Accommodation for Ukrainian refugees provided by the owner of a bed and breakfast in Co Leitrim was closed in recent months due to serious fire safety concerns being raised about the building.
While information reported to the Department of Integration, which oversees the response to the Ukraine crisis, suggested 103 refugees were being housed at Mitchell’s in Carrigallen, an inspection by officials found the bed and breakfast had capacity for just 50 people.
An internal memo from March 23rd said three lower-level rooms had been “adapted for accommodation”, which was unauthorised. Officials queried whether any Ukrainian refugees were being accommodated under the commercial contract “in other premises” but said the response was “unclear and unknown by the staff member” contacted.
A joint inspection report by the department and Leitrim County Council said officials would “need to identify where additional guests are residing”.
The council later served a fire safety notice to the owner of the building on March 27th, stating that the accommodation was in a “potentially dangerous building”. Council fire officers found there was an absence of alarms “for the automatic detection of an outbreak of fire”, as well as a lack of appliances “for extinguishing fires”.
The notice, which prohibited the building being used for accommodation, said there was a lack of “adequate means of egress from the building” in the event of a fire. There was also concern that if a fire broke out, it “would be likely to spread rapidly within the building”.
The notice related to rooms on the first and second floor, the basement and bedrooms in an outhouse behind the building. The fire safety notice and internal memo were released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.
The department entered a contract to accommodate Ukrainian refugees at the property in April of last year. Mitchells Hospitality Ltd, which is owned by Patrick Mitchell (58) from Carrigallen, was paid at least €91,000 under the agreement last year, records show.
A spokesman for the department said it had immediately terminated the contract at the start of April “due to fire safety issues brought to our attention by the local authority”. The department said 91 Ukrainian refugees, who have since been housed elsewhere, were being accommodated by the provider at the time.
“The use of secondary properties to provide temporary accommodation was uncovered, which runs contrary to the Government and department policy of not interfering with the private rental market by paying commercial rates for private dwellings,” a spokesman said.
In response, a solicitor acting for Mitchells Hospitality Ltd stated it had provided accommodation for 88 refugees “on a full-board basis for a 12-month period” across 18 rooms in its hotel and 16 rooms in its bed and breakfast.
“Throughout this period, the residents were well integrated into the local community of Carrigallen and my clients did their utmost to provide quality accommodation and food.”
The solicitor said Mitchells Hospitality took the fire safety notice, which did not relate to “excessive numbers” being housed on the premises, “extremely seriously”. Necessary building works undertaken to bring the building into compliance were nearly finished, he said, adding that the local authority was “satisfied with the owner’s ongoing commitment and co-ordination of the project”.
“This will then be followed by a final inspection and certification of the modifications and upgrades,” he said.
The State has been under major pressure to accommodate tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers from other countries over the past year and a half, primarily sourcing accommodation in hotels and guest houses and from other private providers.