Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Hundreds turned out on the streets of Lismore to voice their concerns over plans to use the town’s hotel as a direct provision centre.


WATERFORD’S five Oireachtas members have conceded that a lack of communication on plans to turn the Lismore House Hotel into a direct provision centre is unacceptable.

Hundreds of people turned out on the streets of Lismore on Sunday to voice their concerns over plans to use the town’s hotel as a direct provision centre.

Lismore House Hotel, which was built in 1797, has been closed since 2016. It was purchased by a Cork-based company, MCHT, two years ago, but intentions to reopen the premises as a hotel were recently withdrawn.

It’s understood that 60 people will initially be accommodated at the hotel, with that number set to rise up to 117. These are expected to include women and children, and some fathers. Locals have expressed their anger that there was no consultation with them on the issue, and believe the loss of the town’s hotel will prove a significant blow.


‘There should be no them and us. The vast majority of those who come here have enriched our country’ – David Cullinane, TD


Speaking on a Déise Today special on WLR, Waterford’s four TDs and Senator John Cummins debated a number of issues, including the ongoing unrest in Lismore. Fianna Fáil TD and Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, says the government cannot let children go without shelter while hotels are lying vacant.

“We have an obligation to provide protection to those seeking international protection,” said Deputy Butler.

“I found out online, I hadn’t heard. I was surprised that I wasn’t informed by the Department, being straight and honest. Three weeks previous, a group seeking protection had been accommodated in Waterford City and the Minister came to my office to tell me in person. Consultation is extremely important, however I do recognise that the numbers of people coming in at the moment are unprecedented. It’s very hard on the community but I’m not going to sit on the fence. Can you leave children and families without a roof over their head while you have hotels lying empty? No.”


Jane Germyn, a member of Lismore for All, a group welcoming asylum seekers and international protection applicants to Lismore in Waterford. Video: Dan Linehan/Irish Examiner


Deputy Butler also highlighted that the move was a commercial decision agreed upon by the owners of the hotel, and stated her belief that those arriving in the direct provision centre will be able to safely integrate within the local community.

“This was a commercial decision taken by the person who owns the hotel. They chose to do that. The last time it was open was in 2016, it has been a huge loss to the community. There is massive disappointment but the people of Lismore have opened their arms to the Ukrainian people, and I know they will open their arms again to these people who need asylum.”

Fine Gael Senator John Cummins acknowledged that while the government has a moral obligation to help those fleeing war, the loss of the hotel will have a significant impact upon Lismore.

“People who are arriving on our shores are in desperate need of our help. We have a large group of vulnerable people who are coming to Lismore. We’ve accommodated people in Tramore for some 20 years. Minister O’Gorman has moved heaven and earth in the last 12 months. We have tried to accommodate 80,000 additional people coming to our shores for a range of reasons while in the grips of a housing crisis. This is not how we want to be housing people, but needs must. This is an emergency response.”

Meanwhile, Waterford Council have confirmed that they were also unaware of the plans to convert the hotel into a direct provision centre until they were briefed some days ago. In a statement to councillors, CEO Michael Walsh said the local authority learnt “the same way as anyone else”.

“There has been some speculation and commentary regarding consultation with this Council on the proposed use of the Lismore Hotel by the International Protection Accommodation Service. For the avoidance of doubt let me be clear that no contact or consultation whatsoever occurred with me or anybody in the Council regarding the use of the hotel and we found out about the proposal the week before last from third parties the same as everybody else.”


Breakdown of communication

“We do have to acknowledge that there was a breakdown of communication and it’s unacceptable for us not to find out about this. I can understand the disappointment amongst the community because they felt the hotel was coming back into operation for tourism. If I owned it, would I prefer to see it as tourist accommodation, of course I would.”

Sinn Féin TD and Spokesperson for Health, David Cullinane, said that it is an unfortunate reality that decisions of this nature have to be made at speed, which is perhaps why the lack of consultation with locals came about.

“I wouldn’t be doing myself justice as a human being if I wasn’t doing everything that I could to support people that are fleeing war or people who are in need of international protection. It’s a really difficult situation for everybody, for the government, government departments, to house the number of people coming here. Sometimes decisions are made at speed, that have to be made at speed. There are issues in Lismore that are deeper than the hotel.”

Deputy Cullinane cited the example of Clonea Hotel & Leisure Centre’s conversion into a direct provision centre a number of years ago, and believes a similar scenario can come about in Lismore.

“Take a walk through Lismore’s town centre, look at the number of vacant properties. There is an issue with the vibrancy of the town through no fault of the people who live there. The expectation that it would reopen as a hotel was a reasonable expectation for people to have. It was a commercial decision, rightly or wrongly. There was a similar situation many years ago with the hotel at Clonea and Syrian refugees. Where are they now? Integrated in schools, working and not hanging around. Far from it. There was a breakdown in information flow and that created a vacuum. We don’t want to create those vacuums. There should be no them and us. The vast majority of those who come here have enriched our country.”

Independent TD Matt Shanahan has been a vocal critic of the government’s contingency planning for the refugee crisis, but says integration is the priority moving forward.

“Planning hasn’t taken place to the extent that it should’ve. I understand that we are running out of buildings and the numbers are far greater, but I think this largely rests with the government. I have immense sympathy with the people of Lismore and those coming into the direct provision centre. We need to find a way to integrate those people. It’s our moral duty.”

Green Party TD Marc O’Cathasaigh spoke in defence of his party colleague, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman, and how the government have responded to the growing numbers of people arriving seeking protection.

Meanwhile, Jane Germyn of ‘Lismore For All’, who support refugees in different situations, said there is a need to “encourage and welcome” the people due to arrive. She agreed that tourist accommodation is lacking in west Waterford but said being disappointed about the hotel not opening was nothing compared to the “trauma most of these people have been through”.

By Jordan Norris
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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