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Owner of Listowel Convent insists plan is ‘purely’ for Ukrainian families


Listowel's old Presentation Convent

Listowel's old Presentation Convent

Listowel's old Presentation Convent


THE owner of Listowel’s historic Presentation Convent has insisted that his plan to open it as an accommodation centre is ‘purely’ intended for Ukrainian refugee families.

Convent owner John Whelan informed The Kerryman that the refugees bound for Listowel will be comprised of women, children and elderly people in the main.

The Listowel businessman said he could not confirm exactly how many will take up residence in the building, but that the figure would be ‘in and around’ 50.

He insisted the group would be ‘purely’ comprised of people fleeing Putin’s dreadful war on their homeland.

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His remarks fly in the face of speculation rife on social media in recent days that up to 150 adult male asylum seekers would be housed in the former Convent – a site that adjoins both the Presentation Secondary school and the Presentation Primary.

Concern is growing in Listowel over the suggestion that such a large intake of adult males would be housed directly alongside two girls’ schools.

Some parents have now called a public meeting for the Listowel Arms Hotel on Friday next at 6.30pm on the issue, extending invitations to local politicians, gardaí and solicitors.

Parents’ fears are being exacerbated by reports of rising tension in other towns across the country slated for large influxes of asylum seekers.

Local fears in general have also been stoked by the rumours on social media – posted in a manner judged dangerous by many.

One of the parents organising the looming public meeting said they would have no concern over Ukrainian families being housed in the convent, however.

Kerry County Council has confirmed that meetings have taken place on site between its fire-safety and conservations officials and the owner of the site.

Planning is not required for works on buildings intended for use as residences for Ukrainian refugees – but all other safety standards must be met.

As the Convent is a protected structure, special licensing is required for works on it, however.

The meetings have all taken place with a view to the reopening of the building solely as a residence for Ukrainian refugees only, Mayor of Listowel Aoife Thornton informed The Kerryman on Tuesday.

Indeed, the Council has no function when it comes to the processing of International Protection Applicants (IPAs), including asylum seekers.

Its only remit is to the processing and accommodation of the beneficiaries of Temporary Protection, such as Ukrainian refugees.

Mr Whelan said he was moved on humanitarian grounds to help accommodate Ukrainian refugees in the building he owns, which was once home to generations of nuns.

The imminent intake would be the first large communal group of refugees from the former Soviet republic to be housed in Listowel.

Scores of their fellow countrypeople are already in accommodation in Tarbert and Ballybunion, where they have received a great welcome from locals.

“We’ve been great on a national level to support these people, and I think they should be supported and helped in whatever way possible, and that is very much my viewpoint in this project,” Mr Whelan said.

“This is about the people from Listowel and North Kerry putting the best foot forward to welcome people who, through no fault of their own, have had to take refuge in a foreign country from the traumatic effects of a war...This is purely for Ukrainian refugees, mostly women, children and elderly people. The building is there and it’s empty, and it would be a shame not to look after people there in this way. I hope there will be a welcome extended to them by the people of North Kerry and Listowel.”

Asked as to how many would be accommodated in the old Convent, Mr Whelan replied: ‘In and around 50’.

Mayor of Listowel Aoife Thornton said all contact between the Authority and the owner so far indicates a plan for Ukrainian refugees only:

“There have been many rumours in relation to the Convent in Listowel and the potential for it to accommodate either Ukrainian refugees or asylum seekers.

“The building is a protected structure and has to go through [a] section 57 application to Kerry County Council as regards any works internally or externally.

“Secondly, any potential accommodation would need to be compliant with fire-safety regulations.

“As people may be aware KCC is involved in emergency accommodation where it is to host Ukrainian refugees.

“I have formal confirmation that contact has been made between KCC and the Department of Housing which is the Department responsible for the emergency refurbishment for projects for Ukrainians.

“I have been in contact again today [Tuesday] with KCC on the matter who have confirmed that there have been meetings on the ground with KCC, including fire officers and conservation officers, in relation to hosting Ukrainian refugees.

“A schedule of works has been prepared by KCC for the property owner in relation to the works that must be done to the property in order to host Ukrainian refugees.

“The property cannot be occupied until such time as there is a valid fire cert issued by KCC.

“From all recent meetings it would seem at this point indicative that the process is working through assessing this property for the purposes of hosting Ukrainian refugees.

“As Mayor of Listowel I will be keeping in regular contact with all involved parties,” Cllr Thornton added.