THE restaurant adjacent to Harry’s Hotel in Kinnegad was deserted on Friday morning, business has fallen off a cliff.
‘People are afraid,’ a staff member said.
Friday marks a week since the arrival of up to 150 asylum seekers into the 45 bed hotel next door.
Alleged elements of concerning behaviour from within the hotel sparked local concerns initially.
“They were hanging out the windows, there was shouting and roaring. They were at the windows and there was flashing going on, I saw that myself,” one local worker said.
She didn’t want to be named. Nobody in Kinnegad was willing to be quoted on the record on this, a sensitive topic.
The worker relayed a story of an elderly woman who had arrived home following a walk and found a man standing at her window looking in. The local worker described this lady as ‘terrified,’ but also noted that the lady ‘had to be persuaded’ to make a formal complaint to Gardai.
The local sergeant in Kinnegad does not discuss specific cases.
“Any complaints made have been investigated,” Sergeant Alison McDade said.“We encourage anyone with complaints to report them to us.”
The Garda Press Office said the only incident relating to residents staying at Harry’s Hotel over the past week was an alleged assault of a man in his fifties that occurred on July 4th at 9.45am.
“No serious injuries were reported. A man in his forties was arrested. He has since been charged and appeared before the courts,” the Garda Press Office said.
While Harry’s cafe restarant was quiet except two visitors stopping off on their way to Dublin to catch a flight, business was brisk elsewhere.
One publican said there had been no trouble, while a bar worker at another establishment said he had heard stories but knows of no one directly affected.
“I see them (the hotel residents) walking up and down but they haven’t come in here. I haven’t seen any trouble,” he said.
“The thing for us will be the loss of trade from tourists that would have stayed at the hotel. The Fleadh is on in Mullingar in a couple of weeks and we’d always have spill over from that. Add that to the rise in prices and cost of living generally, which is already affecting business,” he said.
One woman spoke of a teenage female who that was allegedly ‘followed into the ladies toilets’ by a male asylum seeker, but she said this incident had not been reported to Gardai.
“There are men walking around in groups of three or four and it’s intimidating. The elderly people are afraid, they don’t want to walk through town on their own any more,” she said.
There were no children in the town’s playground. The only children playing outdoors on a sunny summer Friday were those taking part in the kids camp on school grounds. There was tension in the air, unusual for a Friday lunchtime in any rural town in Ireland.
One man, not native but resident in the town for 27 years, said he’d heard stories of ‘women being followed’ and ‘trouble’ associated with the new arrivals but he did not know anyone directly affected.
“I’m here for years and there’s never been a problem. If that element exists in that group then round up those responsible and deport them,” he said.
At Harry’s Hotel, the hotel room windows were open with an odd garment or towel hanging here and there. The gates to the side were opened only for delivery trucks coming and going. Next to the gated alleyway is the priest’s house and the parish church, where all was tranquil.
The hotel’s namesake, Harry Dunne, came from a family that owned multiple businesses and properties in the town of Kinnegad. Harry Dunne died in 1951. The last remaining relative resident in the town, Andy Dunne, died in the local nursing home in 2021.
Kinnegad has a population of around 3,000, up from just under 600 in 1997.
It has a Tesco, Aldi, Eurospar, a handful of pubs and cafes, a GAA pitch and a soccer pitch.
Most townspeople agree that discussion online is stoking the flames of a sensitive situation. Most also agree that is it not ideal to house 150 men in a 45 bed hotel in a small town, with no method of integration in place ahead of their arrival.
Labour Councillor Denis Leonard said initial tensions in the town had ‘calmed.’
“It has quietened down considerably because we are getting the people in place to deal with the situation and see what the plan is for this accommodation going forward.
“It all happened very quickly so we are just trying to deal with it as we go,” he said.
There are meetings with representatives of IPAS, the body responsible for International Protection Accommodation Services for those in the asylum process, run by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability and Integration planned for next week
A public meeting is scheduled for the GAA Hall on Monday night but numbers will be limited due to venue size.
The local authority has purchased land for development, with grants in place for a new community hall, a library and a new town park.
“The problem is we don’t have the facilities, in the hotel and in the town to deal with any large influx of people. So we are trying to address that situation.
“There are allegations the guards are dealing with which have been reported and then you have what’s being posted online but there is nothing to substantiate a lot of what is appearing online,” Cllr Leonard said.
The lack of prior notice is the problem, according to Cllr Leonard.
“Everything should go through the local authority and the housing authority in the first instance, to examine what kind of accommodation is suitable or available.
“This was done without prior notice for the local community and the local council, that’s wrong. It was inappropriate and that needs to be looked at,” Cllr Leonard said.