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Achill hotelier being paid despite ongoing protest

News

PASSING TIME  Protestors sitting in a container outside the Achill Head Hotel last Wednesday.  Pic: Conor McKeown

Edwin McGreal

The owner of the Achill Head Hotel is being paid by the State for use of the property as an emergency Direct Provision centre despite the fact that no asylum seekers have been housed there.
A total of 38 asylum seekers were due to arrive at the hotel at the beginning of last month for a three month contract. However, the night before the planned arrival, the Department of Justice issued a statement saying they would not go ahead with bringing asylum seekers to the hotel due to an ‘ongoing protest’.
Today (Tuesday) marks the start of the seventh week of continuous, round the clock protests by locals at the Achill Head Hotel.
As of yet, no asylum seekers have arrived. Thirteen women were due to arrive on Friday, November 1, followed by 25 people, consisting of family groups, the following week.
It has since emerged that the owner of the hotel is still being paid, even though the hotel is not being used as an emergency centre.
Speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality last month, Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Aidan O’Driscoll confirmed the Department are paying for services in Achill that are not currently being used. The news emerged in The Irish Times on Saturday.
“We have to pay as we have a signed contract,” he said.
The Department of Justice would not reveal to The Mayo News how much was being paid per head per night at the Achill Head Hotel. However, a Department spending review of Direct Provision revealed that ‘in the context of a housing crisis and a healthy tourism sector, the prices of obtaining such [emergency] accommodation has proved very costly, averaging approximately €100 per person per night.
Were the average nightly cost be paid for the Achill Head Hotel, the three month total cost based on 38 people per night would be €349,600.
In the same exchange before the Joint Oireachtas Committee, Mr O’Driscoll said he regretted some of the terminology used by the Department and also said the Department hoped they would be ‘able to deal with the fears people have’.
“I regret we ever used the term ‘emergency accommodation’. What the Department has done on Achill Island is book hotel rooms for people to stay in. While we do not want people to stay in hotel rooms and we want to move away from that, in the short term we needed to book hotel rooms. It is a hotel that is normally occupied by people and we want to put people in the rooms,” he said
“I hope we will be able to deal with the fears people have. Even if they do not have substantive foundation, I hope we can nonetheless deal with them and move on, getting people into the hotel without them feeling any sense of fear because of what is happening,” he said.
Locals in the Pollagh Community Group have criticised the Department for not engaging directly with them since they met with them in Achill on Wednesday, October 30.
The group have criticised the lack of consultation and also argue the hotel and the area is not a suitable location.