15 September 2019
I've been troubled this week by non-mathematical issues relating to a rumour that a disused hotel in my adopted home village of Oughterard may be used as a direct provision centre for asylum seekers. A meeting of 700 people took place in the village community centre on Wednesday at which attendees voted almost unanimously against the centre [there were just 14 disseneting votes]. The meeting was organized in part through the Facebook page Stop Connemara Gateway Hotel Direct Provision Centre. According to the Irish Times, the meeting decided to form an action group to demand clarity, openness and transparency from the department as well as strongly opposing any plan to provide such a facility in Oughterard. The Irish Times also reported that one of the organisers of the meeting, Patrick Curran, called for one thousand volunteers to take part in “direct action” to prevent the centre from opening. Following the meeting, local representatives told the media that Oughterard does not have the facilities to support such a centre. The meeting organizers subsequently formed the Oughterard says NO to inhumane direct provision centres Facebook page and organized a silent march from the village to the disused hotel on Saturday, attended by 1500 people, to protest against the inhumane system of direct provision for asylum seekers in Ireland. A group continued the protest outside the entrance to the disused hotel after the march and have formed a 24/7 picket at the entrance. I have intentionally avoided participating in the public meeting, the silent march, and the ongoing picket.
Other towns such as Wicklow (population 10,600), Killarney (population 14,500), Lisdoonvarna (population 740) have hosted public meetings in the last couple of years to protest against the establishment of direct provision centres. Arson attacks prevented the establishment of direct provision centres at Moville and at Rooskey. On the other hand, some communities, such as Clondalkin, have protested against the closure of existing direct provision centres.
The treatment of asylum seekers is a complicated and delicate issue with no easy answers, and one which can give rise to insensitive comments at public meetings and in social media. For my own sanity I'm going to try to analyze a few of the claims, questions and comments that I've heard or read this week. But first I'd like to quote from an open letter from Síle Ní Dhubhghaill.An open letter to Noel Grealish TD
RE: Comments relating to the possible location of asylum seekers to Oughterard
I am writing to you in reference to your alleged comments at a recent meeting to discuss the possibility of accommodation for asylum seekers in your constituency. The discussion around this issue has hit home with me, as we here in Macroom, Co. Cork, found ourselves in a very similar situation about 6 weeks ago. One of our local hotels has been turned into temporary emergency accommodation for asylum seekers and now houses around 100 people, mainly families. Macroom is in a similar situation to Oughterard – our GPs are all full, one has retired and is yet to be replaced. The schools in town are heavily subscribed. Like so many other rural towns, we are lacking in many services. It seemed to many local people that the lease was signed with the hotel and residents situated in a very cloak and dagger manner, which caused some upset among local people.
I can see exact echoes of what happened in Macroom now repeating itself in your constituency. I thought that you might appreciate some insight into how we, as a town, have tried to overcome these issues. The first thing we did was to set up a group called Macroom Friends of Asylum Seekers. We did this to try and create a proper Irish welcome for our new neighbours. It is worth noting that no asylum seeker thinks that the key to a better life is cramming a family of five into a hotel room in rural Ireland. Not a single one of our new neighbours chose to come to Macroom. Why would they? The lack of services affects them just as much as it affects me or you. They have been here for six weeks and still don’t have a GP – even the children, pregnant women and people with long term illnesses. What we are all trying to do here is make the best of a situation that is not ideal. The locals here in Macroom have definitely not drawn the short straw here. Our soccer teams have talented new players. Our tidy towns group has wonderfully enthusiastic new volunteers. Our food festival is coming up next week and will have an injection of cuisine from far flung parts of the world, thanks to volunteers offering to cook for our International Flavours event. Our children have new friends at school, with new insights into the wider world in which we live. And I have made some incredible new friends in the process.
While the situation is far from ideal, I would suggest that you, as an elected representative, use your platform to work towards abolishing the inhumane system of direct provision, and encourage the government to house asylum seekers in suitable accommodation, in community settings. I am aware that this is a longer term goal. In the meantime, your platform is an ideal place from which to spread positivity. Racist rhetoric travels, but so does kindness and generosity. It doesn’t take much, and I am sure that if you lead by example, your community will reap the rich rewards that we here in Macroom are currently experiencing. If you would like to witness it for yourself, I would be happy to show you around Macroom and introduce you to our new neighbours.
