OPINION: Arsonists can't be allowed to prevail

March 31st, 2019 11:35 PM

By Southern Star Team

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NOTWITHSTANDING the official reasons given for not proceeding with the asylum seekers’ reception centre proposed for a former hotel premises in Rooskey, one cannot help but feel that the racist thugs who twice tried to burn down the building are the ultimate winners in this debacle.

Residents of the town on the Roscommon-Leitrim border expressed relief that the direct provision centre planned for the Shannon Key West Hotel will not now be going ahead, opining that they were not against hosting asylum seekers per se, but not 80 of them, as it would put massive pressure on the services and facilities available in a town of that size,

The official line from the Department of Justice was that the decision was made following legal advice 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.’ The statement emphasised that the decision not to proceed was ‘solely in relation to the difficulties with the lease.’

However, one cannot entirely discount the effect that the arson attempts in January and February had. While most people in Rooskey felt the hotel – which closed nine years ago – being used to accommodate 80 asylum seekers was a bridge too far for them, local community leaders condemned the arson attacks, with the chairman of Leitrim County Council stating that ‘the people of Rooskey are genuine law-abiding people and would have no hand, act or part in anything like that.’   

It may be that the protagonists came from outside the area and are part of an organised group that is opposed to the reception of asylum seekers and refugees, as a similar attack took place last November on a hotel in Moville, Co Donegal, that has been earmarked as a direct provision centre to accommodate 100 people. However, the Leitrim and Roscommon United Against Racism Group, which held anti-racism rallies following each of the recent arson attacks in Rooskey, is concerned that the government’s decision to scrap the project will be seen as a victory ‘for the arsonists and the racists.’

A spokesperson for the group, Leah Doherty, accused the government of ‘pitting one vulnerable group against a community.’ While Gardaí are still investigating these incidents, at this stage it is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but they should still continue their efforts to try to bring the perpetrators of these despicable crimes to justice.

Because of the threat from arsonists to properties earmarked for direct provision centres, a lot of money has had to be spent on security to try to protect them, which begs the question if the commissioning of further direct provision centres is really worth pursuing. It would be far better if refugee families were settled, a few at time, in communities across the country who would be more inclined to welcome and embrace them.

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