Monday 18 November 2019

Bishop urges government to 'be transparent' with local people on asylum plans

Protest: A ‘silent vigil’ at the Achill Head Hotel where locals have stated they believe it is unsuitable for asylum seekers. Photo: Conor McKeown
Protest: A ‘silent vigil’ at the Achill Head Hotel where locals have stated they believe it is unsuitable for asylum seekers. Photo: Conor McKeown Newsdesk Newsdesk

ONE of the country's top bishops is urging the government to consult with local people in Achill on its plans to accommodate asylum seekers.

Archbishop Michael Neary says the people of Achill are known internationally as welcoming people and says they are "morally obliged to welcome the stranger".

But in a statement released this evening, Dr Neary claims many local people have been kept in the dark over the Department of Justice's plans.

Plans to temporarily house 13 female asylum seekers at the Achill Head Hotel in the village of Pollagh yesterday have been postponed by the Department of Justice following a series of ongoing protests by residents which saw a TG4 journalist ejected from a public meeting by a local councillor opposed to the plan.

The Archbishop of Tuam believes there may be some "misunderstanding" among local people.

"It is important that effective advance planning be undertaken by the State including a full and transparent consultation with local people.  Such preparations should go some way to allay fears and misunderstandings while, at the same time, enabling this important human-centred initiative to work sustainably for the whole community," he said.

Dr Neary said neither he, nor the local church, had been advised of any plans, but he believes the people of Achill will be welcoming towards the asylum seekers.

"It is well known, nationally and internationally, that Achill people are a welcoming people and, in the past, Achill has accepted people from communities from around the world," he said.

"Ireland is now moving from an era of austerity and recession to a more prosperous period in our economic cycle.  As Christians we are morally obliged to welcome the stranger and, in the context of our improved circumstances, we have a responsibility to share with those who are less fortunate than ourselves. 

"We should also be particularly alert to those who are experiencing serious upheaval and a crisis of hope in their lives."

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan yesterday referred to the ongoing protests as "a siege" which he believes has been encouraged by some "alt-right" fanatics opposed to immigration.

"I am appealing for the lifting of the siege," he told RTÉ Radio's 'News at One' programme yesterday.

He said hateful anti-immigrant propaganda is being spread by such groups on social media. "These insidious attacks on social media have to stop," he said.

While many residents claim they would welcome asylum seekers into their Co Mayo community, they argue the size of the village - the population of which is fewer than 80 - and its remote location in the west of Ireland would not be suitable to accommodate an influx of new residents.

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