Is mise le meas,
Síle Ní Dhubhghaill
Macroom Friends of Asylum Seekers
This item by Cork's Red FM and this Irish Examiner report provide further accounts of Macroom's positive approach to asylum seekers and reform of the direct provision system. An Irish Times article describes the direct provision centre in Lisdoonvarna, a spa town of 739 people (2011 census), which was established in 2018 and houses around 120 asylum seekers in the 65-bedroom King Thomond Hotel. Initial opposition to this centre was very similar to the current opposition to the possible Oughterard centre. This Clare Champion provides further details on Lisdoonvarna.
I'll now try to analyze a few of the comments, claims, and questions that I've heard/read this week.
Claim:“But if 100 came to Oughterard, that would be a 10 per cent increase of our population" [local business owner]
Analysis:The 2011 census put the population of Oughterard at 1,333, though its boundary of the village excludes the disused Connemara Gateway Hotel as well as populated areas of the village such as the Pier Road, the Glann Road, and Portacarron. An alternative population estimate, based on an area that does include the Hotel as well as much of the catchment areas for the village secondary school, village health centre, and village soccer club, is obtained by summing the populations of the electoral divisions of Oughterard (2604 people), Wormhole (2315 people) and Letterfore (306 people). This provides a population estimate of 5225 people. According to this alternative estimate, an increase of 100 people to the area would be just under a 2 per cent, but still very significant, increase of our population.
[Note added on 25 October 2019. The protest organizers have failed to determine the precise number of asylum seekers that would be housed in the 62-bedroom Connemara Gateway hotel. Throughout the protest the organizers have spoken of "250 people", "300+ people", "an increase of 23% in the population of Oughterard" on TV, radio and to newspaper reporters. The numbers at some other hotels are easily established: King Thomond Hotel Lisdoonvarna, 115 DP residents in 65 bedrooms; Riverside Park Hotel Macroom, 100 DP residents in 33 bedgrooms; Grand Hotel Wicklow, 100 DP residents in 33 bedrooms; Achill Head Hotel, 38 DP residents in 20 bedrooms.]
Claim:"Oughterard could not cater for a large number of refugees because it does not have enough school places, doctors or other local services." [local speakers at Wednesday's meeting]
Analysis:I don't know how to analyse this. But one puzzle in relation to the claim is that in May 2018 Galway County Council Director of services, Michael Owen, announced a plan to build 157 houses at the Seanaphéistín road just south of Oughterard. Galway County Council also applied for a further 13 houses at Claremont, Oughterard in 2019.
Claim:"I can guarantee you it's not the persecuted Christians and Syrians coming here, it's the people, the economic refugees that's coming in from Africa, that's trying to get across the Mediterranean and ended up in Europe and ended up here in Ireland and ended up in Oughterard, where you don't have the schools, you don't have the doctors." [Independent TD for Galway West]
Analysis:The Minister of State for Immigration has said Galway West TD Noel Grealish should withdraw his remarks on asylum seekers. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has called on Galway West TD Noel Grealish to withdraw remarks he made about asylum seekers earlier this week. According to the Irish Times, local councillor Thomas Welby said Mr Grealish had “nothing to apologise for”. Rory Clancy, a local spokesperson and brother-in-law to Patrick Curran, told the Irish Times that “Deputy Grealish said it as it is . . . he was honest about what he believes will happen here,”
Leaving aside all questions concerning the accuracy, appropriateness, or honesty of Noel Grealish's comment, the comment itself has little bearing on a discussion about direct provision: if an asylum applicant fitted Mr Grealish's description then that applicant would be refused asylum and deported back to his/her home country.
Question:What is a direct provision centre?
Analysis:Direct provision is a means of meeting the basic needs of food and shelter for asylum seekers directly while their claims for refugee status are being processed rather than through full cash payments. Direct provision commenced on 10 April, 2000 from which time asylum seekers have received full board accommodation and currently, personal allowances of €38.50 per adult and €29.80 per child per week. Accommodation is provided to asylum seekers on a full-board basis. The cost of all meals, heat, light, laundry, tv, household maintenance, etc. are paid directly by the State. A direct provision centre is a communal style of accommodation, where families are often housed in one room, and single people usually share a room with other single adults, quite often up to four people in one room. Shower and toilet facilities are often shared. Meals are cooked for the residents, and served at a set time each day in a canteen. In light of a recent Supreme Court case the Government have now opted into an EU Directive that includes a right to work for people in the asylum process. Children that are waiting for a decision on their asylum application can attend primary and secondary school, but they are not entitled to free fees for college and must pay non-EU fees which they usually cannot afford. See the Reception and Integration Agency website and the Irish Refugee Council website for more details.
