Ukrainian refugees were due to arrive to the Castlesaunderson International Scout Centre near Belturbet last week.

Scout centre to house refugees

Cootehill property being reviewed by Department

As Christmas week approaches, a number of Ukrainian refugees are set to find room at the inn at Castlesaunderson International Scout Centre. It is the latest local property being looked at as the government struggles to accommodate those fleeing the war.

The development comes as the Department of Integration confirmed late yesterday evening to this newspaper that it is also reviewing an offer to accommodate Ukrainian refugees at Cootehill's White Horse Hotel. This is despite a statement a week ago stating that the Cootehill property was not under consideration (see more below).

Meanwhile, the Celt understands that several dozen Ukrainian refugees were due to arrive last week at the Castlesaunderson facility near Belturbet, which in the past was used by the HSE as a Covid testing site. The arrivals were among 750 Ukrainian families sheltering in tents at Stradbally, Co Laois, since early September.

Initially planned for just six weeks post-festival, the government extended the contract with site owner Thomas Cosby in October to use the property until June 2024, and increase the number of people to be accommodated there to 950.

However, last week’s move for refugee families to Cavan never materialised, with a department spokesperson stating they are “unable to give details relating to any specific [accommodation] suppliers while negotiations are ongoing, due to the commercial sensitivity of these negotiations”.

They did however confirm that the department is in currently engaged in “negotiations with Scouting Ireland for the use of Castlesaunderson Scout Centre for accommodation for people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine”.

The centre can provide sleeping accommodation for 66 people with bedrooms upstairs and an 18-bed dorm downstairs. The €3.7 million European-funded Castle Saunderson International Scout Centre was officially opened by President Michael D. Higgins in August 2012.

The 34-acre forested site, including camping grounds suitable for 1,000 people, has been used intermittently by Scouting Ireland since the pandemic hit.

Indoor guests also have full access to toilet and shower facilities, an industrial kitchen, dining hall, and a common room.

In 2021 the HSE secured use of the property, and paid over €14,000 a month to rent it from Scouting Ireland, according to figures released to The Anglo-Celt under the Freedom of Information Act at the time.

The lease on the Castlesaunderson site was originally signed for a nine-month period, with a three-month extension optional. The HSE remained at the site for the remainder of the national testing programme and the Castlesaunderson contract ended in October 2022.

The Celt understands that discussions between the Department of Integration and Scouting Ireland took place in late 2022 when countries across Europe put out an appeal for suitable accommodation providers to come forward.

This never came to fruition, but rumour that the centre was to be used once again came to the fore a year later in October 2023.

A spokesperson for Scouting Ireland, when asked about a proposal to house refugees at the International Scout Centre, responded: “Scouting Ireland is cognisant of its role in Irish society and has in the past supported the HSE during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scouting will continue to work with the Government, should the need arise.”

The spokesperson further stated that Scouting Ireland has “no plans” to sell Castle Saunderson as it remains a “key site” within its network of National Scout Centres.

They also described as “incorrect” rumours that the organisation, which is currently facing more than 50 alleged historic sexual abuse cases and the possibility of paying significant reparations from those, can no longer afford to operate the Cavan centre.

The alleged abuse primarily took place in predecessor bodies, the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and Scout Association of Ireland, which merged to form Scouting Ireland in 2004.

As for the organisation’s plan for the future of the site, the Scouting Ireland spokesperson said they will “continue to develop it and our customer base both inside and outside of Scouting Ireland. We will continue to oversee the implantation of the strategic plan”.

A spokesperson for Cavan County Council said back in October, and reiterated this same response last week, that the local authority is “not aware of any current discussions on the matter” of housing Ukrainian refugees at Castlesaunderson.

Independent Councillor Brendan Fay says he his “shocked but not surprised” that Castlesaunderson is set to house Ukrainian refugees.

The Belturbet representative said he “would have hoped” for more engagement locally on the matter, but stated: “If the decision has been made, and it looks like it has, the most important thing is to make sure that families have access to local services, schools, doctors, and especially transport.”

Cllr Fay continued: “The Department seem to be chasing a ‘bed-led’ approach to the accommodation problem, hoping the rest falls into place sometime after that. It’s not good enough. There needs to be better planning, not just for communities, but for the families themselves.”

White Horse Hotel

The Department of Integration confirmed late yesterday evening that it is reviewing an offer to accommodate Ukrainian refugees at Cootehill's White Horse Hotel.

This was despite an email from the same Department this day last week, Wednesday, December 13, stating: "White Horse Hotel in Cootehill is not currently under consideration at this time."

Pressed by The Anglo-Celt on the plans for this property, as this newspaper understood is was ready and equipped to accommodate refugees, the Department came back via email at 6:46pm yesterday evening (Tuesday) after our print deadline.

It stated that the Department's Ukraine Offers Management Team "are currently reviewing an offer to accommodate Ukrainian BOTPs at the former White Horse Hotel in Cootehill. Further information has been requested from the provider. No further information is available at this time".

The Celt has asked the Department to explain the discrepancy between the two statements and awaits a reply.

Last Sunday, December 17, marked 45 weeks since protests first began in Cootehill over proposed plans to use the former hotel facility to accommodate refugees. They were organised by a group called the Cootehill Concerned Community Group.

By way of Freedom of Information the Celt obtained a set of records, which outline in detail how the hotel proposed to provide ‘full board (three meals per day) for residents or self-catering with groceries provided’.

Residents were also to have access to laundry services, with someone available and contactable to them on a ‘24/7 basis’.

Details of proposed nightly rates for single, adult and child occupancy were redacted from the information provided.

Some of the rooms being provided contain single-over-double bunk beds and a single-over-single bunk, which would accommodate up to five people to a room; while others would accommodate three person, according to a reply sent to the department. An adjacent house can accommodate six people.

Last month Thomas Brady Jr of Old Bridge Road, Cootehill, owner of the White Horse, was successful in applying for a liquor licence for the landmark hotel. The White Horse Hotel had been a Brady family run business since 1965, and Mr Brady told Cavan Circuit Court that it is their intention to operate the hotel as a going concern. Attempts were made, unsuccessfully, to contact the Brady family for comment prior to going to print.

“The need is desperate”

Founder of Effective Aid Ukraine and Shercock-native Tom McEnaney said his organisation has been bringing Ukrainian refugees to Ireland since Russia first invaded. To date they have helped rescue 1,200 refugees and last Saturday, December 16, brought in 20 women, children, and one 82-year-old man.

Saturday’s “mission” - all involving people living on the “frontline cities” - will be the organisation’s last, reveals Tom, caused by both the shortage of housing and the government’s decision to cut financial supports and the duration for which State-guaranteed accommodation will be provided to just 90 days.

New arrivals will be paid a €38.80 subsistence allowance and an additional €29.80 per child per week “in recognition of the fact that accommodation has been provided”.

“When I say the need is desperate I really mean it,” says Tom. “You still have mothers trying to save their children in frontline cities in Ukraine being bombed every night, sometimes repeatedly, and now they’re being told, not just in Ireland but across Europe, that ‘sorry we just don’t have room for you any more’.”

Regarding a fire at a hotel in Galway earmarked to accommodate Ukrainians last weekend, Tom suggests it was probably started deliberately out of “fear”.

“To burn down a property due to house refugees, to ensure that more refugees would be lying cold in tents in streets and for the foreseeable future, what can you say about those people? It’s an appalling, despicable, cowardly act!"