Roscommon People Editor PAUL HEALY, who grew up in Rooskey, reflects on a tense saga…and argues that converting the local hotel into an asylum centre would be a retrograde development for the village…
The mythical bus service
The speakers at Sunday’s anti-racism rally spoke while standing under a useless symbol of bygone days…a Bus Éireann sign which gives the false impression that useful public services are alive and well in Rooskey.
One might ask many questions when reflecting on Rooskey’s big issue, one of which might be: If 80 asylum seekers come to be based in Rooskey, just how will they manage to travel without public transport?
For starters, they can forget about getting a bus…
‘Nobody knows what’s happening’
This is not a straightforward saga. Just now, the Rooskey issue is all over the place, ‘up in the air’. Many questions, so few answers. Who set fire to the hotel? Will ‘Paradub’ still buy the hotel? Will the refugee project proceed? Or will a hotel re-emerge? What’s really going on? What next?
Of course the ‘R’ word (no, not ‘Rooskey’) is being bandied about. In this emotive debate, there is little heed on nuance. If you aren’t in favour of 80 asylum seekers being effectively abandoned in a hotel in a small village, you’re at risk of being branded with the ‘R’ word. No wonder most people are keeping their heads down and saying little or nothing. Those who are engaging in ‘the debate’ include both moderates and extremists. There are agendas, visible and hidden. There is confusion and suspicion. Modern-day battle/‘debate’ is often waged on social media platforms; in that arena, some of the exchanges are vicious. There are ‘elements’ within society which are using the ‘Rooskey issue’ in order to pursue their ‘bigger picture’ agendas. It ought to be said too that nobody has a monopoly on what’s right or wrong here.
Two interlinked issues
A famous local building’s future is at stake. There is much more at stake too. Maybe the village’s economic future is linked to the fate of this building.
It used to be called ‘The Beeches’. That’s when there was a huge old pub/B&B on the site, more than forty years ago. That name? There were beech trees nearby. Eventually the business there closed and the building fell into ruins. Many years later, a hotel was built there. Boom-time Rooskey (already thriving) just got boomier. That was then.
There were great times there, in the ‘80s, ‘90s and into the 21st century. A bustling hotel…food, drink, music, dancing, a community interacting, good times. Then the recession rattled the hotel…and it was probably the bypass that finished it off. But it was purchased by a Mr. James Kiernan, and suddenly there was hope. And month on month, year on year, we fed off rumours that the hotel’s comeback was imminent. And Rooskey waited, hopes high. But the years went by, and the blinds on those windows never rose.
It is fair to say, I think, that two issues are inextricably interlinked: the merits of housing 80 asylum seekers in a rural village, and the separate yet related question of whether or not a once-functioning hotel can be re-opened as part of efforts to revitalise a struggling tourism area.
Not what Rooskey needs?
A couple of years ago, the rumours (about asylum seekers being based there) began. Then the rumours seemed to go away. About a year ago, a company called Paradub raised hopes of restoring the dormant premises as a hotel. Then, the news that rocked Rooskey: the Department of Justice was doing a deal, and the Shannon Key West Hotel was earmarked as an asylum centre. The locals had not been consulted with.
I’ve observed the ‘debate’. I’ve come to a view. Yes, I am firmly in support of the hotel re-opening as a hotel. No, I am not anti-asylum seeker. I think we should help asylum seekers, many of whom have suffered horrendously in their native countries. But, on balance, I am opposed to the Shannon Key West Hotel being used as an asylum centre.
Why? Because it’s a bad proposal, one that reflects the arrogance of our ‘political masters’. It’s a plan that’s not thought through. The ‘esablishment’ hadn’t the courtesy to consult with locals. And besides, I fear that if the hotel is chosen for this purpose, it may never again function as a tourism amenity. And it’s the latter that Rooskey needs.
So I think that locating 80 asylum seekers in the Shannon Key West Hotel would be a retrograde step for Rooskey, in fact a potentially disastrous error. Disastrous, that is, for Rooskey’s already perilous economic outlook.
The divisions and tensions this proposal is creating could have been minimised. Much of the blame for this mess lies squarely at the feet of recent governments, which in my view have done little more than pay lip service to the refugees’ issue, while being utterly apathetic about the decline of once-great villages like Rooskey. Successive governments are hiding behind a failed direct provision policy. Worse, when they are tackled about the choice of venues and the lack of communication, they seek to wriggle free of culpability by saying that property owners are responding to calls for ‘expressions of interest’. Poor Department of Justice! Some cute buck down the country just thrust details of another vacant premises on their desk, and what else could the officials do but sign up?
