Wall of silence: Home Office suggests it is dangerous to tell public details about turning Carrickfergus hotel into base for foreign nationals

The government has rebuffed attempts to find out any details about its housing of foreign nationals in Carrickfergus.

Monday, 10th January 2022, 8:30 am
Updated Monday, 10th January 2022, 4:41 pm

The Home Office has flatly rejected all inquiries about the status of people being put up in the town, and about the cost of hiring out the Belfast Loughshore Hotel to cater for their stay.

It suggested that answering such questions would be dangerous.

The matter generated controversy when it came to light in July, at a time when the hotel was closed to guests due to Covid.

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Belfast Loughshore Hotel

It is due to reopen to the public this March.

News that foreign nationals were staying there stirred up a raft of rumours, with some people claiming that they had been bussed into the town from the Republic or Great Britain.

DUP councillor Marc Collins said at the time: “I can already see the claims of racism that are going to come my way, but that’s not what this is about at all.

“I am all for helping those who need help when they truly need it but there are questions that need to be asked around this situation...

“Are the people involved vaccinated against Covid-19?

“Should they be in quarantine after travelling from a so called ‘red list country’?

“Were thorough background checks completed?

“Do any have a criminal history?”

He added that “at the end of the day we have plenty within our own communities who need help... individuals who are in crisis, homeless, relying on food banks, etc, and yet none of this help is ever afforded to them”.

This drew strong criticism from, among others, Carrickfergus Methodist minister Sahr Yambasu, who hails from west Africa.

“How, I wonder, would Mr Collins feel if he, a member of his family [or constituents] were at the receiving end of such an attitude and view in their time of need?” he had asked.

ALL QUESTIONS ABOUT HOTEL USE ARE STONEWALLED... AGAIN:

At the time the News Letter sought to shed some light on the situation by asking the Home Office press office:

How many people are staying there, and what is their status? (For example, asylum-seekers waiting for their claims to be processed?)

Where have the arrivals come from?

And is the Home Office, the council, or both funding the stay?

It refused to answer.

Now it has also rebuffed attempts to find out facts via the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act too.

Whereas press offices often decline to respond to journalists, issue vague statements, or try to spin a story, the FOI act obliges public bodies to give straightforward answers to requests for information.

The News Letter applied for answers under the FOI Act, asking:

1) “Can you tell us how many people are being housed at the behest of the Home Office in the Belfast Loughshore Hotel in Carrickfergus?

2) “Can you tell us what their status is (refugee, failed asylum seeker, pending asylum seeker, etc) and the duration of their stay?

3) “Can you tell us the cost so far to the Home Office of lodging people there, and the projected total cost?”

The response states that “the Home Office neither confirms nor denies whether it holds the information that you have requested”.

It added that it can withhold information “if confirmation or denial would endanger the health or safety of any individual”.

And on the subject of costs specifically, it said these are “commercially confidential”.

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