SEVERAL thousand people attended two separate marches in Galway city and county today, as a 24-hour protest against location of a direct provision centre in Oughterard continues into its third week.
The largest turnout was for a silent demonstration on Saturday morning in the Connemara village where there are plans to locate a direct provision centre in a local hotel.
Over 2,000 people walked just over two kilometres to the Connemara Gateway Hotel, where local publican and spokesman Rory Clancy expressed upset at attempts to “infiltrate” the community’s protest.
Mr Clancy also appealed to the Department of Justice to discuss an “alternative model” to direct provision.
There was a lower turnout later on Saturday in Galway city, where Mayor of Galway Mike Cubbard (Ind) and a number of politicians from the Labour and Green parties and Social Democrats addressed a rally hosted by the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN).
In Oughterard, independent county councillor Thomas Welby was the only politician to participate in the march, led by six children, and bearing placards and banners expressing opposition to direct provision.
It began at Station road, after local priest Fr Michael Connolly expressed his opposition to it starting in Catholic Church grounds.
There was a low key Garda presence, and traffic was permitted along the N59. At the hotel, participants joined hands, and held index fingers up to their lips for some minutes – finishing with applause, and tea, barm brack and sandwiches.
“We welcome people into the community under different circumstances,” Mr Clancy told reporters afterwards, emphasising that “Oughterard is not a racist town”.
“Direct provision centre are not homes – we are all entitled to a home, and that’s what we would love to give the people,” Mr Clancy said.
“We feel if people get a good start into a home, then it’s a great way of integrating correctly,” he said.
“Today we’re sending out the message that the people’s voices are still not being heard. And when I say 'the people', I mean the people of Oughterard and the surrounding community, and the people that may be part of our community - as in the refugees,” Mr Clancy said.
Mr Clancy said accusations about the town being racist, or associated with far-right groups, had taken “a personal toll on families”.
“It’s been a terrible battle – it’s been using and wasting the energy that could be put into putting together solutions, rather than fighting a racist battle,” he said, appealing to the people involved to “please stop”.
An analysis by social media intelligence agency Storyful earlier this month found that posts about the demonstrations at Oughterard had been widely shared online by anti-immigrant individuals and groups in Ireland, Britain and across Europe.
Mr Clancy reiterated the community’s appeal to the Department of Justice to “come and speak to us here in Oughterard and listen to some solutions which we have put together as a community, and start listening to the people”.
“We haven’t really taken up the invitations of people that want to come and help us – we’ve held off of that at the moment,”Mr Clancy said, stating the protest would continue.
“Going forward, nationally, the offers that are there to come down and support rural communities will be taken up,” he said.
At the Galway city event, Mayor of Galway Mike Cubbard said there was "no room for racism" in the city.
Mr Cubbard said he believed direct provision was a system “similar to mother and baby homes” and mistakes were being “repeated”.
Independent TD Catherine Connolly said she did not believe the people of Oughterard were racist, but said their "genuine concerns" about direct provision and lack of services in rural towns had been "hijacked".
GARN co-chair Joe Loughnane and a People before Profit local election candidate said that while people in Oughterard had “legitimate concerns”, and facilities were lacking, this was “not a reason to give a platform to far-right and racist views”.
In a city where one in five people were new Irish, and which would hold the European capital of culture title next year, “hatred cannot be allowed to breed in Galway” Mr Loughnane said. He added that racism against the Travelling community must also be counteracted.
Mr Loughnane said the “missing voice” in the Galway city event was asylum seekers who felt they would be victimised if they spoke.
The protest was also addressed at Spanish Arch by Labour, Green Party, Social Democrat and Independent councillors.
Former Galway mayor Niall MacNelis (Lab) expressed disquiet about the presence of a small group of anti-immigrant activists in Eyre Square on Friday night.
“We have two direct provision centres in Galway city, there have never been any problems with them, but the problems I deal with relate to the struggle for people there to survive,”he said.