The arrival of up to 80 Syrian refugees to Ballaghaderreen has now been pushed out to March.
On Thursday when news of the development of a new emergency reception and orientation centre for refugees at the former Abbeyfield Hotel in the town broke, the date of the group’s arrival was the end of this month.
The dept of Justice informed Roscommon county council on Thursday afternoon last that the former hotel, that had been recently renovated, was contracted from the owner under a two year lease to house 80 Syrian refugees at present in camps in Italy and Greece.
The news shocked the local community and local public representatives, as many had hoped that the former hotel was preparing to re- open as a hotel and leisure centre for the area.
On Saturday, anti Islamic literature was handed out in the county Roscommon town by an unidentifed group described as “young Irish people” by local Sinn Fein councillor Michael Mulligan.
Speaking to Midwest Radio today the councillor said the leaflets could only be described as “horrible” and “racist” and he totally condemned their content.
The leaflets carry deeply offensive language calling on the people of Ballaghaderreen to “preserve freedom in the West” by not allowing Islamic people into Ireland and instead “crush them for once and for all”.
They also include pictures of rapes, beheading and crucifixions.
The Minister for State overseeing the arrival of 4,000 Syrian refugees to Ireland has said fast-moving changes in circumstances had led to the very late disclosure that Ballaghaderreen would house a reception centre.
According to today’s Irish Times, David Stanton, a junior minister in the Department of Justice, said yesterday that the manner of the announcement that a disused hotel on the outskirts of Ballaghaderreen would be used as an emergency reception and orientation centre (EROC) for 80 Syrian asylum seekers was “unfortunate” .
Minister Stanton insisted that there were rational reasons behind the announcement and the lack of wider consultation beforehand.
Midwest News has sought to speak to the Minister today and we are awaiting a response to that request.
Speaking yesterday Minister Stanton said the centre would accommodate Syrian families who were now in reception centres in Greece and Italy. He said that until just before Christmas there was uncertainty as to how many people who had sought refuge in those EU countries would be travelling to Ireland.
He explained, a visit to Greece by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone in the run-up to Christmas had resulted in progress being made with local authorities, including a commitment to bring in 80 people a month in 2017.
Mr Stanton said it was only when there was certainty over numbers that the department could finalise the contract with the company that owns the former hotel, which was the most suitable facility available in the country. He said he was bound by privacy until the contract was signed last week. Immediately after that, he said, he began contacting local officials and also his Dáil colleagues in the constituency.
“It is unfortunate that we could not have had a consultation six months ago, but we did not know then if we would have the numbers,” he said.
Mr Stanton said it was very early days as yet and that the first families would not be arriving into Ballaghaderreen until early March. They will first stay in the EROC in Balseskin in Co Dublin for orientation before going to Roscommon.
Tonight, a public meeting will take place in Ballaghaderreen under the banner Ballaghaderreen Welcomes Refugees.
It takes place in Spells at 8pm
Debbie Beirnes is one of the organisers of tonight’s meeting and she told Midwest Radio today the meeting tonight is not to discuss the decision and how it was announced, but rather to look at what can be done to make the new families feel welcome.
Meanwhile Ballaghaderreen Chamber, are also meeting tonight at 8pm in Durkins to discuss the recently announced change of use of the Abbeyfield Hotel to an Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre for refugees.
According to the chamber’s facebook page - All local businesses are welcome to attend.
Independent TD for Roscommon Michael Fitzmaurice says the plan to relocate 80 refugees to Ballaghadereen won't work unless the proper services are put in place.
The former hotel has the potential to house up to 250 refugees.
Deputy Fitzmaurice has hit out the lack of consultation over the move.
Fr Joseph Gavigan is the parish priest of Ballaghadereen. He says he hopes people will welcome the families.