Fire in Done­gal

Moville re­acts, after a ho­tel in­tended for asy­lum seek­ers is set on fire.

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Kitty Hol­land So­cial Af­fairs Cor­re­spon­dent

About two weeks ago, when the peo­ple of Moville, Co Done­gal, learned that the town’s big­gest ho­tel was to close and re­open as a di­rect pro­vi­sion cen­tre be­fore Christ­mas, re­ac­tion was more po­larised than that ex­pressed over the last few days.

Whether this is be­cause the ho­tel was sub­jected to an ar­son at­tack last week­end and peo­ple feel they should now tem­per op­po­si­tion to the plan, or be­cause they have be­come more used to the idea of 100 asy­lum seek­ers join­ing the re­mote com­mu­nity of 1,400 peo­ple, it is hard to tell.

In the early hours of last Sun­day morn­ing, be­fore a planned meet­ing to dis­cuss wel­com­ing the asy­lum seek­ers, the Caiseal Mara ho­tel was set ablaze – an at­tack de­scribed by a lo­cal garda, Det Insp Goretti Sheri­dan, as a “hate crime”.

The ho­tel’s owner, Ciarán McKenna, was in the build­ing at the time and had to be res­cued by fire- fight­ers and taken to hospi­tal.

Moville has a faded Vic­to­rian charm in its dra­matic coastal set­ting on the Inishowen penin­sula.

Ev­ery­one who speaks to The Ir­ish Times this week con­demns the at­tack. About half do not want to be iden­ti­fied at all, de­scrib­ing the whole is­sue as “a touchy sub­ject” and say­ing “peo­ple are afraid they’ll not sound po­lit­i­cally cor­rect”.

All say they heard on so­cial me­dia around mid- No­vem­ber that the 43- bed­room Caiseal Mara ho­tel had been con­tracted by the De­part­ment of Jus­tice to ac­com­mo­date asy­lum seek­ers. This ap­proach to com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­ally ir­ri­tated the towns­folk.

“Peo­ple aren’t too happy about that,” says Kevin McAu­ley, in McAu­ley’s butch­ers on Foyle Street. “Still no­body knows what’s hap­pen­ing. It’s the not telling peo­ple is what’s an­noy­ing peo­ple. Will they be fam­i­lies? Sin­gle men? How will they treat women?”

A woman be­hind a cafe counter says she was “a bit shocked at first” when she heard about the plan but thought peo­ple were “com­ing around to the idea”. Her col­league nods, say­ing: “It’s get­ting more mixed re­views now”.

A shop­keeper, who also does not want to be named, says: “Peo­ple won’t tell you what they re­ally think, but I can tell some are up in arms. It’s been han­dled so badly and peo­ple feel this has just been landed on us.”

‘Peace and quiet’

Paul Gillen, man­ager of the Gala su­per­mar­ket, wor­ries what 100 peo­ple who will not be legally al­lowed to leave the ju­ris­dic­tion will do all day. He stresses, though, that he hopes they will find “peace and quiet” here.

Younger mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, how­ever, are un­re­servedly pos­i­tive, even ex­cited, about the im­pend­ing ar­rivals.

When Art Parkin­son (17), who ap­peared in the TV se­ries Game of Thrones and goes to Coláiste Chineál Eoghain in Bun­crana, read about it on Face­book, he says he thought: “It’s ab­so­lutely great. It’s go­ing to multi- cul­tur­alise the town. It’s great they are be­ing of­fered refuge here in Moville.”

Asked whether he can un­der­stand some older peo­ple’s anx­i­eties, he looks ex­as­per­ated. “Age is no ex­cuse for big­otry or nas­ti­ness. What would peo­ple pre­fer? That we leave these peo­ple out on the street?”

Ella McGrory ( 17), a stu­dent at Moville Com­mu­nity Col­lege, de­scribes the de­vel­op­ment as “great news”. “There are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties open­ing up with them com­ing to the town, and we can do so much to sup­port them. It’s our duty to. There’s no rea­son not to.”

The first of the asy­lum seek­ers were due to ar­rive on Tues­day, though this has now been post­poned. Lo­cals hear they are likely to be from Ge­or­gia, Al­ba­nia, Afghanistan, Pak­istan and Congo. They will be given food and ac­com­mo­da­tion and en­ti­tled to a weekly al­lowance of ¤21.60 (due to in­crease to ¤38.80 for adults and to ¤29.80 for chil­dren from Jan­uary), un­der di­rect pro­vi­sion.

