WATCH: “Rural Ireland ready to explode” on refugee accommodation relays Carol Nolan

Independent TD, Carol Nolan, has quoted ‘senior Fine Gael sources’ in the Dáil as saying that areas in rural Ireland are ‘ready to explode’ because they are being ‘turned into economic ghettos where tourism is forced out”  – and that hotels are ‘full of refugees wandering around main streets without a penny to spend’.

The Laois Offaly TD said that “only a small percentage of hotel beds currently being utilised by refugees and asylum seekers will revert to the tourism market this year.”

“In fact, data provided to the Irish Mail on Sunday by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, revealed that slightly more than 2,500 hotel beds will be put back into the tourism market in the five months from January until the end of this month. A further 483 rooms will be made available for tourism between now and the end of June due to four hotels ending their contracts,” she said.

“However, as the paper went on to note, the number of refugees and asylum seekers being housed in hotels and B&Bs still exceeds 37,500. This figure is likely to remain constant for the rest of the year, leading to a potential loss of €1 billion in revenue for non-accommodation tourism businesses, many of which are small businesses,” she continued.

She said that that Fáilte Ireland had already highlighted the concerns she was raising and that “The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation also recently stated that Ireland is an outlier in Europe in the depth of its reliance on tourism beds for refugees.”

“This is a clear indication that, in responding to an international crisis, we have created a serious national crisis for small tourism businesses, especially those in rural Ireland that are traditionally reliant on downstream revenue created by a vibrant tourism sector.”

“I also point out that I am not the only one raising these concerns,” she told an Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

“Senior Fine Gael sources who spoke to The Irish Mail on Sunday, which is not The Ditch, also expressed their alarm. One is reported as saying: It’s creating real unease in rural Ireland – rural Ireland is ready to explode. We are being turned into economic ghettos where tourism is forced out of rural Ireland. Dublin’s hotels may be booming, but ours are full of refugees wandering around main streets without a penny to spend.”

“Unless the Taoiseach wants to characterise these senior Fine Gael sources as part of some far-right conspiracy, he will have to deal with the seriousness of this situation,” she said.

“I want to know exactly what is being done to rescue our rural tourism from the effects of the Government’s over-reliance on hotels. I want to know what the Government is doing to take this matter seriously and I do not want to hear the Taoiseach dismissing it because that is not fair to the small businesses in rural Ireland that are suffering because of the action or inaction of the Government.”

She said there was a need for a credible pathway outlined in terms of the mitigation measures that Government Departments can take to reduce the potential loss of €1 billion in revenue from the rural economy.

Leo Varadkar said that it was a “serious issue and one that it is right and valid to raise.”

“There are a lot of tourism towns in the country that are being adversely affected by the fact that we had no alternative but to accommodate so many people fleeing the war in Ukraine and fleeing war in other parts of the world in tourist accommodation,” he said.

“Whether it is Killarney, Westport, towns in north Clare or lots of other parts of the country, particularly down the west coast, while the hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation may be full, the restaurants, bars and attractions will see less custom by virtue of the fact that those beds have been taken up by refugees. We understand that this is a problem and that those businesses will be hurting, and we are looking at ways for how we can help,” he said.

He said that “we should not lose sight of the bigger picture; Europe is at war and terrible things are happening beyond the boundaries of Europe. Nearly 100,000 people have sought refuge in Ireland and as a country and society we have provided them with shelter, food, accommodation, employment and education. That is something I am proud of, quite frankly, and I hope the Deputy will agree that those who are fleeing persecution and war, particularly from Ukraine, are welcome in Ireland.”

In response, Deputy Nolan said: “I understand and we all know there is a war, but the fact of the matter is that Ireland is an outlier in Europe in terms of the reliance on hotel, bed and breakfast and guesthouse beds. We are different. Why are we so different? Why have other countries adopted a more sensible approach and protected their local economies more than we have?”

“That is the fact of the matter. I am by no means setting out this as a division in terms of being a rural-urban issue, but I am a rural Deputy and I see my constituency suffering day in, day out. I see Bord na Móna jobs being lost. Like every other place in Ireland, Offaly and Laois are trying to build up their tourism, and then we see beds not available. When you get down to the facts, every euro spent on accommodation by every tourist or visitor means another €2.50 into that local economy. The paper approved by Fáilte Ireland argued that mitigation measures need to be put in place for businesses that depend on tourism, such as bike hire, boating and cafés. We will see a loss of €1.1 billion in our local economy. That is serious, and that is not being divisive. I am laying out the facts in black and white.”


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