Our Lady's Hospital, Ennis Pic: DNG

LANDS ON WHICH OUR LADY’s Hospital are situated should be transformed into a government facility for housing international protection applicants, the county’s youngest candidate in the local elections has suggested.

Twenty one year old Ruairí Keenan (IND) from Oakleigh Wood noted the “ethical and moral obligation” Ireland has to “take in and care for those who are arriving seeking international protection, particularly those fleeing wars in countries such as Ukraine”.

A third of bed-nights in Co Clare are occupied are unavailable as a result and this needs to be urgently reconsidered, Ruairí said. “My solution is to purchase the land that houses the old Our Lady’s Hospital, apply to have it rezoned, delisted and have the eye sore of a building demolished and we build a state of the art government facility for housing international applicants. That is not creating a new problem but solving one. Those in Direct Provision on the same road together with other tourist accommodation facilities within the town be moved to this facility freeing up tourist beds and increasing visitors to Ennis”.

Valued at €1.25m in 2015, the site was sold at an online auction in 2018 for €750,000. The hospital was designed by William Fogerty, it opened as the Ennis Asylum in 1862, it became Ennis Mental Hospital in the 1920s and was renamed Our Lady’s Hospital in the 1950s, the hospital closed in March 2002 and has changed hands several times in the subsequent two decades.

On how the funds would be sourced to acquire the building, Ruairí explained, “The initial part would be a rezoning for Our Lady’s Hospital. Over the last two decades, we’ve had two plans, plans to buy with the land with funding permission and planning permission but then it goes to a thing of ‘oh we don’t want you to knock the building because it is historic’, it is there 160 years and it has a bad reputation, if it was a tourist sight I’d say something but the most we’re getting out of tourism wise would be people doing things they shouldn’t be doing”.

Keenan told The Clare Echo, “Funding is a significant issue. The average cost for accommodation per asylum seeker per night is €75 in private accommodation in a hotel but then in a government facility the price is €35 per night so even if we’re talking 5,000 asylum seekers we’re talking about saving tens of millions every year if we do the upfront costs now. The Government allocates funds based on a percentage for each county, it is allocated off how much each county has, I’m not sure what our exact figure is but what I do know is we’d be saving a lot of money in the long run if we were to build a new direct provision centre where Our Lady’s is or if we were to go forward with one of the older plans for a new area for the hospital or for a four star hotel.

“We’re in desperate need of those as a town but the main issue back then was the issue of rezoning and if we were to convince them to come back to the table and I assume they have a sour taste in their mouths after the situation and I know I would if I was a private corporation but if we can get them back to the table which may not happen initially but a four star hotel is better than an abandoned insane asylum which has been vacant for thirty years and got burnt down twice”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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