Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who is on a three-day visit to Ethiopia, said he would condemn the blaze “if it transpires the fire was a deliberate act of violence”.
“I’m currently in Africa visiting Irish aid projects and haven’t been briefed on this matter,” the Taoiseach told The Irish Times. “I am sure a full investigation will now take place. I’m awaiting further information on it.”
Fiona Finn, head of the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre (Nasc), said the suspected arson attack should be “treated as hate crime” and that the fire was a sign that the Government’s procurement methods for “identifying and establishing new asylum centres” were not working.
Communities do not feel like they are being consulted in the selection process for centres while there are concerns around the location of large capacity centres in small villages in remote areas, said Mr Finn.
“We feel for the communities where this is happening, where they feel legitimate concerns are not being listened to and illegitimate concerns are allowed to fester and intensify. But even more so, we feel for every asylum seeker around the country today, who has woken up to the news this morning feeling scared and isolated.
“Whoever did this does not speak for Irish people; they are fostering hate and intolerance,” she said. “This is not the welcome we are known for.”
Fianna Fáil TD for Roscommon/Galway Eugene Murphy, who lives in Rooskey, said there had been “an extremely poor process of consultation and engagement” by the Government with the local community regarding the opening of the centre. He added that Government representatives had failed to meet with the local people as they did in Moville in Co Donegal.
“The Government’s approach of pushing refugees and asylum seekers into small towns around rural Ireland is simply not working- many of these small rural towns are already on their knees and the necessary infrastructure from a transport, educational and health aspect are just not in place and the Government needs to take responsibility for the lack of judgement in relation to this whole approach.”
The former hotel is one of three planned new new direct-provision centres due to be opened by the Reception and Integration Agency.
One of the other planned new centres, the Caiseal Mara Hotel, in Moville, Co Donegal, was severely damaged in a fire in November. It had a capacity of 100. The other new centre in the Grand Hotel, Wicklow town, also has an estimated capacity of 100.
By December 2018, five of the 38 direct-provision centres around Ireland were oversubscribed with residents, while the majority of other centres were close to capacity.
The alarm in Rooskey was raised at about 7.45pm on Thursday. There were no reports of injuries, and witnesses said there was little obvious damage apart from smoke damage to the outside of the building. However, there were reports the reception and the bar area were badly damaged.
The 39-room hotel near the Border between counties Leitrim and Roscommon is the subject of proceedings between Paradub Ltd, which wants to develop it as tourist hotel, and businessman James Kiernan, the owner of the property.
The hotel closed in 2011, and Paradub claims it entered in 2016 into an agreement to buy the hotel for €600,000 from Mr Kiernan, of Glenart Avenue Blackrock, Co Dublin, which he had failed to complete.
Paradub initiated High Court proceedings in 2017 after it discovered from local media reports a plan had been put in place to use the property to house asylum seekers.
When the case returned before the High Court last November, it heard that plans had been put in place, under a third party agreement with the Department of Justice, for the hotel to be used as accommodation for asylum seekers from the start of this week.