Sunday 17 November 2019

Editorial: 'Leadership needed on aslyum 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


With a predictability as regular as clockwork, the latest opposition to the housing of asylum seekers, this time a mere 13 women among a population of around 2,700 on Achill Island, has followed what have been other protests around the country.

These protests, mainly in provincial towns and rural locations, are stated to be in opposition to or concerned about the direct provision method of accommodating people who have come to Ireland seeking shelter and protection, a new way of living and an opportunity to positively contribute to society through honest endeavour, a willingness to work and keenness for social integration.

Another cause of opposition in this case is also said to be the same as in other instances, an accusation of a lack of consultation by the authorities with locals where it is proposed to house those seeking asylum.

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The Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, having initially seemed to have backed down, no doubt in exasperation, in the face of this latest protest, has since said that he will proceed with the plan to house the asylum seekers at a hotel on Achill for a period of three months or so. Mr Flanagan is correct to persist with his intention.

It must also be said that there is divided opinion on the island, with another group of residents showing a far more open mind to the location of these 13 vulnerable women. Mr Flanagan has said that he wants to continue with the proposal to accommodate the women "as soon as possible" after further consultations with locals, and he has urged community leaders to "show leadership". It follows that there should have been wider consultation in the first place.

But the justice minister is absolutely correct to state that the time has come for community leaders everywhere, specifically elected politicians at national and local level, to step up on this most pressing issue rather than allow a lurking and sinister 'alt-right' ideologue to take root in their communities.

Mr Flanagan said his department had taken on board criticisms about a lack of communication following protests elsewhere, but added that there was growing concern about the rise of alt-right sentiment around the country. He said he had heard reports of such sentiments from public meetings countrywide and this was the motivation behind the proposed introduction of hate-crime legislation.

On Achill, those protesting reject the insinuation that their group has been infiltrated by an alt-right influence, and this is accepted, but there is undoubtedly such an undertone and, in some instances, overtone to other such protests. There is genuine concern, as one refugee support group has said, that recent protests calling for an end to direct provision were actually about race and difference "dressed up in human rights language". This would be a deeply troubling development and should be resisted at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, Department of Justice officials and residents of Achill, on both sides of the issue, should come together to resolve concerns and allow these women to contribute positively to the island community as they would intend.

Sunday Independent

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