PLANS to house refugees in an industrial building in Shannon have been criticised by local elected representatives.
Last week the Office of Public Works (OPW) said it had made Unit 153 at Shannon Business Park (a large building close to where Molex had been located) available to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and that it is being adapted for emergency accommodation.
In a statement to the Clare Champion the Department acknowledged it is working with the OPW “to develop proposals/design to use a state-owned property in Shannon Free Zone to accommodate International Protection Applicants.”
However, it contradicted the OPW’s claim that it is currently being adapted for the use of refugees, saying that engagement between the two bodies is ongoing and contracts have yet to be agreed or signed. Unit 153 is a large building that is not currently in use.
Speaking to The Champion on Tuesday, Clare TD Cathal Crowe said he doesn’t believe that housing people in an industrial estate is appropriate.
“That’s how I would see it. The support model so far, while it hasn’t been ideal, has concentrated on hotel accommodation and larger buildings owned by the State.
“I think this is a new departure, in my mind there’s not a whole lot of logic to choosing this building. There’s two sides to Shannon as everyone knows, there’s the town side and then there’s the airport and industrial side.
“It’s fine to work in that zone but there’s very little in terms of infrastructure or social supports there to sustain a community of people. I don’t think it’s an appropriate location to have a centre like this located.”
He questioned the capacity of Shannon to absorb another sudden influx of people, following the arrival of a large number of Ukrainian refugees in 2022.
“In recent weeks my office have had quite a number of queries about people having difficulties getting school places for next year.
“There are capacity issues in most of the schools in Shannon, so much so that some children can’t be enrolled. I can’t see how this new centre will be congruent with that.
“This goes back to the point I made repeatedly throughout last year; when a site is being chosen for an accommodation centre it’s not just about a roof over heads, there are stakeholders that need to be consulted and I don’t believe there has been any engagement in this case with local schools.
“It’s a blind and senseless approach by the Office of Public Works if they think that warehousing-style accommodation alone is what these people need.”
He said that as well as schools, consideration needs to be taken of local health services and the availability of GPs.
“When I began my teaching career in Meelick school there was a healthy level of dialogue between the local direct provision centre and the school in terms of children coming in, their needs and how we could meet them. The same has to happen here.
“In Meelick we always had refugees so it was a case of tweaking our response. In the case of a place like Shannon there isn’t the deep physical and social infrastructure to cater for a large number of people coming in overnight.
“I’ve no problem with them coming here, we should welcome people coming to our country at all times, but it is a blind and senseless approach for the Department to think you can just procure properties, now some of them being industrial properties, and assume that alone meets their needs.
“It won’t meet the refugees’ needs and it will put immense pressure on the community, I think a bit more planning would help to resolve this far better.”
Deputy Crowe said that there are buildings around the country such as old convents, boarding schools and barracks that could be brought back into use to help with emergency accommodation.
“We should of course continue to play a major supporting role but our intake needs to be guided by our capacity to provide care. I think landing people into a converted industrial unit isn’t the way forward,” he added.
Sinn Féin councillor Donna McGettigan said that an industrial estate is not an appropriate setting for accommodation, while she criticised the lack of engagement.
“An industrial estate is not a place for people to live. They need to be talking to the locals about this, this is what stirs up a lot of issues, it seems to be all cloak and dagger and nobody knows anything.
“I know they (State agencies) say they don’t want consultation, but people have to be told what’s going on. They are already suffering from a lack of services in Shannon, they are worried and their concerns have to be listened to.
“The concerns I would have are where they are being placed and the infrastructure not being around them.
“There are no bus services there, it’s quite a good walk to get access into the Town Centre. An industrial estate just isn’t a place for people to live.”
While concerned about the prospect of an industrial building being used for accommodation, she said that Ireland does need to be generous to those fleeing conflicts.
“We need to think back to the day of Live Aid, we were the country that helped the most, we were very giving and we need to go back to those days.
“Then we remembered the days we had to emigrate and that other countries took us in. People aren’t just coming here for the craic, there are issues behind them coming here.”
Councillor Gerry Flynn criticised the lack of engagement with local representatives. “We won’t be consulted, that’s not what they do. The OPW are a law onto themselves, it’s like a cloak and dagger organisation, there’s a number of these bodies set up by the State, such as TII, the HSE, Irish Water, and there’s very little democracy involved in their existence. That’s the way it has gone over the years. There’s a time when if something was happening in the community local councillors would be consulted, that doesn’t happen anymore.”
He said that the town does not have adequate services as it is. “Whether it’ll happen or not I don’t know, but when you bring more people into a community it will have an impact on existing
services, which are limited anyway.”
Councillor Flynn said that he favours some limits on people coming into the country. “I would support a policy of doing what we can with the resources we have to support people that need support, but I don’t think it should be an open door policy.”
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.