Community ‘blindsided’ by lack of consultation on Thornton Hall move

by Rose Barrett
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A furore broke out last week when it was realised that Thornton Hall, once designated to become a ‘super prison’, would now house asylum seekers.

Based near Coolquay, Kilsallaghan in North County Dublin, residents in the surrounding rural areas were furious at the lack of consultation from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) and felt they had been completely ‘blindsided’.

A spokesperson for the DCEDIY stated as the 160-acre site was state-owned, it did not require planning permission to use the property as a refuge centre. Applicants for international protection (IPAs) would initially be housed in military-grade tents as the property is still serviced by water and electricity. A similar emergency accommodation was set up at the old mental hospital in Dundrum.

Bought in 2004, the former farmhouse and farmlands was intended to house a super prison on site but has remained idle ever since. DCEDIY stated it will work with the Department of Justice and the Irish Prison Service to deliver the accommodation centre in the near future.

Local communities were shocked and furious at the lack of any consultation and stated their unified concerns last week.

“We are disappointed by the apparent lack of consultation and transparency from the authorities involved in the planning process. We have specific questions including the duration of the development, the number of individuals it will house, and the rationale behind selecting a rural site like Thornton Hall for such a large-scale initiative.

“Our communities feel blindsided by this decision. Our key concerns entail proper planning concerns and the suitability of the rural site to support such a development, particularly given the lack of existing amenities.”

The group stated there was currently no waste water treatment facilities, sanitation systems, or medical facilities in the area capable of supporting a large influx of people, and further raised environmental concerns and the sustainability of such a  major accommodation development.

“The infrastructure in Thornton Hall is simply not equipped to handle this kind of development. This is a greenfield site with a derelict four bed house which is not listed as one of the “structures” that is exempt under class 20F of SI 376/2023, therefore they require planning permission for change of use,” said Helena McGann spokesperson for the Thornton Hall and Environs Concerned Group.

However, as the property is state-owned, the Dept stated it did not require planning permission to host the asylum centre. Many locals were disappointed that a previous SHD housing development of 200 units aimed at addressing local needs was refused permission by An Bord Pleanála due to lack of available resources. “This precedent highlights the clear unsuitability of Thornton Hall for any large-scale accommodation project” noted the residents group.

Cllr Darragh Butler (FF for Swords) called on the appropriate Government departments to meet with the residents to discuss their issues, and completely identified with all the concerns they raised regarding sustainability, services, lack of any social services, amenities, etc. 

Cllr Dean Mulligan (Ind4Change for Swords) stated he too was “frustrated regarding the recent decision to place migrants in Thornton Hall.

“As someone who is very familiar with the local community, I can attest to the vigilance with which residents monitor developments in Thornton Hall. This site has been contentious for decades, and the recent announcement re Thornton Hall without any prior communication with local residents is nothing short of an outrage!” he said.

“Coolquay is an isolated rural area that already struggles with inadequate social, environmental, and infrastructural support.”

He described the authorities lack of communication as “nothing short of an outrage … and provocative… but also deeply inconsiderate to the community and the impacted migrants.” 

“It is particularly troubling that while housing proposals have been previously refused here due to insufficient infrastructure, vulnerable migrants are now being placed there.”

He concluded: “This contradictory decision is unfair to the migrants, who will be placed in a community that is ill-equipped to support them  and to the community which already struggles with inadequate social, environmental, and infrastructural support.”

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