An investigation is underway after a fire which broke out at a hotel earmarked for accommodation for asylum seekers last night.
Firefighters were called to the scene of the blaze at the former Shannon Key West Hotel in the village of Rooskey on the Roscommon/Leitrim border.
Gardai confirmed they were called to the building at around 8pm and units from the local fire service were also on the scene.
A cause for the fire has not yet been established.
Superintendent Kevin English of Carrick-on Shannon-garda station said they are treating the incident as “suspicious”.
“We’re treating it as a suspicious fire. We have our own technical experts at the scene and we are waiting for their findings to determine how the investigation will progress,” he told Independent.ie.
When asked about reports people were seen deliberately pouring flammable liquid on the premises, he said: “That has not been confirmed. Nobody was seen entering or pouring flammable substances. There was an on-site security guard who raised the alarm after discovering the fire but he did not encounter anybody.
“There is a certain degree of charring around the reception area and extensive smoke damage. Again we are waiting on a full appraisal of that damage.”
Last November it emerged that the hotel – which closed in 2011- was in line to become a reception centre for up to 82 refugees.
Asylum seekers were set to be accommodated at the former hotel as early as this month, but the property is also at the centre of a sale dispute before the High Court.
It was due to be sold to new owners this week.
Gardai have confirmed that a security guard was on the premises when the fire broke out and raised the alarm.
“The hotel had recently contracted with my Department to provide accommodation for 80 asylum seekers who have come to our country to seek protection, many of whom have experienced conflict and trauma and are vulnerable,” Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said on Friday morning.
“The final preparations were being made in the hotel for their arrival. Thankfully, there were no residents in situ when the fire broke out. A security guard who was on the premises was not injured and managed to raise the alarm.
“The investigation into the cause of the fire must now take place and I do not wish to speculate at this point.
“It is also too early to say when the hotel might be ready to accept residents. All of the necessary assessments, certifications and any remedial works required must be carried out before we have a clearer timeframe.”
Local Sinn Fein councillor Seadhna Logan described the incident as “shocking”, saying it’s a “sad state of affairs that a very small minority would rather see a building lying empty than for it to be used to house refugees.”
“Overall I would say the community was quite welcoming to the idea but there was a small minority viewing it negatively,” he told Independent.ie.
“People here are very concerned about the lack of resources and there has been a lot of decline here over the last few years. That hotel had been lying idle for almost a decade.
“People need to take a step back and see how this [refugees moving into the area] could be a positive thing for the area.
“It’s very disappointing but luckily nobody was hurt and the emergency services did their best to minimise the damage.
“It’s a sad day for the Ireland of a thousand welcomes when something like this looks like it was deliberately started.”
Sean McGowan, Cathaoirleach of Leitrim County Council, said “Roosky could have done without this”.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the premises now. There’s quite extensive smoke damage done inside.
“Locals had hoped it was going to reopen as a hotel to put a bit of life back in the community. It has suffered greatly here, we had a serious fire at a meat plant here a number of years ago and we lost upwards of 600 jobs.
“The people here would prefer to see it used as a hotel. They’re very decent people here and no maliciousness, they would welcome asylum seekers but the Department of Justice needs to look at the lack of facilities here.”
Independent councillor for Carrick-on-Shannon Enda Stenson said some of the people in Roosky were concerned about the lack of resources in the area and don’t believe it is suitable to accommodate asylum seekers.
“There’s nothing in the village, there’s no places in the school, what else are those people going to do here,” he said.
“There’s nothing for them here. They’d have to be bussed to Longford or Carrick-on-Shannon.
“The people here would be willing to help and welcome the people but there was no coordination. There’d be nowhere for them to go.
“But the thought that someone would start this fire deliberately is very worrying,” he added.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he condemns the attack if it transpires to be a deliberate act.
“I’m currently in Africa visiting Irish aid projects and haven’t been briefed on this matter. I condemn it if it transpires that the fire was a deliberate act of violence,” he said.
“I am sure a full investigation will now take place. I’m awaiting further information on it.”
Mr Varadkar was speaking following a visit to the Mai-Aini refugee camp in the Tigray region of Ethiopia on the final day of the visit.
During a tour of the camp he met with families who have crossed the border from Eritrea – many of whom want to travel on to Europe in the hope of a better life.
Speaking before news of the fire on Roscommon had reached him Mr Varadkar said that Ireland had been generally welcoming of refugees more so than in many places Europe but said that people who have concerns about migration should not be dismissed.
People do have concerns and dismissing them would be a political mistake he said.
He said migration is a good thing which has benefited Ireland enormously, but said migration needed to be managed.
The Taoiseach also defended Ireland’s record when it comes to addressing the refugee crisis and said Ireland would continue to contribute in three ways: border security, accepting refugees and investing in international aid.
In a separate incident in Donegal last month, a hotel due to house around 100 asylum seekers was targeted in a suspected arson attack.
Gardai are appealing for anyone in the Roosky area between 5.30pm and 7.30pm yesterday evening who may have witnessed anything suspicious around the Shannon Key West area to get in contact with Gardaí on 0719650510.
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