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Concerns raised about fire safety issues at hotel earmarked to house asylum seekers before arson attacks

Plans to open a Direct Provision centre in Rooskey were scrapped based on legal advice.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/r.classen

CONCERNS WERE RAISED about potential fire safety issues at a disused hotel previously earmarked to become a Direct Provision centre.

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.

Documents released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act show that questions were raised about potential fire safety issues at the former hotel, as well concerns over potential legal challenges to the opening of the centre, before the fires were apparently deliberately started. 

Finian Joyce, Chief Fire Officer with Leitrim County Council (LCC), raised several concerns about fire safety standards at the property last November – the same month the Department of Justice formally notified LCC Chief Executive Lar Power about its plans to open the accommodation centre.

Writing to Power on 13 November, Joyce noted that the building has been unoccupied for a number of years (it closed in 2011) and “as such, vital fire safety measures, both active and passive, may not achieve an acceptable standard”.

Based on previous inspections it is clear that routine maintenance of these systems has not continued in the intervening years.

Joyce told Power that a number of fire safety certificates were granted for the premises dating back to 1997, with the most recent one granted in 2010.

He said the premises were last inspected by the fire authority in June 2017 as part of an application for the renewal of a seven-day publican’s licence – a plan which never materialised.

“A number of fire safety deficiencies were noted at that time,” Joyce write, adding that the licence was granted “following an undertaking given in writing by the owner to the Court not to occupy the building until these fire safety deficiencies wore satisfactorily addressed”.

‘Making assumptions’ 

Joyce said he disagreed with the Department of Justice’s view that there were no fire safety issues.

“I do not accept the assertion made ie the letter sent to you from the Department of Justice and Equality that there are no fire safety issues involved in the building.

We may need to check to see if there any issues arising from a Building Regulations point of view.

Joyce noted that, in terms of housing regulation, the premises were classified under ‘Purpose Group 2b Other Residential – Hotel’ – something that would not change if the building was used as a Direct Provision centre.

shannon key west hotel Shannon Key West Hotel Source: Google Maps

However, he added that the approvals granted as part of the previous safety certificates “make a number of assumptions in respect of the occupants and management of the building”.

This would include, but (is) not limited to; a high level of management, the fact that cooking activities would be limited to defined kitchen areas only, that any evacuation would be conducted with a high staff to occupant ratio and that the likelihood of a fire starting in a room would be kept as low as possible.

Joyce then asked the following questions: “Would this scenario still exist in the new proposed accommodation centre? What degree of management or supervision will be involved in the proposed accommodation centre?”

fire letter An excerpt from Joyce's email to Power re fire safety concerns Source: FOI/Department of Justice

Joyce noted that a fire detection and alarm system was in place in the building but that smoke detectors were not present in the bedrooms.

“In addition, compartmentation is based upon protecting the escape routes as opposed to preventing fire spread from the room of origin as would be the case in a residential or apartment scenario and therefore, there is no inherent fire-resisting construction between bedrooms,” he added.

No cooking, no candles 

Joyce “strongly” advised that a fire safety assessment be carried out on the building so that any necessary repairs, upgrade works or maintenance issues could be addressed.

He said the assessment “should consider the nature of the proposed use ie that the building continues to be used in a manner analogous with hotel use and that any cooking, smoking or candies etc are permitted in bedrooms”.

Alternatively, he suggested that a new fire safety certificate be sought that “provides for longer term residential use and a lower level of managerial supervision”.

Joyce said the circumstances at the time meant that an “appropriate” management system needed to be implemented to mitigate any risk, adding that a high staff to occupant ratio was “vital”.

Joyce said his team would be happy to meet with the hotel’s owner and/or contractor to discuss how to resolve any fire safety issues. Work was undertaken in the succeeding months to ensure the premises were fit for purpose ahead of its opening. 

The damage caused by the suspected arson attacks was largely superficial and was also addressed. 

‘Matter of urgency’ 

In an email sent to the department on 5 March, Michael F Butler & Co Solicitors, acting on behalf of Abbey Castle Accommodation Ltd – which was due to run the accommodation centre, stated: “As advised, we duly submitted all certification by way of compliance with the outstanding requirements” to LCC.

“We are advised that the Fire Officer is now satisfied with that documentation as furnished,” it added. 

letter 14 march Source: FOI/Department of Justice

Further correspondence sent from the solicitors’ office to the department on 14 March includes a letter from Gaynor Architectural & Design Services Limited regarding the property’s compliance with fire safety certificates.

You will note the Architect’s specific certification that “all works are now complete and premises ready for occupation”.

“In the circumstances, we would therefore appreciate if you would advise as to the Department’s intended date of commencement of occupation of the Rooskey property, given Abbey Castle’s requirements for merely one day’s notice in advance thereof.

“We await hearing from you as a matter of some urgency.”

Just over a week later, the department announced that the plan to open the accommodation centre was being scrapped. 

The property remains at the centre of High Court proceedings over its use. 

Comments are closed due to ongoing legal proceedings. 

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Órla Ryan

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