The planned transformation of a former hotel in Lismore into a direct provision centre has sparked anger in the community, with locals criticising the lack of consultation from Government.
The change of use of the former Lismore House Hotel, a protected heritage building, led to almost 300 people taking to the streets in protest in recent days.
Speculation that the first 67 of an anticipated 117 asylum seekers were due to arrive yesterday proved to be misleading, as builders continued to carry out works behind scaffolding, closed doors, and the shuttered windows.
Just up the street, in the Classroom Bar, proprietor Gary McInerney said: “Nobody is against people coming here from terrible situations across the world.
“We’re not saying ‘not Lismore’. We are saying ‘not this hotel’.
“Bringing 117 people here at once equates to putting 15,000 people suddenly into Waterford City. And all without prior notice or consultation.”
Mr McInerney said he echoes the thoughts of many townspeople, accusing the Government of operating a “smoke and mirrors” approach.
“Suddenly, that stopped and now we see that what work is being done is for a completely different purpose.”
Mr McInerney says the town’s prominent features, such as the castle, the Millennium Park, the Heritage Centre, and the monument, have been diminished as attractions since the hotel’s closure in 2016.
“Without the hotel, there is no industry — everything is on a lifeline," he said.
In December 2021, MCHT, a limited company with an address in Killarney, submitted a planning application to construct an extension and for a “change of use of nightclub to cafe/retail space”.
Waterford Council subsequently sought further information and when that was not forthcoming, deemed the application as withdrawn on January 18.
According to local planner, Pat Gibney, recent emergency legislation permits material changes to direct provision centres for an array of buildings, but “with the exception of protected structures”.
Mr Gibney said structural changes to the building are already evident and if the Government places asylum seekers in the hotel, “it will be breaching its own planning laws”.
Earlier in the day, Waterford Green Party TD Marc Ó Cathasaigh told WLR radio that a “huge strain on the system” contributed to the Government’s failure to consult with Lismore locals in advance of announcing the direct provision accommodation.
Mr Ó Cathasaigh equated the pressure on the country to provide international protection to arrivals to providing accommodation for everyone in a city the size of Galway.
He said a direct provision centre in Lismore was now a “fait accompli” and regardless of all other aspects, “67 very vulnerable women and children” would shortly be arriving “in a very traumatised state”.
He said: “In good conscience, I cannot stand over a situation where a hotel stands empty while people are made homeless.”
The TD said the new arrivals “deserved to be welcomed” and he was sure that in due course the children would “integrate into local schools, the GAA, partake in art competitions, and become part of the fabric of our community”.