McEntee says ‘wrong’ to blame Government for burning of asylum centre

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said there should be an open debate about migration in Ireland.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the burning of a hotel planned to house asylum seekers was ‘absolutely disgraceful’
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the burning of a hotel planned to house asylum seekers was ‘absolutely disgraceful’ (Niall Carson/PA)

The Minister for Justice has said she cannot make a commitment that further arson attacks at asylum centres will be prevented as she said it would be “wrong” to blame Government for the recent burning of one such building.

Her comments come two days after a suspected arson attack at a former hotel earmarked for use by asylum seekers in Co Galway, which is the latest in a series of similar incidents throughout the year.

The Ross Lake House Hotel in Rosscahill, Co Galway, which had not been in use as a hotel for several years, was engulfed in fire on Saturday night after it had had been selected to house 70 asylum seekers in the coming days.

The Government plan had been the subject of local opposition and demonstrators blocked the entrance to the hotel on Saturday in protest.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is “concerned about the level of misinformation” around migration while integration minister Roderic O’Gorman said the suspected arson was a “deeply sinister” act designed to intimidate international protection applicants.

Speaking before citizenship ceremonies in Dublin on Monday, Ms McEntee told reporters that the burning of the hotel was “absolutely disgraceful” and “sinister”.

Urging anyone with information to come forward to gardai, the minister said it was “extremely disturbing to see this type of escalation from what started as a very peaceful protest”.

The Irish Refugee Council has said the suspected arson followed a clear pattern of attacks on other accommodation centres this year.

Asked if the Galway incident could not have been predicted, Ms McEntee said there has been “hugely successful” monitoring of protests throughout the year but the burning of the hotel was an escalation to arson that was not part of the original protest.

She said gardai had monitored the protest in Roscahill earlier in the day but said there was also private security on site: “It is very difficult where you have a rural area with no CCTV to be able to predict anything.”

She added: “There is absolutely no justification for what happened. To blame government, to blame anybody other than the person who set a match to that building is wrong. There is absolutely no justification here.”

Asked if she could make a commitment that such an attack would not happen again, Ms McEntee said: “I can’t make any commitment on any situation. What I can do is say every effort is being made to protect people, not just those in accommodation but to protect people right across the country.”

While not condoning the suspected arson, a local Fianna Fail councillor said the prospect of 70 young males being moved into the hotel had instilled a “certain amount of fear into the local people” and argued that Ireland should stop accepting asylum seekers “because the inn is full”.

Councillor Noel Thomas told RTE: “I think at this stage, to be very honest, I think no, we shouldn’t, and I’m going to say that straight out.

“Because the inn is full. When you’re trying to solve a problem by creating more problems it really doesn’t make sense.”

Asked about the comments, Ms McEntee said she did not agree with the sentiment that “Ireland is full”.

She said Ireland has obligations to provide support to those fleeing war, famine and persecution and added: “For the vast majority of people in Ireland, we have been welcoming, we have supported those not just from Ukraine, but coming across the world and we’re no different than any other country.

“There has been a mass movement of people in recent years and Ireland is experiencing an increase no different to any other country and I think we will continue to respond in the most compassionate way that we possibly can.”

Mr O’Gorman also criticised the claims and said: “I think it is really problematic when an elected representative comes on our national airwaves and makes these entirely bogus claims.”

Speaking on RTE radio, Mr O’Gorman said there was “absolutely no evidence at all” of a link between migrants and violence.

Roderic O’Gorman called the arson ‘deeply sinister’
Department of Children’s Growing Up In Ireland report Roderic O’Gorman called the arson ‘deeply sinister’

He said adequate notice was given last Friday ahead of a planned move-in date on Thursday and that it was a “provision of information” rather than a consultation exercise.

Those due to be housed in Rosscahill were among the approximately 200 applicants without another offer of state accommodation.

Mr O’Gorman said the burning of the centre would put the Government under “real pressure” at a time when it was already not able to house every arrival in the country.

“What we saw take place in Galway was deeply sinister and I believe it was a criminal act. It was dangerous and resulted in severe damage to private property.

“I also think it was designed to intimidate people seeking international protection here in Ireland, people who use the international protection process have a right to be safely accommodated while their application is being adjudicated on.”

At a press conference at Government Buildings, the Taoiseach said the Government has a “job to do” to communicate better on migration.

Mr Varadkar also said there should be an “open and honest debate about migration” in Ireland.

He said: “But it has to be based on facts, it has to be based on information and has to avoid anything that is othering or racist and they have to be the parameters.

“And I am concerned about a huge degree of misinformation.”