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Hostile response of protesters to reporter at Macroom modular homes site


Protesters at Macroom building site.

Protesters at Macroom building site.

Protesters at Macroom building site.


It’s early Thursday morning in Macroom and there’s a group of adults standing outside the town cemetery on the Killarney road, opposite the direct provision centre for asylum seekers in the hotel across the road.

The group of adults are standing at the entrance to an unfinished estate on which work has now resumed after a long interval.  Builders are on site and erecting modular homes of the type that are being built in other locations around the country to cater for the influx of Ukrainian refugees.

The group  of adults would be fairly non-descript except one of them is wrapped in an Irish tricolour and another is carrying an Irish Republic flag of the type that can be seen out at the Cúl na Cathrach ambush site.

There at Cúl na Cathrach, the Irish Republic flag commemorates a famous battle won against oppressive foreigners 102 years ago.   

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At this protest on the outskirts of Macroom, it’s not clear why these Irish flags are being waved or worn.

I approached the group and told them I was a reporter and my name and my newspaper and was immediately challenged:  was I for them or against them?  

“It’s not my business to say whether I’m for you or against you,” I responded.  “Who are you and why are you protesting?”

A little bit of context about myself first.  I’ve reported on protests in Belfast where my southern accent has stood out like a sore thumb among Union and Ulster flag-waving loyalists, not to mention the flags of numerous paramilitary organisations.  They always tell you who they are and why they’re protesting.  They’re proud to be there and to stand up and be counted for their cause.  I always treated them with respect and that’s what I got in return for the most part. 

“We’re local,” said one. “We’re not far-right extremists.”

“First off, there’s no planning permission for these buildings.”

Surely, I thought, this isn’t why you’re here protesting at this unearthly hour. Though he had a point, as the Government has legislated to allow modular homes to be built for the purpose of accommodating refugeees from Ukraine without planning permission but with a provision that an application for retention must be submitted after three years. At this point of time, the owner of the site isn’t known though it is known that it has been sold by the initial developer.

"We believe these modular homes are going to be used to house unvetted men, mercenaries maybe.”

And then followed a litany of accusations of what these yet to materialise men would get up to and what they might have done in their home countries. 

I wasn’t the first to get this litany, of course, as two Gardaí who turned up on Wednesday to enquire as to what was happening were given the full rant on how the Irish Government was trying to replace the Irish population with immigrants and this was necessary as we were all going to die due to having taken the Covid vaccine.   I know this as it was part of a video shared by the group on social media and which I saw some of when I returned to the office.   

Back to the scene outside the graveyard.  Another woman approached me and I put out my hand to shake hers and told her my name and newspaper.  She gave her first name as Eilís. 

Another woman asked me why I was there and I told her I was a reporter.  

"I’m sorry for your troubles,” she said. 

"Pardon, why would you be sorry for my troubles?”

"You’re being told what to write here,” she responded.  

"Not at all,” I said. 

The woman wearing the Irish national flag as some sort of cloak then stood in front of me and I told her my name and asked what her name was but she said she didn’t have to tell me as I wasn’t ‘a guard’. 

I then asked them why were they using Irish flags?  After all, what had flags got to to do with what was happening. 

"We’re Irish – what do you think, we’d be here with a rainbow flag?”

They have flags but not one placard between them.  Nothing to say why they’re there.  You have to take your life in your hands to approach them and ask and then, as happened to me, get hostility and, as I left, abuse.

The woman with the flag was definitely hostile towards me but I wasn’t taking it personally. 

The man I spoke with first then said that he had been on the road, (protesting I presume) for the past two years and they were sick of getting labelled as far right extremists and fascists.  This was the first time that phrase had been mentioned and it wasn’t me who said it.  The same fellow pointed out that he was from a nearby town and that he had socialised in Macroom in his younger days and still shopped in the town.  He mentioned the name of a journalist that I might know and said she was a first cousin and I said that I did indeed know who he was talking about.

Another woman said that I had said they shouldn’t fly the flag – I said that wasn’t what I said but that I had asked why were they bringing the flags into it. 

The woman with the flag said bluntly: “You will get no story here.”  She then turned away.   

I decided to go and take a photo of the development as I thought it might feature in future stories. 

As I returned towards my car, one of the men in the group, who hadn’t spoken with me earlier, made a remark about me heading to the gym.   

I turned towards him and asked what was his problem.  He sneered.  I then decided that I’d take a photo of the group and took out my phone to do so. The fellow who had shouted the smart remark pulled up a scarf as a mask over his face and the others turned their back towards me so I wouldn’t photograph their faces. 

Far right extremists, I don’t know.  Far from pleasant.  Definitely.