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'We have no voice": Hundreds gather in Lismore to protest the loss of former hotel

Hundreds of people attended a peaceful protest in Lismore town centre yesterday which took place on foot of the news that the former Lismore House Hotel is to be turned into a Direct Provision centre. While the protest was to take place from 3pm on Main Street, people began to gather from 2.30pm, lining both sides of the street.

Background

Lismore House Hotel, the oldest purpose built hotel in Ireland closed in 2016 and in 2021, the 'Sold' sign was displayed and the new owners began engaging with the public via its social media business page. Posts around that time stated the hotel would be undergoing a major refurbishment with a re-opening date of November 2021 given. This was pushed out to early 2022 and new logos were designed for the intended new venture. The slogan on the new artwork read: 'Indulge, Delight & Unwind.' In the first quarter of 2022, a Further Information request was submitted by Waterford City & County Council planning department based on permission requested by the new owners to extend the property.

Last Monday, WLR broke the story that the hotel was to reopen in early February as a Direct Provision centre, with 60 women and children understood to be arriving initially, with numbers rising to 117.

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Direct Provision model

During yesterday's protest, organiser Brian Buckley wore a t-shirt which read: 'No consultation, no consideration.' Speaking to WLR News, he said he didn't want to have to organise a protest or to stand on his van for hours outside the former hotel, but he felt the government had given him no choice.

He said: "I've been living here for 35 years and I just took it upon myself to give the town of Lismore a voice because at the moment, it doesn't appear as though we have one. I've gone through all the usual channels to try to get answers and there are none. Our grievances lie with the Irish government. they've taken the decision out of people's hands and they've decided to put a Direct Provision system into the middle of Lismore. These centres don't work and that's the message we want to get across to the Irish government."

Business owners

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Local business owners turned out in significant numbers, among them, Joanne Roche, owner of 'Out of the Clozet' clothing store. In her role as Chairperson of the Lismore Social, Economic, and Community group she attended the protest to add her voice to the message which she hoped the new owners and the government would hear.

She said: "From a businessperson's perspective, Lismore is a heritage town, the economy relies on tourism, it relies on the summer season and the influx of footfall to sustain the town. People have invested and reinvested into their businesses on the back of our belief that the hotel was going to be re-opened as a hotel by this summer. We were led to believe that it was going to be a hotel, there was a stream of contact with the public from the hotel on social media."

Garda presence

The protest remained peaceful, with speeches underway from 3.30pm, led by Brian Buckley. Garda presence remained on the Main Street and in the vicinity for the duration of the proceedings, which finished up shortly after 4pm, however there were no incidents over the course of the protest which required their intervention.

The crowd which numbered in the region of 300 people consisted mainly of local business owners, families, residents and those who had concerns over the loss of Lismore House Hotel as a hotel. Speaking to WLR News, members of the public said the town will always be welcoming to those who have left their homes during times of strife, but they have serious concerns over what is next for tourism-centred town, without a hotel for accommodation.

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