By Gordon Deegan
A 30% surge in asylum seeker applications here last year has resulted in the State moving to open “as a matter of urgency” a new direct provision centre in Lisdoonvarna in north Clare.
The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) has written to Clare’s Oireachtas members to confirm that the new centre at the King Thomond Hotel outside Lisdoonvarna will open on March 5.
The new centre will have the capacity to accommodate 115 asylum seekers. RIA officials are to meet with local representatives in Lisdoonvarna today to answer questions over the move.
The renewed pressure on the system follows the 30% surge in applications by asylum seekers last year with 2,927 received - up from 2,244 received in 2016.
The new figures provided by the Dept of Justice show that the largest cohort of asylum seekers were from war-torn Syria accounting for 545 or 18.6% of the total
The numbers of Syrians seeking asylum here last year was more than double the 244 Syrians to seek asylum here in 2016.
The RIA is charged with operating the direct provision system and in his letter, Principal Officer at the RIA, Eugene Banks “there are some 5,200 asylum seekers living in 34 accommodation centres around the country. Our existing accommodation centres are full across the country, leaving very little bed capacity for new asylum seekers coming to Ireland”.
He said: “As a consequence, RIA is having to contract additional capacity to meet the demand for accommodation for asylum seekers.
Mr Banks said: “In view of the pressure on space currently within our existing accommodation services, the new centre needs to be opened as a matter of urgency.”
In his letter, Mr Banks said: “The centre will provide essential accommodation and shelter to asylum seekers. It is anticipated that it will also generate employment and business opportunities in the locality.”
The move to enter the one-year deal with the owners of the King Thomond hotel, James White and Co Ltd, follows the RIA seeking expressions of interest from property owners to accommodate asylum seekers last month.
The company is headed up by Marcus White and it also operates the Hydro Hotel in Lisdoonvarna.
A spokesman for the Dept of Justice said yesterday that a number of premises were offered to the Dept as a result of the call for interest and all offers were assessed.
The asylum seeker figures for 2017 show that the second highest number of applications was from Georgia - 302 (10.3%), Albania - 282 (9.6%), Zimbabwe 262 (9%) and Pakistan 200 (6.8%).
In his letter to the Oireachtas members, Mr Banks stated: “I appreciate that the opening of the centre will be a matter of local interest. Your assistance is important in enabling RIA to explain to local groups and stakeholders the reason why the centre is being opened and to set out any possible implications for the local area.”