Local councillors have hit out at the Department of Justice and owner of The Grand Hotel for signing off on turning the hotel into a direct provision centre before informing the county board.
Wicklow County Council met with representatives of the Department on Thursday night to discuss the situation surrounding the hotel, two weeks after the decision was first signed off on — a meeting that was described as “a box-ticking exercise” by Cllr John Snell.
Snell was speaking to demonstrators attending a community-organised protest against the move to turn the town’s only hotel into accomodation for asylum seekers, and criticised the DOJ’s lack of transparency when making the decision.
“The horse has bolted, there is no point trying to close the stable door now,” Cllr Snell said.
“There are already 13 rooms occupied while we are down here and 100 people will be embarking on The Grand Hotel. From a tourism perspective, it is a disaster that we have lost the only hotel in the county town of Wicklow and, for people who are out there struggling to promote the town from a tourism perspective, this will have a negative impact not just for months to come but […] for many years to come.
“I feel for all of the people that came here to try and make their feelings known because a verbal agreement was reached on the 2nd of November, while people in this building were only notified last Thursday,” he added.
While there is a 12-week clause in the contract that would allow for the decision to turn the premises into direct provision to be voided, John Snell said that he doesn’t believe the owner’s minds will be changed.
“To be honest, as we stand here tonight, neither side are going to pull out of the contract. I don’t think that they take in any social or moral issues. […] Tonight was just a box-ticking exercise,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cllr Irene Winters — who spoke to protestors alongside Cllr Snell following the meeting — reassured the crowd that the asylum seekers residing in The Grand Hotel would have 24/7 access to the hotel and its amenities, before criticising the direct provision system.
“We’ll have to see what happens in practice, but we were told this evening by the officials from the Department of Justice that it will be treated as their home and they will be free to come and go as they please,” she said.
“I don’t like direct provision as a model, I think that it is unfair on the people who are put into it. They are treated very unfairly. I am in favour of asylum seekers coming to the town if we have proper facilities for them, but not with our only hotel.
“We should have known beforehand,” Cllr Winters said.
Up to 200 people turned out for the protest against the decision to turn The Grand Hotel into direct provision, although that crowd dwindled before the county representatives emerged from the meeting.
Speaking to WicklowNews, one protestor echoed the concerns of Cllr Winters, describing the facilities available to asylum seekers as “inadequate” and potentially dangerous.
“It is clear that the human resources and facilities are not there, and that affects people in many different ways, including mental health. People are suffering in an inadequate system,” she said.