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The former Shipwright pub in Ringsend in Dublin Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
THE MORNING LEAD

Emergency housing: How a small network of companies is making millions from a ballooning industry

One TD has called for more oversight into the provision of emergency housing.

LAST YEAR, BEFORE fire and smoke damaged the seven-bedroom residence known as Honeywood in Kildare, the property and its adjoining land were described by one estate agent in especially glowing terms.

“Undoubtedly this is one of the finest infill residential development opportunities to come on the market in Leixlip in recent times, offering the superb opportunity to create a high-class residential development for either the owner-occupier or to acquire a substantial residence on a mature superbly located large site,” a sale listing read. 

The property was bought for over €1 million last May by a company called Faldecs Limited, which had incorporated less than a year beforehand in October 2022.

The house appears to have remained vacant until it was set alight in a suspected arson attack on 7 February, after what Gardaí say was “a significant volume of misinformation” and claims it would house International Protection (IP) applicants.

Faldecs Limited may be a new company, but it had already changed directors by the time it bought Honeywood last year; in March 2023, developer Ronan Mallon – the company’s sole director when Faldecs was incorporated – resigned and was replaced by Ronan Holbrook.

Company records show how Holbrook and Mallon’s names interweave across a string of companies with property and business interests across the country.

Between them, they are listed as current directors of more than 50 companies, which include companies that have been paid more than €20 million between them in public funds for providing accommodation to Ukrainian arrivals and IP applicants in the past two years.

The activities of these companies shine a light on the multi-billion euro industry that’s sprung up around housing refugees in Ireland, and how businesses here are making vast sums of money out of the ongoing crisis.

The companies connected to Mallon and Holbrook are, at the same time, providing accommodation to refugees and asylum seekers on behalf of the Government during an emergency shortage of places for them to stay, and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by those companies or their directors.

A spokesperson for the Department of Integration said that the increase in expenditure by the Government on accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers since 2019 was due to a significant increase in numbers of new arrivals.

“In 2019, less than 7,000 people were in State provided accommodation for asylum seekers,” a statement said.

“By the end of 2023 over 75,000 people were in State provided accommodation, with the general breakdown as one third international protection applicants and two thirds were Beneficiaries of Temporary Protection.”

Public spending skyrockets

With tens of thousands of people now seeking refuge in Ireland every year, increasing amounts of public money have been spent on finding somewhere for them to sleep.

The cost of doing so has skyrocketed since the pandemic, with Government spending on accommodation now dwarfing the total value of payments in the last years of last decade.

Figures from the Department of Justice (which was then tasked with housing of IP applicants) show that it spent just over €130 million on what it described as ‘asylum seeker accommodation’ in 2019, when 4,781 people arrived in Ireland seeking international protection.

By 2022, the spend on accommodation had almost doubled compared to pre-pandemic levels, with data from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (which has since taken over from the Department of Justice) showing that €236 million was spent finding beds for new arrivals that year.

One reason for the significant increase was the fact that individual providers are being paid more than they were in 2019 for their services.

For example, Mosney Holidays plc, which operates a direct provision centre for hundreds of asylum seekers in Co Meath, was paid more than €20 million last year, compared to €9.9 million in 2019.

Next Week & Co Ltd, the company that runs the Abbeyfield Hotel at Ballaghaderreen in Co Roscommon where a number of asylum seekers live, was paid almost €7 million last year for IP accommodation, compared to €4.9 million five years ago.

And Millstreet Equestrian Services, which provides accommodation for hundreds of asylum seekers in Cork and Waterford, likewise made over €12 million last year, compared to €11 million in 2019.

It is possible that these companies were paid more because they hosted more refugees last year compared to 2019, or because the price of accommodation increased.

The Journal contacted Mosney Holidays plc (via the Mosney Holiday Centre), Next Week and Co Ltd and Millstreet Equestrian Services (via Millstreet Green Glens) via email to clarify whether this was the case earlier this week, but no response was received by the time of publication.

International Protection-11_90699754 Tents belonging to asylum seekers outside the International Protection Office on Mount Street in Dublin Sasko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie Sasko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie / RollingNews.ie

More tourism providers are getting on board too.

Last week, Fáilte Ireland said that 12% of registered tourism accommodation in Ireland has been withdrawn for humanitarian reasons.

The body estimated that this was costing the Irish economy between €750 million and €1.1 billion, including €200 million in lost tax revenue, (though these figures have not been independently verified by The Journal).

One major factor has been the arrival of almost 70,000 Ukrainians following the invasion of their homeland by Russia, particularly at a time when tourism providers are also telling Fáilte Ireland that they are under pressure from rising costs. 

Despite the arrival of a record 13,651 IP applicants in 2022, Government spending on IP accommodation was around €136 million that year (the last full year for which figures are available), roughly the same as it was in 2019.

However, an extra €99 million was spent housing Ukrainian refugees on top of that.

As more and more Ukrainians continued to arrive in 2023, costs grew further.

