Harry’s Hotel in Kinnegad is being used to accommodate asylum seekers.

Councillors looking for better communication on plans for refugees and asylum seekers

As the country grapples with the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, members of the Mullingar Kinnegad Municipal District at their meeting last Monday attempted to cautiously express reservations about what’s happening, while not saying anything that might be considered unwelcoming.

As Cllr Denis Leonard claimed that there are two additional buildings in Kinnegad being considered as possible further accommodation centres; Cllr Paddy Hill entreated the council to appoint an information officer to keep communities and representatives informed over what is happening; and with Cllr Frank McDermott agreed, stating that some “outrageous stories” – none of them true – are circulating about the newcomers.

Cllr Leonard said that the allocation of refugees and asylum seekers is becoming both centralised and also developer-driven.

He stated that two derelict buildings are being auctioned on February 24. While local interest is great, an existing provider of refugee accommodation is understood to be determined to buy them, because the fee paid by government is €135 per person per night.

“My worry is that if this continues, we are going to end up with a situation where developers are just going to take over entire towns,” he said, adding that there are around 10-12 derelict properties on Kinnegad’s main street: “The banks are taking over these and eventually they’re going to be sold off,” he said.

Cllr Leonard said that there is no consultation happening with local people, and while the town was given an undertaking that it would be receiving 120 Ukrainians, there are now 180 there.

“In Kinnegad at the moment, we have no secondary school, no community centre, no library, four gardaí, an overcrowded medical centre, no council office in the town, no town park,” he said, adding that four years after the regeneration of Kinnegad was announced, there still wasn’t a brick laid.

“All I’m asking – and I am asking this with the utmost respect: I am a former member of Amnesty International, many human rights organisations – but we need to be able to have this kind of discourse without being considered to be any way racist, because if you have this conversation with anybody, it becomes ‘oh you don’t want them’.

“Nobody is saying that: what we’re saying is when you bring a mass amount of people – from Cork, or Limerick or Botswana – into a county in mass numbers, you need to be able to integrate them, assimilate them in a proper way. This cannot happen without the county council being part of the loop.”

Cllr Paddy Hill said others share his concerns. “Could we look to have somebody appointed within the council to deal with these matters, because it’s lack of information, I believe, that is causing a lot of problems,” he said.

Director of services David Jones explained that the local authority is not involved in the location of asylum seekers. As a result, he said, it did not have the information that Cllr Hill wanted to have an official disseminate.

The situation was different with regard to the Ukrainian refugees, he continued, and there is a council team dealing with accommodation for them.