The Mayor of Clonmel/Cahir Municipal Council has described the town’s Kickham Barracks as an ideal centre to accommodate war refugees fleeing to Europe but a Fianna Fail general election candidate says the site is unsuitable because plans for its redevelopment are at an advanced stage.
Mayor Pat English of the Workers & Unemployment Action Group and FF Cllr Siobhan Ambrose have voiced opposing views on the former army barrack’s suitability for use as a centre for refugees from Syria, Iraq and other war zones fleeing to Europe.
They were responding to reports that the Government is considering housing refugees in disused army barracks around the country as part of its response to the European migrant crisis.
Kickham Barracks in Clonmel, as well as former army barracks in Kildare and Mullingar, are been examined by the Office of Public Works and Department of Public Expenditure as possible accommodation centres.
Mayor English said towns like Clonmel should take in some refugee families in response to the current emergency situation.
When asked whether he thought Kickham Barracks should be used as an accommodation centre for refugees, he said it would be “ideal” as a short term measure because of the lack of housing around the country at the moment.
“There are big plans for Kickham Barracks but none of them will be up and running in the next number of years,” he said.
Cllr Ambrose said she was horrified by the tragic scenes on television and agreed Ireland had to play its part in taking in refugees. However she argued that Kickham Barracks wouldn’t be an appropriate location for an accommodation centre because the plans for its redevelopment as a new educational, cultural and civic quarter for the town are at an advanced stage.
It’s proposed that the site will become the home for a Garda station, Limerick Institute of Technology campus, a new theatre, civic area and possibly some residential development. “The Education & Training Board are already on site and Part 8 planning permission is being sought for the civic area,” said Cllr Ambrose.
“A master plan was prepared for the site at enormous expense and extensive work and negotiations have taken place with the four stakeholders: the ETB, Limerick Institute of Technology, Garda Siochana and Tipperary Co. Council,” she continued.
She disagreed that the plans for Kickham Barracks were still some years down the road. “You don’t seek Part 8 planning permission unless there is funding behind the project. The Council have the money to proceed with their part and they will be followed by one of the other anchor tenants.”
Cllr English pointed out the accommodation these refugees will require will be temporary as many will want to return to their homelands once they become more peaceful and stable.
He said the television and newspaper images of refugees trying to flee to Europe were heartbreaking, particularly the pictures of that little Syrian boy whose body was found on a beach in Turkey last week.
“To see a poor child like that brings it home to you. I just hope people will come on board and help out. Irish people have responded over the years to tragedy; it stems from the time we were victims of the Famine. I think we should welcome them and just accept tham as part of our community. Clonmel people are great people, who always step up to the mark and I am sure they will.”