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Refugees in race against time to get back to Loughrea base

The community in Loughrea has rallied to support a group of over 40 Ukrainians temporarily displaced from the Convent of Mercy due to fire safety concerns.

The refugees were transferred last Thursday from Loughrea to University of Galway student accommodation in the city because the convent was deemed unsafe.

They have up to August 19 in their new temporary digs before students return to campus – and the authorities are in a race against time to procure contractors to carry out the necessary safety works on the convent within six weeks. The bill for work is estimated as a six-figure sum.

Galway East TDs Ciaran Cannon (FG), and Anne Rabbitte (FF), a Minister of State, are working with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (CEDIY) to try to fast-track the job.

But already Loughrea people have pledged to open their homes to welcome the war refugees back to the town if the August deadline was not met.

“I’ve offered and many others in Loughrea have offered to take some of them into our homes temporarily while the works are going on. There are a lot of very generous offers,” said Deputy Cannon, who recently accommodated two Afghan refugees in his home for six months.

The Ukrainians had been living in Loughrea for about a year, and had integrated well into the community, including some children enrolled in local schools.

Up to 30 adults secured employment in local businesses and Minister for CEDIY Roderic O’Gorman has committed to providing a bus to transport the workers to and from the University and their Loughrea place of work.

The refugees were shell-shocked by the upheaval, and the wider community in Loughrea, which had welcomed them twelve months ago, was also dismayed that they had to leave.

Speaking on Galway Bay fm, Monsignor Cathal Geraghty said there was devastation last Thursday when they were bussed to the university.

“It was a sad day for the Ukrainians living in the convent; a sad day for the Mercy Sisters who provided the convent free to the Department; a sad for the local committee, who worked so hard, and indeed sad for the business people in the town who lobbied to keep them here . . . because 41 people who were resident in the convent, up to 30 were working here locally,” Monsignor Geraghty said.

Initially, the Department had tried to break-up the group, sending half to Tipperary and half to Cork, but this was successfully resisted.

Monsignor Geraghty pointed out that the building, like all religious buildings handed over to house refugees ‘doesn’t cost the Government anything to use’, and was given for free by the Sisters of Mercy.

He added work should begin immediately on the outstanding fire safety issues.

It’s understood the contractor who manages the convent on behalf of the Department, had been notified on a number of occasions that there were ‘weaknesses in the fire safety aspect of the building’.

Deputy Cannon told the Connacht Tribune that Galway County Council and the Department had ‘lost patience’ that the fire safety works were not carried out.

Minister O’Gorman ultimately made the decision, but he was backed by the local Fine Gael TD.

“I would’ve done the exact same thing. If a report lands on your desk saying ‘you are accommodating vulnerable people in a building that is unsafe from a fire safety perspective’, he had no other choice,” Deputy Cannon said.

Commitments have been given that the Ukrainians will return to the facility once the fire safety issues are addressed.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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