Town 'feels unprepared' for influx of migrants
Anxieties and questions fill the streets of Mullingar as speculation grows over housing new Syrian migrants in empty army barracks
Many people in Mullingar, where a shut-down army barracks is being considered by Government as a site to house Syrian refugees, say the town is "not ready".
Some residents say the town is already grappling with severe unemployment, a significant homelessness problem and cutbacks in garda manpower.
Although the kind-hearted townspeople empathise with the plight of the migrants, opinions are mixed on potential Government plans to house them in the former Columb Barracks.
Concerns include: the number of migrants the town may have to take, the lack of educational and healthcare resources, and possible security concerns.
One lady said: "We have a lot of our own problems here that should be sorted out first. We've been hit very badly by the recession and we don't have enough police. I'd be afraid the area around the barracks would turn into a ghetto.
"A lot of elderly people are already worried because the area is very multi-national. People are afraid that a terrorist will get through with refugees," she said.
A local man said: "We've homeless people in the town who we don't have space for and banks are throwing people out of their homes - they should come first.
"We're putting our own down the whole time. The last crowd we let in got everything - houses and cars - and they are still scrounging off the people in the town. I'm very angry because we'll be the ones left to foot the bill again."
Although he says he would support the arrival of up to 200 refugees on a "short-term basis" he is concerned numbers will continue to rise if the migrant crisis deepens.
"The Government started with 1800, now it's 4000 - if this keeps going we're going to have an uprising in this country. It's going to be very difficult for the Irish Government to do a background check on all of them," he said.
"Retired soldiers who were living in the barracks were thrown out when it closed and now they're paying to live in private accommodation in the town - that doesn't sound very fair to me," he said.
Tomas Nally, a business man based in Mullingar, says the general feeling in the town, and throughout the country, is that "we are not ready or equipped".
"I personally think we should take them in, especially the women, children and elderly, but people are saying it's a knee-jerk reaction by the Government. The town has very little information on this, most are reading jargon about it on Facebook and across other social media," he said.
"These people are in a dire situation running from terrorism. People genuinely want to help but we need to have all the right facilities and resources in place - right now we don't have that in Mullingar. With time we could be capable of housing them but we have no experience of dealing with something like this - we need international guidance," he said, adding that locals are also anxious about the strain on social welfare.
Gerry Ryan from Mullingar said he'd support the move but not on a long-term basis.
"I'd be worried about the impact on jobs if they end up staying here. Schools are very full in Mullingar. We could probably cope for three months or so," he said.
Despite the varied responses, the majority of locals are calling for further consultation and information from the Government and local representatives on this issue before a decision is made on whether Columb Barracks is suitable to house those desperately fleeing the Middle East.
Government officials and the Office of Public Works are also considering barracks in Kildare, Clonmel and Arbour Hill as possibilities to house thousands of migrants.
Minister of State at the Office of Public Works, Simon Harris, said: "The Office of Public Works has identified vacant properties and will be in a position to advise Government on what can be used."
The EU will pay half of the €48m cost of caring for the 4,000 refugees. Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, said Brussels will pay €6,000 per refugee towards the estimated yearly programme of €12m per 1,000 refugees.
A task force, made up of Government departments and agencies, will co-ordinate their arrival. Officials are also liaising with overseas police forces on any potential security threat.