President Michael D Higgins has criticised the Irish system for dealing with asylum seekers known as Direct Provision, describing it as "totally unsatisfactory in almost every aspect". The President has said that the system "doesn't answer the rights of such people".
Question:What are the main problems with direct provision and what are the alternatives?
Analysis:I am not competent to analyse this. From a very quick reading of a few newspaper articles it seems to me that some of the main issues are
In April 2019 Galway City Council called for a state of emergency over its housing crisis.
- The length of time that the State takes to process asylum applications.
- The prohibition on asylum seekers taking up paid employment (this has been relaxed a bit recently).
- The low level of spending money provided to asylum seekers by the State (this has been increased a bit recently).
- The lack of independent monitoring of living conditions in the direct provision centres. (The Ombudsman has said this needs to change.)
- The lack of kitchen facilities provided in direct provision centres. Currently 50% of those in direct provision centres have no access to a kitchen and are required to eat canteen meals.
- Overcrowding in direct provision centres.
- The unsuitability of communal living for long-term residents, and the stigma attached to living in an easily identified "asylum home".This 2014 report on Clondalkin Towers by government inspectors gives an insight into the overcrowded and institutionalised conditions in a direct provision centre.
In Scotland, where there seems to be less of a housing shortage, asylum seekers join social housing waiting lists as soon as they arrive in the country, and they compete with Scottish nationals for social housing.
Focus Ireland reports that:
- there were 10,275 people homeless in the week of July 22 – 28 July 2019 across Ireland. This figure includes adults and children. The number of homeless families has increased by 178% since June 2015. More than one in three people in emergency accommodation is a child. However, this number does not include ‘hidden homelessness’ which refers to people who are living in squats or ‘sofa surfing’ with friends.
- the most recent official assessment of social housing need was published in September 2018 and showed 71,858 households qualified for social housing. Over a quarter of these households have been on the list for over seven years.
The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) provides detailed information on the asylum process and accommodation in other EU countries.
Question:How many people apply for asylum in Ireland, and how long do they spend in direct provision? Also, how many non-EU people are resident in Ireland?
Analysis:In 2018 the EU countries received an average of 1,133 asylum applications per million population. Greece received 6,510 per million, Luxembourg received 3,694 per million, Germany received 1,954 per million, Ireland received 756 per million, the UK received 563 per million. In 2018 there were 2,910 applications for asylum in Ireland. Political views, such as those espoused by Nigel Farage in Britain and the AfD in Germany, can impact on the number of applications processed in a country.
In 2017, the average time for an asylum application to be processed in Ireland was 23 months.
There are currently 143,000 non-EEA nationals living Ireland, less than 7000 of whom live in direct provision centres, according to the Minister of State with Responsibility for Integration. The population of Ireland in 2017 was 4.784 million according to Eurostat. Thus just under 3% of residents are non-EEA nationals. According to the Central Statistics Office, America, Brazil, and India each contribute over 10,000 residents. Other non-EEA countries each contributes fewer than 10,000 residents.
The 2017 Eurostat population percentages for non-EU national residents in various EU conuntries are: Ireland: 4.2%; Portugal: 6.2%; Italy: 7.2%; Denmark: 7.8%; Greece: 8.7%; UK: 8.7%; Belgium: 9%; France: 9%; Spain: 9.2%; Netherlands: 9.3%; Germany: 9.4%; Austria: 10.5%; Sweden: 13.1%.
Claim:"While there is no official confirmation, there are suggestions locally that the Center, if it is eventually selected, may be for the intake of men only – especially in the earlier stages. " [Galway Bay FM]
Analysis:Galway TD Catherine Connolly has said “I think the absence of information and the absence of openness is allowing a vacuum to develop which is not helpful and it’s inciteful.” Connolly has added that continued secrecy from the department helps neither local communities nor asylum seekers.
Comment:One opponent of the direct provision centre in Oughterard called on the Government to do something to stop “the despots who are causing this misery sending those people over here”.
Analysis:One such despot is Bashar Hafez al-Assad. It is unclear what the protesters want the Government to do to stop him.
Comment:This week I've read and heard many pejorative comments about asylum seekers, especially in relation to the crimes they are likely to commit. I've also read and heard many positive comments about asylum seekers.
