Sunday 24 March 2019

Officials 'hadn't carried out due diligence at all'

Myles Buchanan

More than 200 people attended a public meeting last week to have their say on the Grand Hotel turning into a centre for direct provision.

Cllr Gail Dunne organised and chaired the meeting held in St Patrick's GAA Club on Tuesday, November 20, while other local TDs and councillors in attendance also made contributions.

Describing a recent meeting local representatives had with two officials from the Department of Justice, Cllr John Snell said: 'It was obvious they hadn't carried out any due diligence at all. They presumed there would be football clubs and thought there might be a Men's Shed. They never contacted any local schools or GPs.'

'At one stage they compared us to a town with six or seven hotels,' said Cllr Snell. 'They said tourism was up in one town that provided a centre for direct provision. The problem is that the town they were comparing us to has another seven hotels. That just shows you the sort of mindset we are dealing with'.

Cllr Snell also questioned just how much Government TDs knew abut the development before it was announced two weeks ago.

'It's hard to believe that they don't discuss something like this at cabinet level. If I were part of that cabinet, I would be completely disgusted at not being informed'.

He was also highly critical of statements released by Adrian Shanagher, the director of Firebreak Hospitality, which is the owner of the Grand Hotel.

'Judging from his most recent statement, each and every person here in this room is to blame - everyone except him and his company'.

Later in the meeting Cllr Snell commented: 'I wish the owner the best of luck. As part of the contract he has to set up and find a "friends of the community" group. I don't think he has very many friends here in Wicklow.'

Deputy Pat Casey said, as someone who has worked in the tourism sector all his life, he was shocked when the news first broke.

'I couldn't believe the decision had come about in the county town. It is contrary to every policy in the County Development Plan and in all local plans. Only two weeks ago, our minister was launching a new tourism strategy for Wicklow and one of the key parts was delivering more hotels in the county. Now the county town has lost its only hotel.'

TD John Brady was also critical over the lack of consultation that took place.

'It's a despicable process. Remember, the Department didn't approach the owners of the Grand Hotel. The owners approached the Department for the hotel to be part of direct provision services,' said Deputy Brady.

Observations were also invited from the floor. Local resident Brian Teevan spoke of his anger toward the Department of Justice.

'They showed a complete lack of respect by not informing anyone. It was completely undemocratic,' said Mr Teevan.

'We have five TDs in this county, including a senior minister. Could you not issue a joint statement on behalf of the people of Wicklow? It would be five voices acting as one. The council could also issue a joint statement,' he said.

The request was met with a positive response from both TDs and councillors.

Another audience member appealed for 'ideas' to be put in place to ensure the Grand Hotel doesn't remain a direct provision centre beyond its current contract.

He said: 'Something has to be put in place to make sure it is only a centre for direct provision for the year of its contract and not for six years and beyond'.

Another member of the public audience said: 'We've already lost our factories. Now the only thing we have left is the hotel. This is unacceptable.

'We need Wicklow town to grow with tourism, the factories are gone forever. When the Grand Hotel goes, you'll go with it because you won't have anyone to council'.

Wicklow People