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Friday 17 January 2020

'It seemed officials didn't trust people to do right thing for asylum seekers'

Tipperary town welcomes eight families after government talks

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Ralph Riegel

A community that is welcoming asylum seeker families believes officials must learn lessons from the way their town was treated.

Borrisokane found itself the focus of unwanted national headlines last October amid fears a planned direct provision centre could spark protests comparable with those in Oughterard in Galway last summer.

It was initially proposed to house 16 families at the Riverside apartments - potentially up to 80 people.

That immediately sparked concerns about how the small Borrisokane community of 800 would cope with such a large influx and whether vital services would be able to cope with the extra strain.

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However, thanks to a special local liaison committee, and the agreement by the Department of Justice to accept a number of compromises, Borrisokane in Co Tipperary is now happily hosting eight asylum seeking families.

All have been made to feel welcome in the proud north Tipperary community. Ultimately, the plan is to house 16 families in the complex.

Key to the remarkable success of the Borrisokane project has been understanding, compromise and consultation.

Councillor Seamus Morris, an Independent member of Tipperary County Council, said other communities and department officials can now learn from Borrisokane's example.

"I think everyone here has to be congratulated for not going down the road that other communities have," he told TippFM.

"To be honest, the Department of Justice initially handled this very badly."

When Borrisokane first learned about the proposed centre, it was not told the nationality, age or gender breakdown of the proposed new arrivals - or even whether they could speak English.

"Really, it seemed like they did not trust the people of Borrisokane to do the right thing," said Mr Morris.

"I think the department now has a template [of liaison and consultation] to use in other areas where similarly it is talking about bringing in [asylum seeker] families."

"We had four meetings [before Christmas] between the Borrisokane liaison group and the department - all of those meetings have gone extremely well."

The Department of Justice agreed to a proposal from the local liaison committee to begin phasing in the housing project - and four families moved into the complex on October 21 rather than all 16.

Borrisokane received an assurance that families would be focused on the complex, that extra resources would be provided for local health and education facilities if required, and that any problems arising would be dealt with immediately via consultation.

The State also agreed to provide funding for a number of long-planned amenity and security projects in the community.

Methodist Minister Reverend Steven Foster said the local community should be very proud of what has been achieved.

"I am not long in this area but everything I have learned about the community is very positive," he said.

"There is a very positive community spirit and a community that wants to do the right thing, that is what I have found."

Rev Foster - who said he has concerns about the entire direct provision concept - added: "In terms of a system for looking after people, there are things we have critiqued - particularly the length of time that asylum seekers have had to wait for their applications to be processed."

Tipperary solicitor Michael Collins said it was a wonderful opportunity for the community to demonstrate what is best about rural Ireland.

Mr Collins said people had shown compassion and kindness towards the new arrivals in Borrisokane.

Irish Independent

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