Analysis:Dr Rory Costello of the Department of Politics in the University of Limerick surveyed 50,000 voters, finding that one-fifth have strong negative opinions about immigration and asylum-seekers. Such opinions are more often found in rural rather than in urban areas. Sinn Féin voters and (to a lesser extent) Fianna Fáil voters are the most likely to oppose, though the strongest level of opposition to asylum seekers comes from those who vote for independents.
There seems to be quite a bit of research into refugees and crime. A typical research paper is that published in 2018 by the Immigration Policy Lab at Stanford University which concludes: "We find that despite a 65.6% overall drop in refugee arrivals, the Executive Order had no discernible impact of on local crime rates. Instead, the estimates suggest that the reduction in refugee arrivals had a precisely estimated null effect on crime rates, and this result is robust across different types of crime and alternative specifications. Furthermore, we showed that the null effect is precisely estimated. In other words, crime rates would have been similar had arrivals continued at pre-Executive Order levels."
Claim:Hotel owners are making money out of the suffering of asylum seekers.
AnalysisThis is surely true. Many services in society -- homes for the elderly, private hospitals, dental practices, ... -- are run for financial profit. Very few hotels opt to switch from accommodating tourists to accommodating asylum seekers. Rural hotels can likely submit more competitive tenders to the direct provision system for the same reasons that they can offer lower prices to tourists.
According to this answer to a Dáil question, the total expenditure in 2017 on accommodation and ancillary services by the Department of Justice to meet the accommodation needs of those persons seeking international protection was EUR 57,679,449. There were 5,656 people housed in direct provision in 2017. This suggests that owners of direct provision centres receive an average of EUR 10,190 per person per year for providing board and lodging. As a comparison, this newspaper article reports that a nursing home receives EUR 66,820 per person per year from the State under the Fair Deal scheme, as well as compulsory additional weekly charges paid by residents.
So which side of the fence?
I can see many valid reasons why friends and acquaintances in Oughterard are against the establishment of a direct provision centre in the village. Some are against the inhumane direct provision system. Others may be worried about unknown new neighbours, or impact on properties and local businesses. Others may have ideological positions on asylum seekers, such as a preference for housing homeless Irish persons before foreigners.
While I can see the merits to these and other arguments, they don't yet provide me with sufficient confidence to join the ongoing protests against the rumoured centre. Yes, such a centre would be imperfect. Yes, the Government must be forced into reducing its inhumanity. Yes, the Department of Justice should learn how to fill dangerous information voids. But what will be the plight of the 1,200 asylum seekers currently waiting in over crowded emergency B&B and hostel accommodation while the Government is taught a lesson by protesters? I fear that participating in the protests will exacerbate their already inhumane plight.
16 September 2019
- Sunday papers report that at the Church of Ireland Sunday service in Oughterard, Rev Lynda Peilow, rector of Galway’s St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church, asked for prayers in relation to the “unrest in our community”, and that she also asked for prayers for those “seeking a new life” and those who were prepared to stand up for them.
- Sunday papers report Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy as saying in Milford, Limerick that racism and intolerance “should have no place in Irish society". Referring to the experience of Irish emigrants, Dr Leahy said :” “Now we welcome others coming to our shores. How we speak of them is important. To denigrate others is cheap. To build them up is noble. To be loose with our tongue is like spreading a fire. And that is never good.”
- Sunday papers report that a local teacher had offered her home to a Syrian family in 2016, but had been very disappointed by a “negative response” from the Department of Justice. She said “I am not alone in this community in wanting to welcome families who need help, but don’t put them in a prison – which is what a direct provision centre is,”
- Sunday papers report one local organizer of the silent march, retired special needs assistant Marian Earl, as saying "If I had to up and leave my home for whatever reason, the last thing I'd need is aggro and to be put into a place like this when I got here."
- Various petitions circulated in local social media yesterday, including one which urged support for Deputy Noel Grealish in relation to his comments at Wednesday's meeting.
- Today the Minister for Justice said there are currently over 1,300 asylum seekers in emergency accommodation and that this is a “real challenge” for the Government. “It is important we provide shelter and basic essentials for all of these people.” People seeking asylum in Ireland are “often leaving the most challenging of circumstances on the planet. I don’t want them sleeping rough in Ireland,” Mr Flanagan said.
17 September 2019
- On Monday RTE reported: "Early this morning, construction workers arrived to continue work at the hotel but they opted not to try and gain access due to the large number of people involved." RTE also reported that: "a spokesperson for the Oughterard community protest, said they are going to maintain this protest for as long as it takes for the people to get what they deserve."