The most up-to-date figures only show what was spent during the first three quarters of last year, but already reveal that costs for 2023 have far outstripped previous years.

According to Government data, more than €1 billion was spent housing new arrivals between January and September last year, the overwhelming majority of it – €870 million – going towards ‘Ukraine accommodation and/or related costs’.

The data also shows how the sector itself has ballooned, with ever more companies being paid increasing amounts of money for their services.

The 2019 figures from the Department of Justice show that just over 60 companies were contracted by the Government for IP accommodation, with only two earning more than €10 million – East Coast Catering and Mill Street Equestrian, who were paid €11 million each.

But in the first three quarters of 2023 alone, the Department of Integration contracted more than 800 companies, five of whom (Cape Wrath Hotel Unlimited, Brimwood Limited, Travel Lodge Hotels, Holiday Inn Dublin Airport and Guestford Limited) were paid more than €100 million in the first six months of the year alone.

New companies

Although the vast majority of companies given public money last year were already involved in the hospitality industry – like established hotel chains and B&Bs – a handful were new companies or are companies that have recently been taken over by directors who had no prior background in the sector.

There has been speculation that some of these companies are operated by beneficial owners – individuals who reap the benefits of owning a companies despite the company ownership officially being in someone else’s name.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy raised the issue in the Dáil this week, when she questioned how the same group of individuals were able to buy a number of buildings, including some earmarked as accommodation for homeless people and asylum seekers.

“The former pub, the Shipwright in Ringsend, was intended for use by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to house 16 families [...],” she told the Dáil.

“The ownership of the Shipwright pub, the building on Sherrard Street and Honeywood House in Leixlip are all linked.

“The same group of people in different capacities are involved in many buildings. Some of those who are purported to own these buildings are far from wealthy and there are legitimate questions about where the money is coming from.”

Cost of Living protest 007_90674631 Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, who raised the issue of companies running emergency accommodation in the Dáil this week Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie / RollingNews.ie

Ronan Mallon and Ronan Holbrook have at different stages been involved in companies that have earned millions from providing accommodation to Ukrainians and asylum seekers.

Among them were Me Libérer Limited, a company that currently lists Holbrook – the director of Faldecs Limited, which owns Honeywood – as its sole director and only shareholder.

The company was only founded in June 2022 and, as a new company, it is yet to file accounts so the extent of its assets is not publicly known.

However, it paid €1.6 million for a stately home known as Ryevale House (also near Leixlip) the same year it was founded. It was given a contract to house 80 IP applicants at Ryevale House from March 2023.

The contract was awarded despite Kildare County Council saying the same month that Ryevale House was not exempt from having to seek planning permission to change its use into accommodation for asylum seekers.

The council subsequently investigated the works carried out at the property – which is a protected structure – and issued a warning letter in May last year, saying that measures should be taken to address “alleged unauthorised use of the structure”.

Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman told the Dáil on 9 May last year that pending the outcome of the dispute, his Department had decided to use Ryevale House because of “the pressure on the State accommodation system” for IP applicants.

Figures from his Department show that almost €2 million was paid by the Government for the use of Ryevale between May and September 2023, all of it for housing IP applicants.

The planning notice against Ryevale House was not the last time that a property linked to one of Holbrook’s companies was subject to an enforcement notice by Kildare County Council either.

On 1 February, the local authority issued a notice, seen by The Journal, alleging that there may have been an intention to use Honeywood – which was set alight a week later after what Gardaí described as “misinformation” about the property – as a premises to accommodate IP applicants. There is no suggestion that Holbrook was involved in the attack.

Kildare County Council claimed that this use may have constituted an unauthorised development that would require planning permission (though there is no formal indication – such as a planning application – that shows that Honeywood was set to house IP applicants).

The Department of Integration said after the fire that it had not contracted Faldecs Limited to use the property to house asylum applicants before it burned.

Like Faldecs, Me Libérer lists developer Ronan Mallon as a previous director, a position he held for just two months between February and April 2023, during which the company acquired a mortgage from investor Glenigo Capital.

Mallon took over as director from Holbrook, before being replaced by him days after details of the mortgage were logged with the Companies Record Office.

Records also show that Faldecs Limited’s sole shareholder at the time of its last annual return in 2023 was a company called Jinus Limited, whose sole director was listed last month as Holbrook (and whose sole shareholder, in turn, was named as Mallon).

Other companies have similar arrangements involving the pair, including those which were not set up to provide accommodation for refugees or asylum seekers.  

Gris Developments Limited was set up in February 2023, and currently lists Mallon as its sole director after he replaced Holbrook – who was the company’s sole shareholder when it filed its most recent annual return – last August.

It owns the former Shipwright pub in Ringsend which caught fire on New Year’s Eve in similar circumstances to Honeywood: Gardaí are investigating the fire as an arson attack, and the pub was the subject of protests and misinformation before it was set alight. There is no suggestion that Mallon or Holbrook were involved in this attack.

The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive had confirmed to The Journal before the fire that it was seeking to use the building as emergency accommodation for families who presented as homeless.

