Following on from yesterday’s briefing on the proposed EPOC at the former Abbeyfield Hotel Michael Fitzmaurice TD says that “opportunities were missed and questions remain to be answered.”
On Sunday night Deputy Fitzmaurice submitted 15 questions to the Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton, regarding the Centre and the process of establishing it at the former Abbeyfield Hotel. A number of queries were addressed at the briefing but Michael Fitzmaurice insists the Department missed an opportunity in designing the tender documents to give the area a guaranteed economic boost. “I was disappointed to be informed that the company (the owners of the Abbeyfield Hotel) which received the contract is not obliged to source food, goods and services locally. Had the Department had the foresight to include certain clauses in the contract this could have been achieved. The officials who briefed us on Wednesday said they could ask the contracted company to source goods and services locally but they could not compel them to do so” he added.
Deputy Fitzmaurice also expressed frustration at the attempts of some politicians to dress up a community integration grant as a “New Grant for Ballaghaderreen” – “The reality is that this grant, while a welcome initiative, is not uniquely allocated to Ballaghaderreen. It is a grant which any community in the country can apply for, for the purposes of facilitating integration of different ethnic groups into communities. Despite reports from the meeting by others, this was not a win for the locality. It is positive and the department were very honest about what it is but it’s there for the entire country.”
The Roscommon-Galway TD explained that there were still issues which the Department had to assess such as the schooling needs of the children which are coming. “The Department won’t know until the refugees arrive and are assessed, but of the 82 coming in the first cohort, 37 are children. Those of pre-school age may have their schooling needs attended to in the Centre by way of pre-school being established on (former Abbeyfield Hotel) site, however the intention would be for the older children, where possible, to attend local schools. This all remains to be assessed.”
“We were told at the briefing on Wednesday that the HSE had resources ring-fenced for the arrival of refugees since 2015. I find that hard to believe. It was pointed out that Roscommon currently does not have a child psychologist and consideration must be given to what the young children coming here have been through. The Department noted the situation in this regard and said if a child psychologist was required they would work with the HSE in that regard. I would be of the opinion that the HSE in Roscommon should fast track the recruitment of a child psychologist in any case to ensure that all the children in Roscommon can have their needs catered for locally.
Fitzmaurice noted that the Department intend to liaise with the local community through established democratic channels quoting them as saying ” IRPP policy is to work through established democratic institutions and mechanisms including the local authority, local councillors, members of the Oireachtas, media etc. This is the best way to disseminate accurate information. IRPP staff will also, over a period of time, meet local service providers and individuals seeking to assist.” – noting “Hopefully the Department will be quicker to disseminate information in the future, as the contract was signed in mid-December and the first anyone heard of the decision locally was on January 5th.
“Naturally I am pleased with the fact that engagement going forward will be better than it has been to date, or so we are promised. The meeting with Ballaghaderreen Town Team which is being facilitated through the County Council should be productive, provided everyone approaches the meeting with an open mind, especially the department.”
The Independent TD said he was “not surprised” to have been informed that the decision to locate this centre in Ballaghaderreen was not considered by Cabinet, stating he had been told “No. (the decision was not discussed at Cabinet) The opening of an EROC is entirely an operational matter for the Department of Justice and Equality”.
Michael Fitzmaurice commented “I believe that lessons need to be learned and that in future local communities need to be given more credit. Consultation can avoid negative backlash and sentiment and if done correctly engagement with local communities can be productive and provide an essential contribution to the success of projects of this nature.”
“Basically, the Department wouldn’t reveal the value of the contract which has been awarded as there are more Centres to be opened and that information is considered commercially sensitive. There are no guaranteed benefits to the local community although I suppose we’ll remain optimistic about the potential there is for now. We’ve been told that in the centre in Monesterevan the goods and services were sourced locally and jobs given to locals, I intend to travel there to make sure this is the case. The Department are insisting whatever resources are required will be provided, but that remains to be seen. It will be possible that the numbers in the EROC will grow to over 200 and if that is the case it would be a 10% increase Ballaghaderreen’s population. I hope it’s reflected five fold in the increase in services, because that is the increase that will be required at a minimum.”
Fitzmaurice concluded saying “We’re being told that everything will be fine and that there is nothing to worry about. I just hope that these people who have survived the devastation of war don’t have to face into further hardship when they arrive here in their new home, in which I am sure they will be welcomed. Establishing an EROC may not be new business for the department but I hope they are as prepared as they think they are when they see just how stretched services currently are in this region. I proposed at Wednesday’s briefing that by the end of February that Oireachtas members should meet with all stakeholders to ensure the jigsaw has been put together to ensure services are delivered.”
Read further details of the briefing here.