- The placards against the inhumane direct provision system have caused me to read up a little bit on the system. This article in the New Statesman confirms that there are appalling deficiencies in the direct provision system. This article in the British Independent newspaper describes similar appalling deficiencies in the UK asylum process.
18 September 2019
- The Irish Times reported on Tuesday that the Taoiseach wants the Department of Justice to be communicating with the community of Oughterard about any plans it might have to accommodate asylum seekers in the Co Galway town. A report by RTE said that the Green Party has proposed a discussion mechanism be set up in towns where new refugee accommodation centres may be situated. The party says a lack of engagement with local communities has led to the ongoing situation in Oughterard.
- On its 9 o'clock News, RTE reported on the work of Doctors Without Borders who are helping to deal with thousands of people fleeing war and persecution. They showed harrowing images of men, women and children who are suffering in the deplorable conditions in Greek refugee camps. Less fortunate refugees have drowned during the sea crossing to these camps.
- The Irish Examiner reported that contractors who had been working on the disused Oughterard hotel for the past few weeks have not passed the ongoing demonstration. It reported that the protest, involving several hundred people at times, extends around the side of the hotel to the home of a family who had purchased the property 15 years ago. It reported that Ms Michelle Doherty, who lives in the house at Rushveela, says she has been terrified by the protest and has had to call the Garda several times. “People are demonstrating outside here as they believe hotel contractors might access the hotel from my garden,” she said. "I have been escorting my 15-year old daughter to the school bus and passing the picket, and it has been a very frightening experience." “I have had people outside shining torches in my window at 4am and 5am,” she added.
19 September 2019
- According to the Irish Examiner, Sinn Féin leader -- Mary Lou McDonald -- believes concerns by residents in Oughterard in Galway over services are legitimate amid plans to house asylum-seekers in a hotel.
- The Irish Examiner reported Mr Michael Collins, a TD for Cork South-West, as saying: "How are we talking about bringing so many thousand people maybe into this country when we haven't looked after our own people?" ""Why are our own people hungry in the street? Look after our own people first and then when that issue is sorted, let's start looking at people from across the world." According to the Irish Examiner, Mr Collins also claimed "we're losing our culture here"
- NUI Galway announced today that it has been successful in its recent application to become a University of Sanctuary. President of the University, Ciarán Ó hÓhartaigh, emailed staff to say "The University of Sanctuary movement aims to promote the inclusion of International Protection Applicants, refugees and Irish Travellers within our community, and I have been delighted to see the principles of the movement reflected in the thinking which will guide our University as we develop our Strategic Plan for the next five years." As an emloyee of NUI Galway I'm really delighted with this success.
- The BBC reports that France and Italy are calliing for a new system to automatically redistribute migrants across the EU as the number of people entering Europe surges. Hundreds of migrants arrived in Italy and Greece this week, many travelling by boat from Libya and Turkey. On Tuesday, 791 migrants arrived in Greece. On Lesbos, a centre built to cater for up to 3,000 people is currently housing more than 10,000. Other Greek islands, including Kos and Samos, are also struggling with over-capacity
- Victoria White published an interesting piece on "Politics of Grealish and Collins cannot be allowed to extinguish our céad míle fáilte" in the Irish Examiner.
20 September 2019
- The protest is now well ensconced in front of the hotel. Yesterday a pile of rocks was tipped in the entrance to the hotel, blocking vehicular access. Tents have been erected to provide protection from the elements, and a food van is providing refreshments.
- The Echo Live reports that a protest against Direct Provision and deportation will be held at 1pm this Saturday (September 21) in Cork. That protest will be attended by those living in Direct Provision, those who are now out of the system, as well as activists and campaigners. The focus of the Cork protest is very clear. In contrast, from conversations in the village, the Oughterard protest seems to be supported by a more diverse set of interests ranging from the honorable to the worrying. The following tweets succinctly represent some worrying 'lines of argument' which I have heard in Oughterard.
21 September 2019
Today's Irish Times reports:Grealish has been called on by people outside the town, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, to withdraw comments he made at that highly charged meeting on September 11th. Grealish suggested people from Africa were arriving in Ireland to “sponge off the system” and is reported to have received loud applause for claiming the creation of a direct-provision centre in the town would “destroy the fabric of Oughterard”.
A retired rector of Clifden who is now an Oughterard resident, is one of several on the picket saying that although Grealish “got a lot of stick” he was “absolutely right”.
“He maybe made a slip of the tongue... but you only have to investigate the Department of Justice to find out how many of these guys [asylum seekers] are turned away because they have dubious backgrounds.”
