Sport Ireland sought assurances that new housing would be available for refugees who they accommodated at the National Indoor Arena so that the organisation would not be portrayed as “leaving them with no roof over their heads” when the facility was no longer available.
In correspondence with the Department of Children and Equality, Sport Ireland’s CEO Dr Una May said they were happy to make the Dublin venue available for six weeks to help with a dire shortage of accommodation.
However, Sport Ireland said they would have to have the indoor arena back by mid-October for “its intended sporting purpose” with a series of events already confirmed.
In a letter to the department in late September, Dr May wrote: “I am also anxious to ensure that in advance of the agreed timeframe, a suitable alternative accommodation is in place for the current group of refugees such that there is no suggestion publicly that Sport Ireland will be responsible for abandoning these people and leaving them with no roof over their heads.”
Ms May said her organisation had already been the subject of negative commentary due to delays in getting the indoor arena opened for emergency accommodation, which had nothing to do with them.
Dr May said these delays had been caused at the department’s end rather than by them and sought reassurance there would be no repeat when the refugees would have to leave the Abbotstown campus.
In discussions with the department, senior Sport Ireland officials said they understood that “speed is of the essence” in having the arena available.
However, the officials said there were multiple issues that needed to be resolved first, especially around communicating with their staff, athletes, and the thousands of children who visit the campus every week.
An email said: “We are particularly concerned around the perception of having two hundred males on site adjacent to training facilities for young children and our responsibility to ensure their safety is maintained at all times.”
The message explained that corridors and doors needed to be partitioned with curtains, drapes, or blackout screens erected along glass doors and walls.
In other emails, senior officials said it was clear from discussions that the Department of Equality would have liked to use the indoor arena for a longer period had it been available.
One message added: “The real issues will be: the location of the feeding area, ensuring that it is kept private from journalists and cameras and members of the public, and, the investment required for a short six-week period.”
Sport Ireland also suggested a small house on their campus could be suitable for use during the emergency. It had previously been rejected for accommodation because it was too far from any shops. However, an email said: “It may be worth reconsidering given the current dire situation.”
Briefing documents explained how the indoor arena at Abbotstown would be better suited to single people because of its layout, with the department also having a preference for single-gender accommodation.
There was also confusion over the use of partitions with Sport Ireland using crowd control screens to block off the “view of the arena from the public”.
An email said: “These are not suitable while the facility is being used for refugee accommodation as it will not deter people from accessing areas of the building that we need exclusive use of for our own staff.”
In a message to staff, Sport Ireland said the people being accommodated on site would be advised of “strict rules and guidelines” for living on campus.
In a statement, a spokesman for Sport Ireland said: “[We were] eager and happy to help in Ireland’s response to supporting refugees arriving in Ireland and as part of this effort the National Indoor Arena on the Sport Ireland Campus was made available for six weeks as emergency accommodation.
“Sport Ireland sought assurance that those refugees housed in the National Indoor Arena would be moved to more suitable accommodation once they left. We are happy that we received assurance that this would be the case.
“Sport Ireland is keen to put on the record our appreciation of the exemplary behaviour of all those who stayed at the National Indoor Arena during this period.”