Monday 23 September 2019

Hotel owner injured following arson attack on property earmarked for asylum seekers

Garda forensic officers at the scene of the fire at the Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville where 100 immigrants are due to arrive to in the next few weeks. (North West Newspix)
Garda forensic officers at the scene of the fire at the Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville where 100 immigrants are due to arrive to in the next few weeks. (North West Newspix)
The former Caiseal Mara Hotel. Photo: Lorcan Doherty

Stephen Maguire

The people of a small Co Donegal seaside town have come together to stand behind a group of asylum seekers after an arson attack on the local hotel where they were due to stay.

The first group of an overall group of 100 asylum seekers were due to arrive in the Inishowen town of Moville in early December.

However, a huge shadow was cast over the plan after an arson attack on the Caiseal Mara Hotel in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The attack which damaged the reception area and sent smoke damage throughout the building came just hours before the meeting to arrange a welcome party for the asylum seekers was held.

The scene of the fire at the Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville where 100 immigrants are due to arrive to in the next few weeks. (North West Newspix)
The scene of the fire at the Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville where 100 immigrants are due to arrive to in the next few weeks. (North West Newspix)

That meeting went ahead with more than 150 people turning up to show their support for the asylum seekers.

Garda Inspector Goretti Sheridan confirmed to the meeting that the fire had been started deliberately.

A Garda forensic team spent yesterday examining the scene of the attack while they are also compiling hours of CCTV footage in and around the hotel on Foyle Street.

One man, understood to be the owner of the hotel, was injured in the attack and taken to Letterkenny General Hospital.

Garda forensic officers at the scene of the fire at the Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville where 100 immigrants are due to arrive to in the next few weeks. (North West Newspix)
Garda forensic officers at the scene of the fire at the Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville where 100 immigrants are due to arrive to in the next few weeks. (North West Newspix)

His injuries are understood to be not life-threatening.

His daughter was also understood to be in the building at the time of the attack at around 4am but was not injured.

The father and daughter are understood to have been working in the hotel when the assailants struck.

Many of those who attended the meeting in Moville's Methodist Hall, organised by Failte Inishowen, said they were horrified by what had happened in their town.

Over 150 people attended the meeting and all of those who spoke reflected an eagerness for the Direct Provision plan for the displaced people to go ahead in Moville.

The principal of the local Moville Community College, Anthony Duggan, said the attack sent out a very poor message from Moville.

He said it was ironic when the Inishowen town was preparing to put up its Christmas tree that such an act should happen.

He added that the arson attack meant that the Christmas message of welcoming had been completely lost as a result.

Local county councillor Martin Farren said that while he condemned the attack, he was immensely proud of the reaction of the people of Moville to the incident.

"I said that the people of Moville would respond to the needs of these people and they have. We obviously condemn this attack but I felt immense pride in the people of Moville today who stood behind these people.

"We will welcome these people as we said we would and nothing has changed because of that.

"It was heartening to hear so much goodness and kindness spoken at the meeting," he said.

Councillor Farren said he had spoken with Eugene Banks, Principal Adviser at the Reception and Integration Agency and he confirmed the Direct Provision Centre will be going ahead at the hotel.

"He said he will assess the damage and will assess when the building can be ready for these people but it will still be going ahead," he said.   

Local resident Enda Craig said no right-thinking person can condone this "shameful act."

However, he added that the Department of Justice should have had more sense than to release "scant details" of the project in the manner in which they did two weeks ago.

He said "A vacuum was created and filled with numerous wild and unfounded allegations of racism and other on social media regarding Direct Provision Centres and their inhabitants.

"Nothing justifies this action but civil servants would need to acknowledge that this is the last possible way to let this news be known in the community. Their behaviour helped to fan the flames of deep concern felt in the locality," he said.

The Donegal Intercultural Platform said the attack had all the hallmarks of a racist arson attack.

Spokesman Paul Kernan said "Whilst we are fierce critics of the unsatisfactory Direct provision system, we offered out welcome and support to the new residents, many of who have undergone a traumatic journey to arrive in Ireland to seek asylum.

"Our steering group has supported the inclusive efforts of local people, particularly the Inishowen Welcomes group and Fáilte Inishowen who have taken the lead in offering support and assistance to the refugee families.

"This possible attack echoes the racist house burnings in previous decades in US cities like Boston, and the sectarian arson attacks of the troubles in town and cities in the North of Ireland.

"It also mimics the recent rise of racist fire-bombings in Belfast were properties earmarked for or occupied by Black and Minority Ethnic families were targeted.

"Donegal is the home of Cead Míle Fáilte – the hundred thousand welcomes - and these actions do not reflect the views or intentions of Donegal people of all ethnic and faith backgrounds.

"We hope there will be a speedy assessment of the damage caused and prompt repairs made so that the families can find a welcome shelter before the Christmas holidays.

"If the building cannot be easily repaired we call on local agencies to secure alternative accommodation in the area until such times as the fire damage can be made good.

"If this was indeed a racist hate crime then we condemn it. Also, we call on everyone to join together and say loud and clear – there is room at the Inn this Christmas and throughout the year."

Nobody has yet been arrested or questioned in relation to the attack.

Gardaí in Buncrana are leading the investigation and appealing for witnesses, asking anyone with information or anyone who was in the area that may have seen suspicious activity on Foyle Street prior or after the fire to contact Buncrana Garda Station on (074) 9320540 the Garda Confidential Line or any Garda Station.

An article in yesterday's Irish Independent reveals how plans for the centre have divided locals in the small town.

Read more: 'We're being sold a pup and our good nature exploited' 

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