Grealish, says the retired vicar, simply voiced a widespread fear about the impact a centre could have on the small town, which is more than 20km from the nearest urban centre – Galway city – with limited public transport, insufficient housing and few services, and almost wholly dependent on tourism to survive.
“We haven’t got the safety bridge for the kids which we have been campaigning for for years. They haven’t done up the N59. They haven’t built any social housing. All the facilities are under-resourced,” says one local, Patrick Curran. “So they couldn’t find any money for those things, but they can find millions for this [centre]. We are not having some guy come in from Dublin and say they are putting them there because they don’t want them in Ballsbridge. So far from their end there’s only been secrecy. When there’s a cover-up it’s usually because they know people won’t like the truth. Communities don’t like to be treated like this.”
One woman who lives alone wonders if she will need extra security in her home; another says Oughterard relies on tourism, and “when visitors come, well, they expect to see natives”.
Having read this Irish Times article I did some fact checking.
- According to Eurostat, of the applications for asylum in Ireland in 2018, the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner gave positive recommendations to stay in the State on 85% of first instance applications; further applicants would have succeeded in appealing negative first instance decisions. The Commissioner is required to thoroughly investigate each asylum application lodged within the State and to make a recommendation to the Minister for Justice and Equality; the Minister is legally obliged to follow the recommendation except in cases where national security is at stake. So it seems that significantly fewer than 15% of "these guys" are turned away because they have "dubious backgrounds", and significantly more than 85% are granted permission to stay.
The number of rejected asylum applications has little bearing on a discussion about direct provision centres; applicants who fail in their bid for asylum are deported back to their home country. Many do fail in their bid, but that is not an argument for denying asylum seekers their right to make a bid.
22 September 2019
- The Independent reports that:
"Oughterard Parish Priest Michael Connolly wrote a strongly worded letter to parishioners in the town today calling for the community to provide 'an example' to the young in welcoming vulnerable migrants. 'As Christians we take our lead from Christ. He welcomed the stranger and was a migrant himself in Egypt as a helpless child….' he added.
Fr Connolly wrote: 'The use of church grounds for a protest march of the type witnessed on September 14 was unacceptable.' "
- A couple of days ago Bishop Patrick Rooke issued a statement in which he says:
"In a week where there have been many fears and concerns expressed by local residents regarding possible plans to create a Direct Provision Centre in the village of Oughterard, I am concerned that these anxieties among the resident population may be interpreted as antagonism towards refugees and asylum seekers. "
"I don’t live in or near Oughterard, and it is no doubt easier to speak from a distance. I would, however, urge the people of Oughterard to heed Minister Flanagan’s appeal to pause and reflect further."
- The Sunday Times has run a news item under the headline "Far-right activists incite and spread uproar online over Oughterard asylum". The item continues:
"Anti-immigration activists were involved in promoting protests in Oughterard against a planned asylum centre, and social media posts about the resulting demonstrations have been widely shared by far-right groups across Europe.
An analysis by social media intelligence agency Storyful shows that supporters of Gemma O’Doherty, an anti- immigration campaigner and conspiracy theorist, have been actively pushing for opposition to a new direct provision centre at the former Connemara Gateway hotel in the Galway town.
Before a protest meeting held in Oughterard on September 11, Conor McZorba, also known as Conor Rafferty, an administrator of the Gemma O’Doherty supporters’ Facebook group, posted links to a now private group where opponents of a direct provision centre in Oughterard could talk about rising up ... "
- For what it is worth, I have read some of the posts to the Facebook groups mentioned in the Sunday Times article (though I have never been a member of these groups). Gemma O'Doherty has certainly been posting to them. A flavour of Ms O'Doherty's views can be gleaned from her Twitter tweets.
- The Irish Examiner reported the following about one of the local organizers of the protest:... retired special needs assistant Marian Earl ... read out a letter at last Wednesday’s meeting in Oughterard, written by a Polish man who said he had experienced negative aspects of direct provision when living in Bergen, Norway .I've been told [word of mouth only] that this letter included claims, for instance, that women in Bergen had to dye their hair black because asylum seekers preferred to rape women with blonde hair. [The meeting organizers did not allow TV crews to film inside the meeting.]