475Shipwright Pub Fire_90696345 The former Shipwright pub in Ringsend after it was damaged in a suspected arson attack Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie / RollingNews.ie

Emergency accommodation

But these are not the only companies which Mallon and Holbrook have been involved in the provision of emergency accommodation.

Holbrook is also named as the current director of Rupopado Limited, the operator of the Eagle Heights B&B in Enniscrone in Sligo, which received almost €1.2 million for housing IP applicants during the first nine months of 2023.

The company, which incorporated in July 2022, had listed Mallon as a director between October 2022 and March 2023, during which it filed its first annual return, though as a new company it has yet to file accounts showing its turnover or any profit or loss.

An annual return filed in January 2023 named Jinus Limited – the company which is also the owner of Faldecs Limited, the owner of Honeywood – as its sole shareholder.

Mallon is named as the sole director of several companies which have never listed Holbrook as a director, and which have been paid more than €20 million since 2022.

They include Auburn Ventures Limited, the owner of the Kilkenny Inn Hotel which appointed Mallon as its sole director in February 2023; the company reported a loss of €502,726 up to December 2022 – two months prior to Mallon’s appointment – before being paid €2.9 million by the Government last year.

Its primary sole shareholder is Baroyle Limited, another company directed by Mallon which is in turn owned by Turphy Enterprises Limited, another Mallon-directed company in which he is the primary shareholder.

Mallon is also the director of Country Manor Hotels Limited, which runs the Celbridge Manor Hotel in Kildare.

Its most recent accounts, for the year up to 31 December 2021, show it had net liabilities of almost €2 million before Mallon was subsequently appointed its sole director four months later in April 2022.

The company was paid €3 million by the Department for IP accommodation that year, before receiving another €7.8 million in the first nine months of 2023.

Its only shareholder is the holding company Coldec Investments Limited, directed by Mallon who is its only shareholder.

Mallon is likewise the only named director of Sicuro Holdings Limited, which runs Harry’s Hotel in Kinnegad in Co Westmeath where the housing of asylum seekers was subject to a local protest in the summer of 2022.

Company accounts show that Sicuro Holdings posted a net loss of €288,013 at the end of 2021, before Mallon was appointed to the company in June 2022.

Months later, in October 2022, the company received two payments totaling more than €1.5 million were made to the company by the Department of Integration for the provision of IP accommodation. It reported a net profit of €823,690 that December.

Sicuro Holdings was then paid a further €3.8 million in the first nine months of 2023, more than €3.5 million of it for providing accommodation to Ukrainian refugees.

Its only shareholder is Coldec Holdings Limited, another holding company directed by Mallon, who is also that company’s only shareholder.

And last year, Mallon also took over as the director of Laupteen Limited, the owner of the My Place hostel on Gardiner Street in Central Dublin, in May last year.

The company had been paid more than €1.5 million by the Department since the start of 2022 before Mallon was appointed, after which it made a further €372,000 up until September 2023.

Laupteen also has contracts with Dublin City Council for the provision of homeless accommodation, though it is not known how much these are worth.

Other companies

Ronan Holbrook, meanwhile, is named as a director of companies with links to other new companies that have separately signed contracts with the Department for the provision of IP accommodation and which received millions from the Government last year. 

They include Amarilla Developments Ltd, owner of the former Burkes of Ballycastle tourist accommodation in north Co Mayo.

Amarilla only incorporated in February last year and lists an agreement with another company, DHMG Properties Limited, which signed a contract with the Department of Integration to provide IP accommodation on 9 January this year.

Holbrook is named as the company’s sole shareholder in an annual return filed in August last year.

Company records also show that Rio Azul Developments Limited, another company of which Holbrook is the sole director, has an arrangement with yet another company called DHMG Properties – its primary shareholder – which is listed as owning three houses on Upper Drumcondra Road in Dublin.

Figures from the Department of Integration state that DHMG Properties, which incorporated in June 2022, was paid over €4.2 million for providing IP accommodation in the first nine months of 2023.

It has never listed Mallon or Holbrook as a director, though its sole director and shareholder – Daire Turner – is named as the secretary of several companies where the pair currently or used to serve as directors.

The Journal attempted to contact Mallon, Holbrook and Turner for comment via the email address of a company directed by Turner this week, but no comment was received by the time of publication.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy also told the Dáil this week that she had asked how the government decides to award contracts to companies like those above, and was informed that “the only real issue that is considered is if they are tax-compliant”.

She told The Journal that the State should be doing more to learn about such companies before they are awarded contracts, particularly as they are dealing with vulnerable members of society.

“We’re in an almost constant emergency situation in relation to the provision of accommodation, so a lot of those normal checks and balances are absent,” she said.

“Even if these public elements are are absent, you would be expecting that the relevant authorities would pay more attention to doing things like background checks on companies – more than tax-compliance, which I would regard as totally inadequate.

“I completely accept we’re in an emergency; but even in emergency situations, it’s really important that you don’t abandon the normal checks and balances, even if they’re done in a different way.”

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