Local people who have protested against plans to turn the old Presentation Convent in Listowel into a migrant centre, say that they want a “guarantee” it will not become a direct provision centre after Kerry County Council said it was ‘freezing’ the provision of accommodation to refugees.
Further, they say that the County Council only has a remit when dealing with public buildings – and that the Department of Integration is free to engage with privately-owned buildings.
“The safety of the people of Listowel is paramount for us, especially women and children,” a spokeswoman told Gript. “We’re continuing to protest until we get a guarantee the Convent is not becoming a centre for unvetted migrants, as we’re seeing elsewhere without any consultation with the local people.”
Last week, The Kerryman reported that:
“Kerry County Council will not be providing any further accommodation for Ukrainian refugees until such time as the Government issues national guidelines clearly setting out the role and expectations of local authorities in the area.”
The Kerryman understands that this will impact plans in Listowel to house Ukrainian refugees in the old Presentation Convent. Kerry County Council has been the main securer of accommodation for Ukrainian refugees arriving to Kerry.
Fine Gael Mayor of Listowel Aoife Thornton told The Kerryman on Tuesday afternoon that she been informed by the Chief Executive of the Authority Moira Murrell that this is no longer the case, pending the guidelines.
The matter was communicated to her following her proposal at Council last week – in the wake of the Listowel Convent controversy – for a clear and transparent protocol in relation to any process between the Authority and private accommodation providers.”
County Councils have expressed frustration at the lack of consultation from the Department of Integration, which has also been a source of concern and upset for local communities across the country.
Ms Thornton also told Radio Kerry that ” a lack of transparent procedures were heightening fears in the community” and that the emergency situation had continued for a year now.
She said that guidelines for County Councils were being prepared and that until then further accommodation would not be supplied in the country.
She also said that the strain on County Council resources, and the cost to the local authority, was definitely a factor, adding that staff including engineers in the Council had been moved to working on Ukrainian accommodation.
However, the Kerry Says No group said that they wanted a “guarantee” that the former convent would not become a direct provision centre.
They said that while it had been suggested that the building would only house Ukrainian refugees, they were concerned that the authorities could “direct the transfer of large numbers of adult men to the site once operational”.
A third protest took place in Listowel last weekend, after hundreds of people previously turned out for public meetings and rallies in the Kerry town on the issue.
A local woman told Gript that: “Polish, English, Lithuanian families all with the same concerns joined us, as they have children attending the schools located next to the convent building”.
“The Presentation secondary school is on the grounds as the old convent building and it overlooks the girls’ primary school and playground. You also have the Nano Nagle centre which is a special needs school, and a crèche up to preschool age. Next door you have St Joseph’s hospital, nursing home and day centres for the elderly with dementia,” she said.
She said that doctors and other service providers were already completely stretched, and that local concerns were being ignored.
Listowel: no sign of the protests abating around the country despite the NGOs overtime march in Dublin. We can't house the world. pic.twitter.com/y0T6S7UsVh
— Near to Far (@NeartoFar1) February 21, 2023
Councillor Mike Kennelly also told the Kerryman: “We would welcome Ukrainians with open arms but there is a lot of fear in Listowel until such time as contracts are signed over the use of the Convent as a DP centre. The Direct Provision system doesn’t work and the Convent would be totally unsuitable as such a centre. The fear is of the unvetted and undocumented as part of a DP system there,” he said.
The government is facing an escalation of the migrant and refugee accommodation crisis as hotels in Kerry switch back to tourism for the busy summer season, which will lead to a sudden escalation in the shortage of beds.
Another Kerry town, the famed tourist spot Killarney, is currently being used by the government as a base to accommodate more than 3,000 migrants, including those from the Ukraine.
Before Christmas, the Mayor of Killarney, Cllr Niall Kelleher, said that services were now overwhelmed and “at a tipping point” because of the huge numbers.
In early January, 8 men who were being accommodated with hundreds of other migrants in Hotel Killarney were arrested and charged after a stabbing spree at the direct provision centre.