A number of local councillors are “furious” after the Department of Justice announced it has given the green light to convert a hostel in Tullamore, Co Offaly into an accommodation centre that will house 168 asylum seekers without public consultation.
The Department announced that the former 35-bedroom Marian Hostel on High Street in the town will begin housing an unspecified number of families under the Direct Provision system at the end of March.
Officials from the department could not say how many families will move in initially but that the total complement of 168 individuals will move into the centre on a phased-in basis.
Some members of the Tullamore Municipal District of Offaly County Council said they will reserve comment until they meet with officials from the department on Thursday to discuss what the department described as “what supports will be in place to facilitate the new accommodation centre and its residents.”
But to others contacted by Independent.ie this evening, the meeting is simply a ‘box-ticking exercise’ and they are furious.
“At this stage, it’s a fait accompli,” Independent councillor Sean O’Brien said.
“I’m very concerned there’s been no public consultation or even consultation with elected officials,” he said.
Mr O’Brien said he and other councillors had repeatedly asked the department about what plans it had for the former hostel and had received no reply to date.
Independent councillor John Leahy – who has previously voiced his concern over migrants taking priority over local residents on its social housing list – said he was outraged by the announcement.
“They’re treating us like fools,” he said. “They’re coming in and steam-rolling it through.”
He denied that anti-migrant sentiment or racism is behind local opposition to the plan.
“It’s racism against the ordinary citizens,” he said. “The easiest thing to do is to accuse me of racism.”
But he said what irks himself and some local residents is the fact that many locals have been on the social housing waiting list for many years and many others are also on a waiting list to see a GP.
“You’re bringing in 168 people yet it’s very hard to get a GP in Tullamore now and they’ll get houses quicker than people on the waiting list for years,” he said.
“You’re angering a lot of people on the ground.”
Fianna Fail councillor Frank Moran, who is also the council’s Cathaoirleach, said he shares the anger of his fellow councillors over the department’s decision.
“No one has a problem with refugees,” he said. “It just galls me the way the department went ahead went ahead with this without communication,” he said.
“It’s going to create a lot of animosity in the town due to the housing crisis,” he said.
“It’s all to do with the (lack of) engagement. It’s the ignorance of the department not to engage with the community,” he said.
There are currently around 700 people on the local social housing waiting list and the former hostel was being looked at by the council as a possible amenity that could have been converted to house single people, he told Independent.ie.