By PJ Cunningham
The decision not to go ahead with converting a hotel in the West of Ireland to a base for asylum seekers has punctured the image of Ireland as a place that opens its arms to people from other countries.
The volte-face in the case of the Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey, on the Roscommon/Leitrim border, comes after the facility was twice attacked by arsonists this year.
The change of heart has been perceived as a victory for xenophobia and racism over altruism and the national sense of decency of which Ireland likes to pride itself.
The unrest began last year when about 30 people held a meeting in the town to express opposition to plans to provide accommodation for 82 Syrian asylum seekers in a small hotel there – as has been done, successfully, in other towns around the country.
A resident of the town said at the meeting that locals resented protestors and insisted that “nobody in the town was in any way in favour of racism.”
That meeting also heard MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan outline his opposition – because he felt it was of too low and inferior a standard to house asylum seekers.
By the first few weeks of this year there had been two arson attacks on the hotel prompting condemnations by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. The first attack caused smoke damage to the building.
Garda investigating the second attack said it was carried out by a group who had moved into the area for a number of days.
Local TDs joined with Ireland’s Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan in condemnation – but also said local residents opposed to housing the refugees had genuine concerns and fears which needed to be addressed.
Last week Ireland’s Department of Justice put paid to any idea of a refugee reception centre citing “legal difficulties” over the lease. But that was moot and there is little doubt that the arsonists had their way.
They not only delayed the transfer of genuinely troubled groups from other nations to a place of semi-stability while their cases are being processed, but they have also shown other similar minded people that this kind of intimidation works.
The hotel was originally developed to look after overseas visitors in Ireland for fishing and other local tourist-related activities.
Boating and angling have always been a major attraction around Carrick-on-Shannon and the hotel in question helped boost the local economy until the recession bit deep and it went out of business eight years ago.
In a town which has lost many traditional employers, and much of its population to emigration, the new residents could have breathed new life back into that part of the west.
We hear so often that rural Ireland is badly in need of people relocating there – particularly from England and Ireland’s eastern seaboard – if local communities are to survive, never mind grow and prosper.
This burning down in Rooskey wasn’t just an isolated offence, the same arson strategy was used in Moville in Donegal against a hotel earmarked for a similar purpose some months earlier.
Irish people all over the world have, to a greater or lesser extent, benefited from the generosity of others in welcoming them.
But, unfortunately, the clear message is that modern Ireland doesn’t want refugees on its own doorstep.
We all have a fear of the unknown and locals who questioned whether the hotel could provide genuine living quarters to foreign refugees in our midst may have a point.
Proper integration is essential for the benefit of all sides, but local residents were unhappy that they had not been adequately consulted.
By way of contrast, look at the way the people of Ballaghaderreen, on the Mayo-Roscommon border, took to their hearts a group of Syrian refugees. Rooskey, in comparison, has come out pretty poorly in the public relations stakes.
Rooskey, and its people, may be just as much victims of the right-wing thugs as the Syrians who have endured such hardship and uncertainty on their way to, and in, Ireland.
The least they might have expected is that a nation which has sent hundreds of millions abroad they would show its guests civility and respect.
We are poorer as a nation for not doing so.
You might also be interested in this article