Thursday 14 November 2019

Flanagan seeks end of 'siege' at hotel to house asylum seekers

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

Allison Bray

Legitimate concerns over the suitability of housing for 13 women at a proposed emergency accommodation centre on Achill Island have been hijacked by right-wing zealots stoking local opposition, according to advocates for refugees and asylum seekers.

Plans to temporarily house the 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.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan yesterday referred to the 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.

Other protesters claim to be against the controversial Direct Provision programme for asylum-seekers itself, which they say is inhumane.

While there is merit to those arguments, racist elements are seizing on them to spur otherwise reasonable people into opposing the plan, according to Nick Henderson, head of the Irish Refugee Council.

"There's no doubt that far-right elements have exploited these situations - particularly on the internet," he told the Irish Independent.

"There's no doubt about that. But they should be distinguished from legitimate concerns."

Edel McGinley, director of the Migrant Rights Centre in Dublin, agreed.

"Whatever the intention, this type of message does send out a response - go home, you're not welcome," she said.

She said a lack of information given to local communities where the Government plans to source accommodation for more than 1,500 asylum-seekers - who are currently housed in hotels and B&Bs nationwide due to a lack of facilities - is allowing "fear-mongering and disinformation to thrive".

"The point is they are deliberately targeted by people stoking fear," she said.

Lucky Kambole, of the Movement of Asylum Seekers of Ireland, said asylum seekers feel targeted by a spate of protests in Co Leitrim and Co Galway - and now Achill - over the department's plans to open direct provision centres in Ballinamore and Oughterard.

The deliberate overnight arson attack on a car parked in the driveway of Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny's home near Ballinamore on Monday after he spoke in favour of a direct provision centre there is a frightening development, Mr Kambole told RTÉ's 'Six One' last night.

"People are scared because of what is happening, when you see an Irish TD's car torched because he sided with us," he said.

And he said no one was buying the argument that people are now "suddenly" opposed to the "inhumanity" of the direct provision system which has been in place for almost 20 years.

"How come there are people now who see this an inhumane system when they have been quiet? None of these groups have contacted us before. There is no asylum seeker who can accept what's happening," he said.

Irish Independent

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