- While surfing through Twitter (unfamiliar territotry for me) I came across some interesting posts by Brian Hughes, and in particular I came across the following image of a leaflet distributed at the Oughterard meeting on 11 September. Note that
the leaflet incorrectly quotes Eurostat in saying that 90% of asylum applicants fail in their claim for asylum. As I mentioned above in the blog yesterday, Eurostat clearly reports that the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) recommended positive decisions to stay in the State for 85% of first instance applications for asylum in 2018. To me, this level of duplicity on the part of those behind the leaflet suggests some input from non-local anti-immigration activists. These tweets have placed in the public domain the following posts. To me, the first posts suggest that their sender, who I'm guessing is Patrick Curran the local organiser and brother-in-law to Rory Clancy, has had help from Gearóid Murphy -- an activist about whom the Irish Times says "Murphy frequently promotes far-right talking points on social media, particularly a conspiracy theory claiming the aim of western governments is to replace native populations with immigrants for economic reasons". The subsequent posts make it harder for me to believe that the primary interest of their sender is the "inhumane conditions" in Irish direct provision centres! This article by Brian Hughes has a lot more to say about the leaflet distributed at the Oughterard meeting.
- A group came from Clifden today to lend their support to the ongoing Oughterard protest. [I heard this by word of mouth only.]
- Some of the protest organizers went to Dublin a couple of days back to meet minister of state for immigration David Stanton. They also met with Government Chief Whip Sean Kyne and with the developer seeking a contract to provide a centre for asylum seekers in Oughterard, Co Galway. According to Monday's Irish Examiner they felt intimidated by comments made at the meeting.
23 September 2019
- Today's Irish Times runs an informative article under the heading "How far-right is exploiting immigration concerns in Oughterard".
- Mnister for Justice, Charlie Flannigan, has published an article about direct provision in today's Irish Examiner.
- Another march is being organized for next Saturday 30 September.
- A number of local people have started to quietly express reservations about the ongoing protest. There are even some tweets, such as these, expressing reservations. One tweet says:"Taken at 7:50am in Oughterard. This is intimidation. If you're not with them, then you're against them, and you will be reminded of that every time you drive passed."Another tweet says:"Intimidation of me and other locals who don't agree with these people. I'm not reading the media abut the protest, I'm reading the vile and horrible things people are posting in the group organising this."Another one says:"It's nothing more than intimidation. They are a disgrace... so glad to see someone else from the area that doesn't agree."
24 September 2019
- The Irish Times runs an item under the heading "Anti-immigrant trend in voter sentiment sparking fear in politicians". This 'trend' is reflected in many (though not all) of the comments by people who have signed the online petition Oughterard says NO to inhumane direct provision centres" which was set up by Patrick Curran. Signatories have left comments such as:
"We have 10,000 homeless already and less is being done for those people than for immigrants. We don’t have the ability to look after immigrants without sacrificing our own citizens"
"The Direct Plantation system and asylum industry are rackets which are abusing the generosity of the Irish people. Most asylum seekers fail their claim but few are ever deported with family reunification available even to failed asylum seekers multiplying their numbers exponentially."and
"We do not want this Direct Plantation centre in our Town. Countless Irish have fought and died for this tiny Island that we have at the moment. We do not accept this new Cromwellian plantation of Ireland. We do not accept these new planters (fake refugees) going straight into social housing either. Ireland for the Irish."and
"Our population is already nearing the 25% non-Irish born level, how can any country sustain that, and we don't even have our own language anynmore!?"and
"We should be looking after our own homeless people first."and so forth. See here for the full list of comment by 27 September 2019.
25 September 2019
- RTE's wesite today runs an item under the heading "Oughterard protest group critical of 'negative outside influences'". It reports: "Mr Patrick Curran said the protest was not about the ethnicity of asylum seekers but was a campaign for social justice. He said the main aim of locals was to draw attention to the conditions in which those seeking refugee were housed and to highlight the lack of Government consultation with people in communities were DP centres are situated." It further reports: "He [Mr Patrick Curran] said he suspected that some of those in attendance at a public meeting earlier this month had been 'planted' to sow division."
- In Breaking News, Lorna Siggins publishes an article under the heading "Galway TDs hold 'frank' meeting with minister over Direct Provision centre in Oughterard". She reports: "The group called “Oughterard Says No to Inhumane Direct Provision Centres”, is planning another silent march this coming Saturday." She quotes from a statement by this group: “We have experienced no attempt by the government to address the concerns of the citizens of Oughterard in relation to the overwhelming evidence of the inhumanity of the direct provision centres.”
- Mid Wedst Radio advertizes: "A silent peaceful demonstration against Inhumane Direct Provision systems in Ireland will take place again this Saturday morning in Oughterard. Geraldine Curran is a member of the community and told Midwest News that they would welcome people from all communities to join in the walk and to wear high-vis vests for road safety."
