Locals in the Kildare village of Kill have voiced renewed concerns about the use of a former equestrian centre in the village to house refugees.
It comes as a total of 340 refugees from Ukraine are set to be accommodated there, and are due to move in before the end of next month, according to new reports.
Several locals who spoke to Gript told us they feel the accommodation is far from suitable – describing it as “inhumane” having seen inside the site. In addition, they expressed concern over how the influx of refugees will cause the village’s population to surge by at least 10 per cent, and how this will impact local services and policing.
Residents say they currently have no guarantee that no more refugees will follow.
Locals say they are also worried for their safety ahead of the first move-in date in April, especially seeing as there is no Gardai station in the quiet village.
One local mother we spoke to slammed the plans, which will see refugees living in “enclosed roofed pods with no windows” as “totally inhumane, aside from anything else”.
Back in November, a meeting was held in Kill’s local GAA club, which heard from disenchanted residents who said they had not been consulted about the State’s proposals to house 350 Ukrainian refugees at the Kill International Equestrian Centre. The disused centre is located behind The Stables, a relatively new housing estate placed at the edge of the village.
Residents have voiced concerns that the number of refugees will see the population of the village surge by at least ten per cent at a time when the local Garda station remains shut and doctors’ surgeries and local schools are also under pressure. As of the 2016 census, Kill has a population of 3,348 people, which means its population is set to increase significantly.
Last summer, Kildare County Council offered ten potential sites across the county to be used for housing refugees. In June 2022, it emerged that the former Red House Hotel between Naas and Newbridge was being considered for housing refugees from Ukraine.
The Council identified the huge property on the R445 as a possible location in a submission to Government departments in relation to the provision of accommodation in the county. However, in response, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth informed local representatives that only Ukrainian refugees would be housed in the equestrian centre in Kill.
The department has insisted that the site would only be used in the form of a short-term measure, and that only families and single women would be accommodated there – not single males.
“The centre will be renovated to ensure that accommodation is done in pod style with full catering, security and other wraparound services,” the department said last Autumn, adding:
“This would ensure that resident families could avail of privacy, have access to all required hygiene facilities for adults and for children, and that all meals would be provided.”
However, speaking to Gript, residents in Kill, some of whom demanded to see the site and were brought in, said that the setup is unsatisfactory and unacceptable – describing the plans as “inhumane” and “atrocious”.
One mother I spoke to over the phone yesterday, Mairead (whose name has been changed at her request to protect her privacy) said that residents have been “bullied, intimidated and called far right” for protesting the housing of refugees at the sprawling premises.
But she says concerns felt by the local community are genuine and are motivated by a sense of genuine concern and compassion.
Protests have been ongoing since November at the site, and have been starting as early as 6:30am (when builders arrive) according to Mairead. As many as 60-70 people can be present at one time in protest each morning.
At one stage, protestors from the local community blocked workers from entering the site for a whole week – however Mairead insists there has been a media blackout regarding the scale and determination of opposition to the plans to turn the disused barn into a refugee centre.
After blocking the entrance last Thursday, four protestors were allowed in to see the site by builders, she told us. The accommodation will be managed by a company, Newtownsland (Kill) Ltd., according to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.
The company “has experience in the commercial hospitality sector” according to the department, and it is understood The operator of the facility expects to employ around 50 people as the project continues in phases.
“We stood our ground and they let a few people in to see the ongoing work,” she said. “It’s inhumane aside from anything else – enclosed roof pods with no windows and no natural light; three beds have been crammed into the one room that’s ready. And as you can imagine, it’s an old equestrian centre and it still smells like horses – it’s awful and not fit for people”.
“You have 165 pods in a very small area stacked one on top of the other – it’s awful. They are trying to maximise space at all costs even though it’s a big site. We’re talking about windowless cubes with a door at the front – it’s anything but humane and suitable for women and children,” Mairead said.
She said the fact the pods have been compressed into one small areas has fed into predictions that more refugees will follow after an initial 350 people have been housed there.
“As you can see from the photos, this is a huge site… so why are the pods all squeezed into one small area? There’s 165 pods in one small area and they’ve stacked them one on top of another to squeeze them in even more”.
She also highlighted a lack of privacy afforded to those who will live on the site, making it particularly unsuitable for women and children:
“You also have the issue of a total lack of privacy or dignity for those who the State will have living here. It’s hugely unsuitable housing, with communal showers and cubicles that afford no room for privacy”.