As if, were the political will there, a fairer and more sensible system could not operate. Give us a break!
The one thing direct provision isn’t, is ‘direct’. Our arrogant politicians have unforgivably allowed a direct provision farce to continue, while showing no willingness to fast-track the process. Asylum seekers are left languishing in direct provision centres for months on end – in some cases years – with no proper access to education and health services, and no opportunity at all to enter the workforce.
Such centres have not unreasonably been compared to prisons. That scores of people are housed for unacceptably long periods in such close quarters – with hope and opportunity denied – is a damning indictment of our approach.
What’s really hard to justify if this pattern of choosing small towns/villages as locations for large groups of asylum seekers, often when there are inadequate facilities, and usually with no proper consultation. It’s no wonder some people believe the Government is dumping the ‘asylum seekers problem’ on rural Ireland.
Towns and villages that self-evidently are not equipped to cope with an influx of 80 or so asylum seekers ‘in one go’ are still selected to do so. Invariably, there is little or no communication with the community. There is no regard for the blindingly obvious fact that endeavouring to subsume a large number of people into a small area in one fell swoop is daft, unfair and pretty much unworkable.
Unfair on whom? On the host town/village, and on the asylum seekers.
In the case of Rooskey, the 80 new villagers will be joining a community which is already shorn of vital services. That bus sign is now bogus; there is no bus service. The school and medical services cannot suddenly expand to meet the new needs. Sporting/leisure facilities cannot miraculously increase. Rooskey is not equipped for this. It can perhaps be ‘made’ work, but it’s been a shoddy process. It’s a Government, a system, being unfair to rural Ireland, creating challenges in a village that has been crying out for some positive economic support.
Personally, I think we should 100% embrace new cultures. I totally, 100%, agree that new cultures can enhance our society. But is it fair on a small Irish village, or on the arriving asylum seekers, to merge different cultures so swiftly, and on such a scale?
Rooskey has always welcomed foreign nationalities. These are not idle words. It’s fact. People from numerous countries have made Rooskey their home, and they are as local now as any home-grown locals. But is it not asking a lot of a small community to absorb 80 people with a different cultural background, many of whom presumably won’t be fluent in English, into its community in one step – without any proper consultation or preparation?
Calling all cities…
So yes, I think locating 80 asylum seekers in a small rural village is unfair and wrong. I say that with the interests of both small villages and asylum seekers at heart. The real story here is the brazenness of the political elite. Why is this happening in the way that it is?
The alternative (and logical) approach would be for the Government to concentrate accommodation of asylum seekers in urban areas, where facilities are greater and where integration would be easier.
And to process the direct provision system faster.
Rural Ireland, Rooskey included, could still play its part. Why not locate a small number of asylum seekers in villages like, and including, Rooskey? Try that, Charlie Flanagan, and then sit back and observe the absence of opposition and the warmth and sincerity of the welcome. But no, Charlie & Co. prefer their sweeping, all-embracing lip service-inspired policy of dumping this ‘problem’ en masse on tiny rural areas.
Meanwhile, back to tourism…
It was The Beeches, it was a hotel, it became vacant, then this. Can the past be revisited? I believe that choosing the building for asylum seekers at the expense of the prospect of it returning as a hotel risks setting the development of the village back many years.
‘Paradub’ has said its intention is to proceed with purchasing the hotel and that the company wants to open it as a hotel. Rooskey is a tourism village, always has been. It’s a haven on the Shannon! Tourist-related facilities are what’s needed. Shannon-based development is what’s needed. An ambitious project, such as restoration of the hotel, is urgently needed in a village that has been depressed by several setbacks over the past couple of decades. If the hotel becomes an asylum accommodation centre there may be no turning back. This may be a turning point in the history of this great village.
What happens next?
If the asylum seekers’ project proceeds, I confidently predict that the refugees will get a very friendly welcome, as in Ballaghaderreen. Generosity of spirit will kick in, the hand of friendship will be extended. I don’t for a moment agree with people who in some way fear immigration. That is not what this is about. This is about a flawed direct provision policy, and about the linked apathy of the political establishment in regard to rural villages like Rooskey. Direct provision? Direct derision. And this is about Rooskey’s potential shining asset –the hotel being used for a purpose that is not compatible with what a struggling area needs.
Rooskey needs to be developed, not treated with disdain. Rooskey has been fighting back…since the factory fire, the bypass, the decline of the fishing, and the recession. It’s a fantastic village, a brilliant community. I don’t believe that this project, on this scale and in this ill-prepared way, is the right fit for the village now.