Posted on December 20, 2023

Irish Leader Condemns Fire at Hotel Preparing to Host Asylum Seekers

Megan Specia, New York Times, December 18, 2023

Ireland’s leader has condemned a suspected arson attack after a hotel that was set to become housing for asylum seekers was burned to the ground on Saturday, the latest incident to lay bare pockets of anti-immigrant sentiment in the country.

The fire broke out before midnight at Ross Lake House Hotel in Rosscahill, County Galway, in the west of Ireland, destroying the building. Up to 70 asylum seekers were to be housed there starting this week. No injuries were reported.

The blaze comes just weeks after violence, sparked by a knife attack in Dublin on Nov. 23, devolved into a xenophobic riot, and as the country grapples with fringe far-right violence and xenophobia that has increasingly spilled out into the light.

Leo Varadkar, the country’s Taoiseach or Irish prime minister, said in a written statement on Sunday that he was concerned about a number of recent reports of damage, including the fire on Saturday, to places that were set to host asylum seekers around the country. It was unclear how the fire began and investigations into the circumstances continued, a police statement said, referring to the blaze as “an incident of criminal damage by fire.”

“There is no justification for violence, arson or vandalism in our Republic. Ever,” Mr. Varadkar said. He made clear that like much of the rest of the world, Ireland was “dealing with a major step-change in the numbers arriving here, seeking protection.”

“This is driven by war, poverty, climate change and human rights abuses in their home countries,” Mr. Varadkar said.


Ireland, like much of Europe, has received an influx of newcomers in recent years as war, climate change and economic instability have driven global migration, sometimes leaving countries struggling to adapt. In the year ending this past April, net migration to Ireland, which had a population of 5.2 million, was 77,600, second only to a net immigration record for the country set in 2007 of 104,800.

Even though asylum seekers make up a relatively small portion of the overall number of arrivals, with fewer than 14,000 people applying for asylum in Ireland in 2022, they have often been the focus of vitriol and anti-immigration sentiment. Ireland’s direct provision program provides accommodation for those awaiting a decision on their asylum claim. The top five nationalities for asylum seekers in Ireland in 2023 are people coming from Nigeria, Georgia, Algeria, Afghanistan and Somalia, according to government data.


Phrases popularized by far-right influencers online, characterizing migrants as “unvetted” and “military-age men,” have also increasingly been echoed by members of the public looking for somewhere to place their discontent, the experts say.


A day before the blaze, a protest was held outside the Ross Lake House, with some people blocking the entrance to the hotel. People could be seen in news footage keeping warm by lighting fires in metal drums. Among them were some local politicians.