Mairead says the situation is beyond belief, seeing as the “potential for further development of the site is huge”.
Despite having a meeting with Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman on Thursday, community representatives say they feel as though they are not being taken seriously. The Minister said he could not say who and how many refugees were going to be housed in the site when asked, we were told.
When asked how the Gardai have handled the persistent protests, the guards have “worked with” protestors and have been “peaceful and amicable” according to the local source.
‘I’VE ALWAYS FELT SAFE IN KILL’
Aside from the unsuitability of the housing, those we spoke to from the Kill Residents Action Group (formed after the proposals emerged) said that they also have concern for their safety. Despite a pledge from the State that only women and children will be housed in Kill, there is a sense of distrust. Locals say they have watched on as single, all male refugees have been placed in other areas of the country – including in the Columb Barracks in Mullingar, which has also been the centre of intense protests.
“I am worried for our safety, I’ve always felt safe in Kill and I’ve always felt that my kids, nieces and nephews would be safe in Kill, but not if this goes ahead. We are only down the road from Citywest. Although very little is leaked out of there due to media silence, we have seen what’s going on there with our own eyes. Kill doesn’t even have a garda station,” Mairead, who grew up in Kill, said.
“The government has consistently lied and withheld info. There are huge numbers of unvetted males coming to Ireland. The government has nowhere to put them and with the hotels emptying we are so worried. For voicing legitimate concerns, we’ve been bullied, intimidated and called “far right”.
Another local told us it would be “unfair” for Kill to be expected to accept hundreds of extra people, and that if the plan goes ahead, the population will see a rapid increase.
“In May 2022 the Government published guidelines in relation to the provision of temporary accommodation for persons fleeing the war in Ukraine. The published guidelines recommended that the population of a town **should not be increased by more than 5% so as not to disproportionately alter the balance of established communities.*
“But 5% of Kill is approx 165 persons. It is unfair for Kill to be expected to accept c. 340 persons, now in this phase. Minister O’Gorman previously told representatives of the People of Kill that 165 people would be housed in Kill – Now that has been increased to 340”.
Another female resident said: “The village is too small. Schools and doctors are full to capacity. The equestrian centre is not suitable for any human beings. We have genuine fears given events elsewhere.
“No consultation, no agreement – work began before it was granted!” she added.
Another resident said that the government should take “responsibility” for the chaos and potential harm being inflicted on the village.
“I am afraid this village now needs to wake up to what is coming down the tracks. Forget about plants and zebra crossings. I want a 24 hour Garda station”.
‘PRETENCE THAT THEY ARE HELPING PEOPLE’
Another resident said the project exposes the cynicism of the Government – and said he felt that those behind the refugee centre were guilty of “creaming taxpayers”.
“I think one of the main points should be that taxpayers are going to be paying the owner of the equestrian centre an extortionate amount of money for the use of the facility. They also have the catering contract for it as well so will be making even more from that – so, really, the more people in there, the better.
“It sickens me that anyone can make this kind of money on the pretence that they are helping people,” the resident said.
Another member of the community, who regularly attends the protests, said they don’t want to see a refugee camp anywhere in the village.
“Personally I’m not opposed to this just because the facilities aren’t fit for purpose, if they decide to throw another 5 million into it to make it fit for purpose, I’ll still be opposed to it,” the local, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.
“The concern is any number of unvetted young males from countries where human rights are massive issues, especially women’s, gays and children’s rights. I don’t want a refugee camp anywhere in Kill. I want to see emergency provisions put in place for the growing number of Irish homeless.
“We’ve all had the luxury of a safe crimeless village for a very long time and for me that’s what’s really under threat. With the amenities any population increase is unsubstantiated. These centres have been tried and tested in other rural communities around Ireland and failed in every case. Kill has this information in advance which the other communities didn’t”.
A briefing document recently released by Minister O’Gorman said that the “ceiling capacity is for 340 people over 165 pod style rooms” at the equestrian centre. The government has said all those moving in will be from Ukraine, and the first rooms will be filled from 24 April.
According to the department, the project will be delivered in phases. Some 114 beds will be available for occupation from 24 April, which will be followed by a further 114 bed spaces on 8 May and the third phase will see another 112 bed spaces made available on 22 May.
According to the document, the contract term for the accommodation totals 12 months from the start date of phase three (22 May). The department has noted “it is impossible to be certain as to how long individual Ukrainians will stay there”.