BREAKING: Castlesaunderson refugee plan scrapped

A local TD has been informed by a senior Department official that proposals to use Castle Saunderson Scouting Centre to house Ukrainian refugees will “not be progressing”.

“In response to queries on behalf of local residents, the Department of Children have informed me that they will not be progressing proposals to acquire accommodation in Castlesaunderson,” said Fianna Fáil TD, Brendan Smith, in a statement to The Anglo-Celt this morning (Tuesday).

A spokesperson for the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth also confirmed by way of an offical statement to the Celt this afternoon that the plan to house refugees at Castle Saunderson has been scrapped.

“The Department can confirm that it has no plans to use Castle Saunderson Scout Centre as an accommodation centre.”

As recently as last weekend further information emerged in relation to the accommodation plan, which has been kicked about for the best part of two years.

The centre can provide sleeping accommodation for 66 people with bedrooms upstairs and an 18-bed dorm downstairs. However, it's understood that the proposal on the table between Scouting Ireland and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth was to rehome “30 people” only.

The €3.7 million European-funded Castle Saunderson International Scout Centre was officially opened by President Michael D. Higgins in August 2012, and in 2021 the HSE secured use of the property as a Covid test centre.

With a deepening accommodation crisis in Ireland, proposals to use the property raised their head again towards the end of last year, when the Celt first reported that the Department was in discussions with Scouting Ireland.

Central to official concerns expressed by local residents are the location of the scout centre and the required logistics and services for residents such as transport, education and health facilities.

In respect of Castle Saunderson estate, the castle itself, yard buildings and other structures on the demesne, as well as some acreage, are owned by Cavan County Council; while the forest is owned by national forestry agency, Coillte; and the International Scouting Centre site by Scouting Ireland.

The Celt also understand that Coillte specifically were unhappy about the proposals to house Ukrainians on the site, and were not consulted by either Scouting Ireland or the department.

Cavan County Council said they it was equally unaware of discussions taking place, when contacted by the Celt.

In recent years attempts have been made to secure the castle building site, and develop the surrounding grounds.

Major investment has also taken place, with series of walkways installed by Cavan County Council, which also facilitated a floating jetty and other works along the River Finn.

Scouting Ireland, for its part, has stated that three other scout centres have been successfully used by the Department elsewhere around the country for the purposes of housing Ukrainian refugees “without any negative impact on local communities”.

A spokesperson previously said that, should the Department proceed with Castle Saunderson, “we are confident they will carry out appropriate checks and will put measures in place” and the centre “would continue to be open to all members, schools and local groups for camping and all other activities".

Scouting Ireland also told the Celt that the youth organisation 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.

A community group that holds concern over the use of the Castle Saunderson International Scout Centre to house refugees held their fourth meeting at the gates last weekend.

‘Castlesaunderson Community and Friends’ say they would “welcome women and children from war-torn countries but would oppose young men of military age as housing unknown men would make the facility unusable to the wider community”.

Members of the group are furious with the Department of Integration and Scouting Ireland for failing first to engage with locals on the matter.

In a statement issued to the Celt, the group described the scout centre as a “vital asset”.

Asking if additional community supports such as health services will be provided in nearby Belturbet if the centre is put to use; and querying what schools children will attend, the community group says: “Unfortunately there has been no consultation with the local communities.”

The Scouting Ireland has been contacted for an updated comment.