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Controversy over refugee housing in Claremorris


PROPOSED MOTION Cllr Richard Finn.

Motion passed at special meeting but council to seek legal advice

Anton McNulty

TWO councillors opposed to the construction of modular homes to house Ukrainian refugees in Claremorris say they are prepared to step in front of machinery to prevent them going ahead.
A special meeting of Mayo County Council to discuss the proposal to develop 28 modular houses on a site owned by the OPW in the centre of Claremorris lasted for close to two hours on Thursday and heard of widespread opposition amongst councilllors to the development.
The most fervent opposition voices came from the two Claremorris-based councillors, Richard Finn and Tom Connolly, who stated that if the OPW and the Department of Children insist on going ahead with the proposal, it will be met with strong opposition from the people of Claremorris.
“I will tell you one thing here: the people of Claremorris are not going to have that,” said Cllr Finn. “We will go back to the time when some councillors went out here and lay in front of machines and everything else. If it has to be done it will be done, and on top of that the people will be there also. If we cannot have a political resolution to this then people power will take over. We know from the feelings what will happen.”
The Independent councillor said the people of Claremorris were not against helping Ukrainian refugees but he told the meeting that developing 28 modular homes on the Ballyhaunis road site will result in a ‘shanty town’. He outlined a number of vacant homes in both Claremorris and Knock which could be renovated at a cheaper cost which should be used to house the refugees.
“It would be better if the government paid for the refurbishment of privately owned accommodation and publicly owned accommodation rather than this proposal to build shanty towns,” he said.
Fine Gael councillor Tom Connolly said that the people of Claremorris have huge sympathy for the plight of the Ukrainian refugees but there was not enough housing for them and this development should not be ‘foisted’ on the local population. He said any housing which becomes available should be offered to Irish families first.

‘Huge sympathy’
“We have huge sympathy for Ukrainian people but we have to have huge sympathy for the Irish people too. We have an emergency housing crisis in our own country and towns.
“I want it to go out from this meeting that we are not racist and we are sorry for the refugee crisis. We are not saying we won’t accept people, we will, but we will look after our own people first.”
A motion proposed by Cllr Finn and seconded by Cllr Connolly called for Mayo County Council to write to the OPW and the Department of Children expressing their opposition to the development and calling on them to desist with the project. The motion which was agreed by all councillors also called for the council not to co-operate with the various agencies on this development.
The site is owned by the OPW, who originally bought the field to build offices for OPW staff as part of the decentralisation programme which was scrapped by the Government in 2010. The meeting heard that normal planning procedures are not necessary for this type of development and councillors only received documents relating to the project approximately three hours before the meeting started.
This angered a number of councillors who stated during the two hour long meeting that there was a lack of consultation with local elected representatives and residents.
“Not one person in Claremorris has seen the document delivered to him and myself by email this morning. That is the consultation that is being foisted on us and we are not going to accept it. We as councillors are being hoodwinked and people are being hoodwinked,” said Cllr Finn.
The Chairman of the Housing Strategic and Policy Committee, Cllr Patsy O’Brien, said he did not know anything about the proposal to build 28 modular homes in Claremorris.
“There is something terribly wrong. No wonder the ordinary people on the street question the confidence of the local representative.
“We were all elected and I am saying straight away that I did not get any documents. It’s too bad a special meeting had to be called and the CEO [Chief Executive of Mayo County Council] has a lot of explaining to do,” he said.
Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne was also critical of the council management for not informing local councillors of what was happening with the OPW site in Claremorris.
“It is very hard to have confidence in management if they keep us in the dark and not tell us what happens,” he said.

Chief Executive, Kevin Kelly defended the council’s handling of the situation saying that the OPW are responsible for the development and it is unrealistic for the council to have to keep councillors informed.
“We have to be clear what the members’ expectations are in terms of being informed of something we are not doing ourselves. Is it realistic to expect officials of Mayo County Council if they are contacted by a government agency in respect of something and the first thing we would do is go out and tell the members,” he said.
Tom Gilligan, the Director of Services with responsibility for housing, told the meeting that since the start of the war in Ukraine, Mayo has become the home to over 2,000 Ukrainian refugees and the Government is obliged by law to provide accommodation. He added the majority of refugees are in hotels and in pledged accommodation and accommodation for refugees was separate from that of people on the housing list.
“The situation is fluid and we are trying to deal with it as best we can but it is important to note that in relation to housing the council provides on its housing list, is it totally separate in relation to the provision of temporary accommodation for Ukrainian refugees. It is important to note that and we don’t get the two things mixed up,” he said.
In respect to Cllr Finn’s motion, Mr Kelly said that the council may have to take legal advice on whether the council are legally obliged to assist the project if it goes ahead.