This sys­tem, in which peo­ple can re­main in in­sti­tu­tion­alised set­tings with­out cook­ing fa­cil­i­ties, with re­stricted rights to work or study, for up to and over a decade, has been widely crit­i­cised by bod­ies in­clud­ing the United Na­tions, Chil­dren’s Rights Al­liance, the Ir­ish Hu­man Rights and Equal­ity Com­mis­sion and the Ir­ish Refugee Coun­cil. They say it is syn­ony­mous with men­tal health prob­lems and poverty. As of last week there were 5,929 peo­ple in di­rect pro­vi­sion.

Lo­cal con­cerns

An in­for­ma­tion meet­ing in the town two weeks ago, at­tended by Re­cep­tion and In­te­gra­tion Agency (RIA) of­fi­cials, did not ap­pear to as­suage peo­ple’s con­cerns. Lo­cals were most wor­ried about the im­pact on the town’s health and ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices, and the lack of no­tice.

Though many ac­knowl­edge that the agency prob­a­bly doesn’t con­sult com­mu­ni­ties be­fore an­nounc­ing a cen­tre – given the likely strong op­po­si­tion – sev­eral say they should have li­aised more with lo­cal HSE fa­cil­i­ties and schools be­fore­hand.

Brian McDer­mott, owner of the newly re­fur­bished 16-bed­room Foyle Ho­tel, says Moville has “huge po­ten­tial and is on the up”.

He is an­gry the Caiseal Mara is be­ing taken out of use as a ho­tel, say­ing busi­nesses like his, and cafes and restau­rants, “needed those 43 bed­rooms for tourists to keep the town go­ing”.

“The Gov­ern­ment has to­tally dis­re­spected this town. Dublin might be boom­ing but towns like Moville are not. This is yet an­other thing we have no con­trol over which is go­ing to dam­age us.” The McKenna fam­ily from Dublin, own­ers of the Caiseal Mara, have ar­rived at a dif­fer­ent com­mer­cial con­clu­sion, how­ever. They bought the for­mer McNa­mara’s ho­tel – the hub of Moville so­cial- life and hospi­tal­ity for over 30 years – some years ago. The re­ces­sion hit the town hard, and they have twice tried to sell the ho­tel. Ten­der­ing last Septem­ber to be­come one of the new cen­tres planned by the RIA to ac­com­mo­date in­creased num­bers of asy­lum seek­ers made sense. Thurs­day morn­ing finds McKenna – just out of Let­terkenny hospi­tal – and his daugh­ter Aoife ( 22) clear­ing charred de­bris from the win­dows and doors of the ho­tel. In­side, the ground floor is gut­ted. All fix­tures and fur­ni­ture are black and de­stroyed by fire. It is hard to see how any­one could move in here for sev­eral months. Nei­ther fa­ther nor daugh­ter will speak at any length, cit­ing the “on­go­ing Garda in­ves­ti­ga­tion” but they agree the dam­age to the build­ing was “shock­ing”. How­ever, both they and the RIA in­sist the planned di­rect pro­vi­sion cen­tre will go ahead.

Gal­vanis­ing hos­til­ity

If the aim of the at­tack was to gal­vanise hos­til­ity to the asy­lum seek­ers it ap­pears to have failed. In­deed, it seems to have has the op­po­site ef­fect on many. Lo­cal woman Tracy Cullen Shee­han con­sid­ered can­celling the meet­ing she had helped or­gan­ise, to plan the town’s wel­come, when she woke to news of the fire on Sun­day. “I was wor­ried ten­sions were high and also heard some [ac­tivists] were tour­ing Ire­land and were due in Done­gal.” She con­tacted lo­cal gar­daí, who as­sured her there would be a Garda pres­ence at the meet­ing. “In the end it was packed, about 200 peo­ple. It was re­ally pos­i­tive. Peo­ple want to get in­volved, to vol­un­teer what­ever they can do to help,” says Cullen Shee­han. Methodist min­is­ter Al­i­son Gal­lagher pro­vided the hall for the meet­ing. “Peo­ple do not want the town as­so­ci­ated with a racist, vi­o­lent at­tack. The im­pres­sion I get now is that peo­ple see this as good news and want to sup­port the asy­lum seek­ers.” Lucky Kham­bule, founder of the Move­ment of Asy­lum Seek­ers in Ire­land, spent four years in di­rect pro­vi­sion. She ad­vised the meet­ing “to start build­ing bridges and links with the peo­ple early: of­fer friend­ship, ad­vice and make them part of the com­mu­nity, early on. Don’t leave them to be­come sep­a­rate from the com­mu­nity.” Malak Ah­mad, a pri­mary school teacher from Syria who re­cently set­tled in nearby Carn­don­agh with her hus­band and young chil­dren, of­fers ad­vice too. They are one of five Syr­ian fam­i­lies who moved to the town this year hav­ing spent 10 months in a ho­tel in Bal­laghader­reen, Co Roscom­mon, after ar­riv­ing i n Ire­land f rom Greece.

