Ireland’s government condemned the recent burning of a hotel meant to house 70 migrants outside of Galway in the west of the country as a suspected arson attack.
“I am deeply concerned about recent reports of suspected criminal damage at a number of properties around the country which have been earmarked for accommodating those seeking international protection here, including in County Galway last night,” Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in a statement Sunday. “There is no justification for violence, arson or vandalism in our Republic. Ever. Garda [police] investigations are underway.”
The statement came in response to a fire that erupted Saturday night at the Ross Lake House Hotel in Rosscahill, County Galway, in the west of Ireland, destroying the building. The hotel was meant to start housing about 70 male asylum seekers as of this week. Police say no one was inside the building when the fire started, and no injuries have been reported.
The BBC reported that the Ross Lake House Hotel, which was under private ownership, recently accepted a government contract to house migrants there for one year.
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According to the Irish Independent, an Irish-American family from Texas recently purchased the Ross Lake House Hotel, which once hosted Hollywood star Maureen O’Hara. A TikTok video, shared by one family member, also showcases their intent to restore the 19th century Georgian-style manor house and 7-acre estate to its “former glory.”
Local protesters formed a blockade earlier Saturday on the road leading to the hotel after plans to bring in the approximately 70 male migrants were revealed Thursday.
“I utterly condemn the criminal destruction at Ross Lake House Hotel in Galway. There is never any excuse or place for violence, hatred or intimidation. Those responsible for this criminal act do not speak for their community or this country,” Micheál Martin, an Irish Fianna Fáil politician serving as Tánaiste, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Minister for Defence, wrote on X.
“I’m absolutely disgusted. I don’t think it’s representative of Galway people at all,” Ireland’s Green Party politician Pauline O’Reilly told reporters of the hotel fire. “And it’s only adding to people’s concerns over safety. I mean, this is the real concern we have over safety in our communities.”
Yet, Fianna Fáil counselor Noel Thomas emphasized in an interview with RTÉ Radio One how the community remains concerned about a group of dozens of male migrants being housed in a rural, isolated location where locals usually leave their doors open and children are permitted to roam freely for play.
“They’re disgusted with what happened to that hotel and nobody, nobody condones what happened there,” Thomas said of local sentiment. “You’ve got to understand the strong links that hotel has got with the community there and everybody there were completely disheartened and gutted when they heard it had burnt down.”
“The inn is full. When you’re trying to solve a problem by creating more problems it really doesn’t make sense,” he continued. “Like what we have now in this country at the moment, we have a situation here where we are bringing more and more people in here, we have no place for them to stay, we’re putting them into hotels, we’re putting them into B&Bs, we’re putting them into rooms in houses. That is not proper accommodation for people. It’s actually causing a lot of upset in a lot of communities. We really have to start realizing that the inn is full.”
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“It’s not my responsibility. It’s not the responsibility of the community in Rosscahill,” he added of where the 70 migrants will go now. “I don’t know where they’re going to go because I don’t think there was any place for them to go in the first place. Why were they brought in here with the false hope that they were going to be accommodated?”
Meanwhile, Varadkar claimed that most Irish people “empathize with those fleeing truly terrible circumstances and recognize the benefits that legal migration, in general, brings to Ireland.”
“The people carrying out these crimes are a very small minority,” the prime minister said.
Acknowledging Ireland was “dealing with a major step-change in the numbers arriving here, seeking protection,” Varadkar claimed the recent influx of migrants “is driven by war, poverty, climate change and human rights abuses in their home countries.”
“I want to assure people we have a rules-based system and are processing applications in record time,” he said. “All asylum-seekers are registered, fingerprinted, checked against watch lists, and the circumstances surrounding their request for asylum are examined thoroughly. We aim to treat them with dignity and respect while their applications are considered.”
“I hope that as we continue through the winter, we can continue to treat those arriving here with the basic dignity and decency we would want for our own,” the prime minister said.
On Monday, Galway County Councillors also approved a motion affirming support for the rights of “International Protection Applicants” to seek asylum in Ireland, while also promising to improve communication regarding resettlement efforts.
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The hotel fire comes weeks after Dublin saw a night of rioting on Nov. 23 in response to the stabbing of a woman and three children in a knife attack outside a primary school in the city center. That attack was allegedly committed by an Algerian immigrant who had been living in the country for decades and at some point became a naturalized citizen, according to local reports.
In the wake of the riots, authorities placed blame on the “far-right” radicalized through social media, and the Irish government began pushing an anti-hate speech law largely condemned by critics as an affront to free speech and as possibly going as far as criminalizing the possession of memes against mass migration or otherwise deemed politically offensive.