Arson suspected in blaze at vacant hotel set to be a refugee reception centre
The fire at a vacant hotel earmarked for asylum seekers is being treated as a suspected arson attack by gardai.
Firefighters were called to the scene of the blaze at the former Shannon Key West Hotel in the village of Rooskey on the Roscommon/Leitrim border on Thursday evening.
A security guard who was on the premises at the time discovered the fire and raised the alarm with the Fire Brigade and gardai.
Nobody was injured in the incident and investigators are appealing for anyone who witnessed anything suspicious in the area between 5.30pm and 7.30pm to get in contact.
Superintendent Kevin English, of Carrick-on-Shannon Garda Station, said they believe the fire was started deliberately.
"We're treating it as a suspicious fire. We had technical experts at the scene and we are waiting for their findings to determine how the investigation will progress," he said.
Supt English said reports that people were seen pouring flammable liquid on the premises had "not been confirmed".
"Nobody was seen entering or pouring flammable substances. There was an on-site security guard who raised the alarm after discovering the fire but he did not encounter anybody," he added.
He praised the security guard for his quick response, which ensured no serious damage was done.
"There is a certain degree of charring around the reception area and extensive smoke damage but it could have been a lot worse," he said.
Last November, it emerged that the hotel - which closed in 2011 - was in line to become a reception centre for up to 82 refugees. The hotel was also at the centre of a sale dispute before the High Court and was due to be sold to new owners this week.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said thankfully no residents were in situ when the fire broke out.
"The investigation into the cause of the fire must now take place and I do not wish to speculate at this point," he said.
"It is also too early to say now when the hotel might be ready to accept residents. All of the necessary assessments, certifications and any remedial works required must be carried out."
Local councillors and residents raised concerns about asylum seekers being moved into the area due to a "significant lack of facilities".
"Locals had hoped it was going to reopen as a hotel to put a bit of life back in the community," said Sean McGowan, cathaoirleach of Leitrim County Council.
"This community has suffered greatly. We had a serious fire at a meat plant here a number of years ago and we lost upwards of 600 jobs.
"The people here would prefer to see it used as a hotel. They're very decent people here and they would welcome asylum seekers but the Department of Justice needs to look at the lack of facilities."
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he condemns "the deliberate act of violence".