Shocking images show ‘inappropriate’ tents erected for refugees in Mullingar barracks
‘We have major concerns for our community groups here and for the wider community’
These photographs show how a column of tents have been erected to house refugees on the grounds of Columb Barracks in Mullingar.
The tents have been placed on the site of the former barracks in the Westmeath town in recent weeks.
However, the head of one local community group has described the decision as being like a “concentration camp”.
The chairperson of the Columb Barracks Restoration and Regeneration Committee (CBRRC) in the town, Helen Donnelly, said that housing refugees in the barracks is “entirely inappropriate”.
Plans to use the former army barracks to house 120 asylum seekers in temporary tented accommodation has already led to local protests with one recent demonstration bringing 300 people out onto the streets.
The CBRRC, which is an umbrella group that assists more than 30 voluntary and community organisations that already use the facilities at the barracks, claimed there had been no consultation with them or their members.
Since its closure in 2012, the 25-acre barracks in the centre of the Westmeath town has been used by various community groups, who voiced their concerns regarding the disruption this may cause to their activities.
“The tents are all there now, and there is water and electricity and toilets connected, as far as we can tell,” Ms Donnelly said. “We understand that the refugees are due to move in next week.
“We have major concerns for our community groups here and for the wider community,” she added.
“But we also have major concerns for the people who are going to be housed in a concentration camp type of environment. It's absolutely not appropriate.”
Since its official closure as an Irish Defence Forces base in 2012, Columb Barracks has been a home for groups that assist those with mental health issues and vulnerable youth among many others.
In a previous statement the Columb Barracks Restoration and Regeneration Committee (CBRRC) voiced concern about what it sees as "the lack of community consultation with the people of Mullingar" about the erection of tented accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers in the barracks courtyard.
“There was no consultation with more than 30 voluntary and self-help groups that have occupied the barracks for the last ten years, Ms Donnelly added.
“We’ve been told nothing. We have no information about how this operation will be managed.”
Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy assured locals there will be no disruption to community activities taking place at the facility.
“The refugee accommodation area will be fenced off, and a professional facility management company will operate the site on the behalf of the Department of Integration,” he told the Irish Times.
He added that while 120 males will stay in tented accommodation for an estimated period of eight weeks, the circumstances would change once Portacabins were installed.
“Portacabins will not be used to house single males. At peak capacity the Portacabins will house approximately 200 family members total,” Mr Troy added.
In a previous statement, the Department of Integration said 15 tents will be erected “for a limited period” of up to eight weeks to accommodate asylum applicants at Columb Barracks.
It plans to use the site “for a maximum of 12 months”.
The department spokesperson was quoted as saying: “The intention is that no person should have to stay at Columb Barracks for more than three weeks before being moved on to more suitable accommodation.
“This is in response to the current challenge whereby adult international protection applicants are not offered accommodation due to lack of availability.”
The plan, aided by the Department of Defence, is for both Ukrainian and other international refugees to be housed at the facility.
While the tents are in use, the department will procure and install Portacabins for more medium-term use, the department said.
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