A suspected arson attack on an Inishowen hotel just weeks before it was due to house asylum seekers under Direct Provision, has been branded ‘hateful and cowardly.’
The attack, in the early hours of Sunday, which left one man injured, is expected to impact on the planned resettlement of the first group of around 30 people at the Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville,which was expected in early December. In total, around 100 asylum seekers are expected to be relocated in the hotel.
As Gardai appeal for information about the fire, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice & Equality told the Journal: “Until a full assessment of the damage has been carried out, the department won’t be able to decide on the impact of any delay which may arise from this incident. Notwithstanding this, we will continue to source accommodation, in line with our legal and humanitarian commitments, for those seeking international protection in Ireland.”
He added: “A full investigation is underway to determine the cause of the events that took place there and the level of any damage caused. Following that review, matters will be re-assessed as necessary.
“ We remain committed to working with the local community to ensure that the best possible support is provided to those seeking international protection.”
Fáilte Inishowen and Inishowen Together, meanwhile, have described how the local community awoke on Sunday to the “dark, alarming news.”
In a hard-hitting statement, the groups said: “A family was in there, in their beds – perhaps whoever sent fire through the windows did not think of that. Whatever it was that the perpetrator or perpetrators thought they were achieving, they have failed. A hateful and cowardly act in the dark was resoundingly answered in the much brighter hours that followed in Moville, by the hundreds of people who gathered at our community meeting to affirm support, solidarity and welcome for the asylum seekers who will be arriving in the coming weeks.”
The meeting on Sunday, which packed out the Methodist Hall, was organised to illuminate the realities of the Direct Provision system and to offer ideas and advice on how the community can prepare in order “to do our best by the new Moville residents,” the groups said.
Keynote speakers from Dublin included activist Lucky Khambule of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland and artist and researcher, Vukasin Nedeljkovic of Asylum Archive, both of whom spoke of the challenging experience they encountered firsthand as asylum seekers in the system and the simple acts of kindness they also encountered.
Contributions also came from local clergy – Methodist Minister, Rev. Alison Gallagher and Catholic priest Fr. Pat O’Hagan PP – who expressed solidarity with the refugees, and pledged their time, space and help.
Several Gardai attended, and Sergeant Goretti Sheridan spoke to assure the people of Moville that the force was doing its level best to get to the bottom of the incident.
Speakers from Fáilte Inishowen and Inishowen Together included Tracy Cullen-Sheehan, Caroline Maguire; Siobhán Shiels and Therese McKenna.
Many people spoke about how they would like their organisations to contribute to welcoming the asylum seekers to Moville. These included the local librarian, staff from local schools, the Inishowen Development Partnership, the Moville and District Family Resource Centre, Moville Men’s Shed, mental health advocates, among many others.
Politicians and activists in attendance who vouched their warm support included Thomas Pringle TD; civil rights campaigners Eamon McCann and Goretti Horgan; and local Councillor Martin Farren.
A significant number of supporters had travelled from Derry – with organisations such as Derry Well Woman committing its input and expertise; and Eamon McCann noting, amid Brexit talks, that there is already a hard border for refugees in Ireland and that those arriving in Moville may not visit or even travel through the North.
At the end of the meeting, more than 50 people queued to give their contact details and volunteer their time and individual talents to help in welcoming the new residents.
“The strength of feeling and warmth in the room was incredible. The atmosphere was respectful and hopeful. The dark and alarming act that happened hours before, has galvanised the Moville community to show what we are really made of; that this is a beautiful town of compassion and openness,” the organisers said.
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Gardaí in Buncrana have said they are investigating “all circumstances” surrounding the fire which occurred at the hotel on Foyle Street on Sunday morning at around 4.30am.
A spokesman confirmed: “One man in his 50s was taken to Letterkenny Hospital for treatment and there has been extensive damage to the premises.
“Gardaí are appealing for witnesses, anyone with information or anyone who was in the area that may have seen suspicious activity on Foyle Street, Moville, Co. Donegal prior or after the fire to contact Buncrana Garda Station on (074) 9320540 the Garda Confidential Line or any Garda Station.”
Meanwhile, local Councillor Martin Farren said: “I condemn completely what has happened here in relation to Caiseal Mara Hotel in the early hours of Sunday morning.
“This is not a true reflection of the town and the people that live here.
“Thankfully there were no fatalities and my understanding is there was one person in the hotel at the time and that he has made a full recovery.
“I want to thank the local Fire Brigade in Moville for acting as swiftly as they did in bringing things under control.”
Colr. Farren said he understood that the fire was largely contained in the reception area, but that this was extensively damaged in the blaze.
“Anyone who has information should get in touch with the Gardai,” he said.
Sinn Féin Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, meanwhile, has condemned those behind the arson attack.
Senator Mac Lochlainn said: “Arson attacks, threats or racism have no place in Donegal. I call on the person or persons responsible for this arson attack and the threats to the family who own the hotel to stop their actions. They do not speak for the people in Moville or in Donegal.
“While many people in Moville are concerned about the absence of any consultation or preparation for the planned Direct Provision Centre at the hotel that will house around 100 asylum seekers, their concerns are not racist nor, indeed, unreasonable. I was present at the packed public meeting in Moville just over a week ago and the vast majority of speakers who had concerns were measured and genuine about the issues that they raised in relation to additional resources for local health services, schools and community amenities.
“The vast, vast majority of people in Moville and Donegal reject racism or intimidation,” he maintained.