Sunday 15 September 2019

Sold Macroom hotel set to house asylum seekers

Bill Browne

Speculation has been rife in Macroom in recent days over the future of the recently closed Riverside Park Hotel, after it emerged that the venue has come under new ownership.

The Corkman contacted the hotel on Wednesday and was told that it was closed for refurbishment

This has brought into question the future of the hotel, in light of widespread rumour locally that it was to be converted into a Direct Provision accommodation centre for asylum seekers. 

A reliable local source confirmed to The Corkman that the hotel had been sold and that while the building would not be converted into a Direct Provision centre it will be used to house asylum seekers on a temporary basis.  The source said the building will be used as a kind of 'halfway house' where asylum seekers will be housed for short periods of time, in some cases just a matter of days, before being transferred to other accommodation, such as one of the existing Direct Provision centres. The Direct Provision system is overseen by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) a unit of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), which is in turn a division of the Department of Justice and Equality.

It is understood that the Department has entered a lease agreement with the new owners of the building.  When contacted by The Corkman, a Department official replied in a statement “we can confirm that no new Direct Provision accommodation centre has opened in Macroom.”

However, the statement did say that the RIA has sought expressions of interest for "emergency temporary accommodation", which was advertised in the media last January.  "The advertisement sought bed and board in hotels and guest houses on a 12-24 week basis This advertisement has led to a number of emergency locations being used on a short term basis," read the statement.  It went on to say that RIA had a legal duty to protect the identities of persons in the international protection process and "as a result of this, we do not divulge the location of emergency accommodation". 

"We are also mindful of the right to privacy of applicants," it concluded.  In 2000, the venue, then known as Lynch's Lodge Hotel, was at the centre of a controversy after it was purchased by the OPW for €3.5 million to accommodate asylum seekers. 

However, it was never used as a result of legal challenges mounted by members of the public.  Over the ensuing five years, €808,000 was shelled out on security and renovation costs prior to the building being sold on in 2006 for €2.4 million - representing a loss to the State of more than €1million on the sale.