“The peo­ple were nice but we didn’t go out­side the ho­tel a lot be­cause there was noth­ing to do. Ev­ery­thing – food, bed – was in the ho­tel.”

Asked if she would have liked more links into the lo­cal com­mu­nity, rea­sons to leave daily, she says she would. “It was hard. It was the same ev­ery day, ev­ery day.”

They are far hap­pier in Carn­don­agh, with “good neigh­bours” and her hus­band, also a for­mer teacher, is train­ing as a me­chanic.

An­other Syr­ian cou­ple in Carn­don­agh do weekly cook­ery classes which, lo­cals say, are “just lovely, like a pop- up sup­per club”.

‘Too re­mote’

What­ever wel­come towns such as Moville and Carn­don­agh can of­fer, Nick Hen­der­son, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Ir­ish Refugee Coun­cil, says they are “too re­mote and far away from Dublin” to suit di­rect pro­vi­sion.

Res­i­dents, who must at­tend dif­fer­ent ap­point­ments in Dublin reg­u­larly, face cir­cuitous, nine-hour jour­neys each way as they can­not, legally, travel via North­ern Ire­land.

The De­part­ment of Jus­tice says trans­port via Sligo will be pro­vided, with overnight ac­com­mo­da­tion avail­able en route if nec­es­sary.

“Bot­tom line,” says Hen­der­son, “is di­rect pro­vi­sion has to end”.

An al­ter­na­tive model would in­clude ac­com­mo­da­tion cen­tres run by suit­able hous­ing bod­ies on a not-for-profit ba­sis; a move away from con­gre­gated, in­sti­tu­tion­alised set­tings; and ac­com­mo­da­tion in places with suf­fi­cient ser­vices, close to an ur­ban cen­tre.

The de­part­ment says “in­de­pen­dent liv­ing mod­els” for di­rect pro­vi­sion are be­ing ex­am­ined.

“We re­cently com­menced a pub­lic pro­cure­ment ex­er­cise un­der which pub­lic ten­ders for the pro­vi­sion of ac­com­mo­da­tion and an­cil­lary ser­vices to per­sons in the pro­tec­tion process, by way of the in­de­pen­dent liv­ing model, will be ad­ver­tised,” the De­part­ment of Jus­tice said.

“This process is sched­uled to con­tinue through­out 2019 and is due for com­ple­tion in 2020. This will be de­liv­ered via a se­ries of re­gional com­pe­ti­tions to cover the en­tire State. It is open to any or­gan­i­sa­tion, in­clud­ing NGOs and civil so­ci­ety, to en­gage with the ten­der­ing process.”

It re­mains un­clear when Moville will wel­come its first asy­lum- seek­ing res­i­dents. “The de­part­ment is not in a po­si­tion to know the full im­pact of any de­lay that may arise from [last] week­end’s in­ci­dent,” said a spokesman.

Art Parkin­son (17) Age is no ex­cuse for big­otry or nas­ti­ness. What would peo­ple pre­fer? That we leave these peo­ple out on the street

The scene of the fire at the Caiseal Mara Ho­tel in Moville, where 100 asy­lum seek­ers are due to ar­rive to in the next few weeks. Left, from the top: stu­dent Ella McGrory; Moville Com­mu­nity School prin­ci­pal An­thony Doogan; stu­dent Art Parkin­son; shop owner Paul Gillen; Tracey Cullen Shee­han, who or­gan­ised a meet­ing to plan the town’s wel­come; chef Brian McDer­mott, who runs the Foyle Ho­tel in Moville. PHO­TO­GRAPHS: NORTH WEST NEWSPIX

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