provision centre at a disused hotel could disrupt the lives of asylum seekers, new documents show.

Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey, which runs along the border of Co Leitrim and Co Roscommon, was set to house 80 asylum seekers but the project was affected by a number of legal and planning issues, as well as suspected arson attacks.

The decision to scrap the plan to open the centre was confirmed by the department on 21 March, citing legal advice it received in relation to leasing issues.

At the time a spokesperson denied the decision was connected to two suspected arson attacks at the former hotel in January and February.

Internal department correspondence sent the day before the announcement was made public referred to concerns over potential legal challenges.

The property was at the centre of High Court proceedings taken by Paradub Limited, an investment group which wanted to develop and reopen the hotel, and its owner James Kiernan.

Kiernan, who bought the disused hotel in 2012, was in negotiations with the group about a potential sale which did not materialise.

Paradub claims it entered into an agreement to buy the hotel for €600,000 in 2016, and launched legal proceedings in 2017.

Kiernan agreed to let the property to Abbey Castle Accommodation Ltd with a view to it becoming a Direct Provision centre, following negotiations last year.

The department said it became aware of “potential issues” with the lease agreement between Kiernan and Abbey Castle in December 2018. 

Risk of legal action

Documents released to under the Freedom of Information Act show that a potential legal challenge from Paradub was central to the department’s decision to not proceed with opening the centre.

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The internal correspondence, sent on 20 March, stated that the department had been taking advice from the Chief State Solicitor’s Office “on the issues pertaining to the lease between the owner and contractor”.

It noted that the department “sought clarification to resolve those issues from contractor”.

“Following examination of the clarifications received from contractor the CSSO are not satisfied that the risks to the Department have been removed or addressed satisfactorily.

The risk remains that Paradub Ltd may bring legal action to set aside the lease after the centre has opened and to seek its closure.

The department said it needed to “ensure that the lives of residents who will be living at the centres will not be disrupted through any actions which Paradub Limited might take”.

“For these reasons, it is not proposed to progress the opening of an accommodation centre in Rooskey.”

Abbey Castle Accommodation Ltd launched its own High Court proceedings against Kiernan and Paradub the day after the u-turn was announced, 22 March. 

‘Outside our control’ 

The internal document stated that the department “became aware of potential issues with the lease agreement between the owner and the contractor offering the accommodation service” last December. 

“The Department subsequently became aware of legal proceedings between the owner and a company called Paradub Limited who claimed that they had an agreement to buy the hotel.

“It is the Department’s understanding that legal action between the parties was settled by agreement that Paradub would buy the property with the lease as a condition of the sale. The Department was not party to these legal proceedings,” the document noted. 

The correspondence also included a number of “speaking points” for Minister Charlie Flanagan and/or Minister of State David Stanton ahead of taking potential questions from the media.

These notes stressed that the decision was not related to the suspected arson attacks, as did the official statement released the following day. 

However, when the decision was announced on 21 March, Leitrim And Roscommon United Against Racism said it believed the suspected arson attacks were linked to the move. 

The group said in a statement: “Nobody apart from the government thought it was a good idea to house 80 asylum seekers in Rooskey.

However is regretful that the government appear to have backed down in the face of racist arson attacks and a vocal hard-right minority in this area. This will be portrayed by the far-right minority in our communities as a victory for them.

On the same day, a spokesperson said the department regretted that the centre could not be opened

They said the decision was taken following legal advice sought from the Chief State Solicitor’s Office which “found difficulties with the lease agreement between the owners of the hotel, and the operator renting it, which made proceeding with the proposed centre unviable”.

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The spokesperson said the department is “not party to these lease arrangements and these matters are outside our control”.

They added that the department remains “committed to sourcing suitable premises to meet the accommodation needs of people in the international protection process”.

A regional procurement process for new centres to house asylum seekers is currently under way and will continue throughout the year. Concerns have been raised about the rural location, and related lack of services, of some current and planned Direct Provision centres. 

‘Negotiations stalled’ 

In relation to the future of the property, Kiernan wrote to the department, via his solicitors Michael F Butler & Co, on 24 October 2018.

He stated that he had acknowledged giving consent to Abbey Castle Accommodation Ltd applying to open the hotel as an accommodation centre the previous January.

“For a number of reasons, negotiations with Abbey Castle stalled at that time,” the letter noted.

However, Kiernan added that the deal was now going ahead. 

“I can confirm that I have now signed a letting agreement in favour of Abbey Castle for the intended use by them of my property for providing accommodation to persons seeking international protection, with the commencement date being subject to the date of a subsequent Contract between the Department of Justice & Equality and Abbey Castle,” he wrote. 

Planning issues 

Separately, an appeal was submitted to An Bord Pleanála about Leitrim County Council’s decision to confirm the premises’ planning status as a hotel (and thereby its designation as an exempted development for the purposes of providing emergency accommodation) has been appealed to An Bord Pleanála. 

A ruling on this matter was expected on 25 June.

In an email sent to the department on 5 March, Michael F Butler & Co Solicitors noted that Kiernan had “furnished us with copies of the appeal documentation”.

It is, of course, entirely a matter for the Board to consider the appeal as lodged. However, we have advised Abbey Castle that the existence of such an appeal does not adversely affect the intended user of the hotel premises, given that the Local Authority have already declared that such intended use constitutes exempted development.

“Abbey Castle is, therefore, legally entitled in our view to commence operation now of that intended use in the premises.”

In the internal document dated 20 March, the department referred to the planning issue as “a further complication”. 

Comments are closed due to ongoing legal proceedings.