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'It is disappointing': Govt reacts to decision to withdraw tender for Oughterard Direct Provision centre

The plan to accommodate asylum seekers at the former hotel sparked protests in recent weeks.

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File photo
Image: Google Street View

Updated Oct 1st 2019, 5:45 PM

THE DEPARTMENT OF Justice has said it is “disappointing” that a tender for a Direct Provision centre at a former hotel in Oughterard, Co Galway has been withdrawn. 

For weeks there has been speculation in the town that the former Connemara Gateway Hotel was to be repurposed to accommodate asylum seekers which led to protests by locals. 

Large crowds took part in a march in the town on Saturday, as organisers claim the community was not consulted ”about the direct provision centre”.

The group says it welcomes refugees but is against the prospect of asylum centres. 

Speaking to Galway Bay FM this morning, Sean Lyons, who represents the company responsible for the setting up of the proposed centre, says he came to the decision yesterday in the interest of the safety of all stakeholders.

“There won’t be any Direct Provision centre in the building,” Lyons said. “The present owner [of the hotel] and myself have decided to part company.”

“We will not be going ahead at all,” he said. 

Lyons added that the past few weeks had been stressful for all involved.

Construction workers at the former hotel are currently removing their tools from the site. 

Government stance

In a statement today, the Department of Justice said it is “disappointing” that the tender has been withdrawn. 

A Department spokesperson said it is its experience in opening and operating centres for the last 20 years that “communities are generally understanding of the need to open centres”. 

“They have been generally very supportive and welcoming to people seeking asylum. Friends of the centre groups foster important links between residents, the local community and voluntary groups and speak of how their communities gain from the new arrivals,” the spokesperson said. 

In this regard, it was very disconcerting to see a new trend emerging and to hear the owner say that he had made his decision in the interests of the safety of all involved, including his workers. 

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said that the nature of Direct Provision services, which he noted are in line with EU law, “have been totally mischaracterised”. 

“People have demanded we close down our accommodation centres,” Flanagan said. 

“They have been less forthcoming with proposals as to where housing would be sourced for the 6,014 people currently availing of services in Centres, the 1,379 people being provided with shelter and services in emergency accommodation and the dozens of people who will present today, tomorrow and the next day seeking the protection of the State,” he said. 

“Many EU Member States provide services to asylum seekers through the centre model and 60,000 people have been supported by Direct Provision services over a 20 year period.” 

People in Oughterard could be heard celebrating during a recording on RTÉ Radio One this evening, with some saying “Oughterard abú”. 

Locals have consistently raised concerns that communities are not properly consulted by the Department ahead of contracts being signed with private business owners. 

In recent months, the Department has struggled to open new centres due to arson attacks at hotels in Moville, Co Donegal and Rooskey on the Roscommon-Leitrim border.

Since September 2018, international protection applicants have been placed in hotels and B&Bs due to this pressure on Ireland’s asylum system. 

There are currently over 1,300 international protection applicants living in emergency accommodation with 30 hotels and B&Bs in 12 counties contracted by RIA to provide bed and board.

Minister of State David Stanton has said today: “I have visited Direct Provision centres all over Ireland and everywhere the experience is the same. Through engagement and identifying community needs, initial concerns about what the opening of a centre means, resolve.”

He claimed the “positive stories about the critical supports the State provides through Direct Provision and the benefits a centre brings to a community are largely ignored and that is a great pity”. 

The Department will continue to evaluate the other bids received and to progress the remaining tenders in the Dublin and border regions, according to the spokesperson. 

It is imperative that it do so to avoid a situation where accommodation cannot be offered to people who arrive seeking protection.

“The Department acknowledges that the system of Direct Provision is not perfect but we are working to improve it,” they said. 

“Without it we would not be able to support the thousands of people who arrive here with nothing every year to seek our protection. That is an obligation that the Department and the State takes very seriously.”

With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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