- Back in January The.Journal.ie published an article under the heading "A look inside the angry, fractured world of Ireland's 'yellow vests'" in which it claims "the [French yellow vest] movement is ... inspired by anti-immigration and anti-EU sentiments". There is a Facebook page Yellow Vest Ireland group with 2,472 members which attracts anti-immigrant posts.
- Given the ongoing protest's current focus on the inhumanity of direct provision, it is perhaps appropriate to recall from the Irish Times report on the Oughterard Community Centre meeting that:"He [Sean Kyne] was booed and heckled when he reminded those assembled that Ireland was obliged under EU and United Nations laws to accept and process anyone who could prove they had fled persecution and injustices in their own country."It is perhaps also appropriate to recall from the Irish Times report that:The meeting was also addressed by Gerry Kinneavy, a local organiser for the far-right National Party whose leader Justin Barrett has been linked in the past to a German neo-Nazi group. Kinneavy said Ireland should follow Poland and Hungary’s anti-immigration lead. Leaflets critical of the asylum system containing some misleading claims were distributed by Curran and others.Gerry Kinneavy has a number of Youtube videos on topics such as Restricting Immigration Is Essential to Ireland's Future.
26 September 2019
- RTE reports that the handling of the controversy over the planned use of a former hotel in Oughterard, Co Galway, as a direct provision centre has been defended by the Minister of State with Responsibility for Integration. Mr Stanton said of the 143,000 non-EEA nationals living here, less than 7000 live in direct provision centres, and work continues to speed up how long they stay living there. He said he is "not happy" that 1,200 people remain living in emergency accommodation, but the alternative is that they are on the street.
- RTE reports that the chief executive of the Immigrant Council, Mr Brian Killoran, has warned that a small number of far-right agitators are targetting issues like this to harness public dissatisfaction. He said the State and civil society need to push back against this narrative and to tackle racism.
- The Galway Advertiser reports that a protest march due to be held this weekend in Oughterard will not commence from the church grounds, after the parish priest said it was ‘unacceptable.’ In a pastoral letter Fr Connolly said that he believes direct provision should be dismantled and replaced by a system that allows for a dignified lifestyle for asylum seekers. He also urged locals to take their lead from Christ. “From the beginning of our church as a Christian society, providing hospitality to the poor and the stranger has been central to our lived reality."
- Browsing through Twitter, I just came across the following post recommending a video by Gearóid Murphy who claims that direct provision is not cruel, that it is a "free house", and that people in direct provision are better off than many working Irish people. This contrasts starkly with the Oughterard campaign aimed at drawing attention to the inhumane conditions experienced in direct provision centres by those seeking asylum.
- I also came across this World News report, about the Stop Connemara Gateway Hotel Direct Provision Centre Facebook page:The Facebook group had previously warned, ahead of the meeting, that the town could end up taking in “100 or 200 refugees ... once they settle then they can bring a couple of hundred of their family with them”.
“We are happy to take a family but we would need to vet them to make sure they are genuine,” said the post. “We would like to see that they come from a war-zone and are really fleeing terror ... We would like to know they don’t have a criminal record and their documentation is not fake.”
The group, which has nearly 1,600 members, also featured a number of endorsements for a two-hour-long video posted on YouTube last week that claimed the asylum industry was being forced on rural communities through “State intimidation and manipulation”.
- The Times reports that worries raised about rural direct provision centres for asylum seekers were unfounded, according to the ombudsman. Peter Tyndall said the issue of “antipathy towards asylum seekers” had affected public discourse across Europe and he appealed for people to treat refugees how they would want to be treated themselves. He said it was important to note in “the current context” that fears raised by communities earmarked for direct provision centres had “not transpired” after the facilities were opened. Mr Tyndall was referring to protests in the Galway town of Oughterard.
- Yesterday's Irish Examiner reports:President Michael D Higgins has rowed into the asylum seekers debate claiming some people have "abused" the facts about people coming to Ireland. The president has dismissed claims that migrants replace workers or take social houses.
While the president said it wouldn't be appropriate to comment directly on the remarks made by Mr Collins and Mr Grealish he said it is important that those who speak out on asylum seekers do so "straightforwardly with facts". ... ... "So what people must do is they must really, I think, suggest to people, that they must correct these facts when they're abused in this way," the president said.
While Mr Higgins said the use of false facts to divide people was wrong he said it "doesn't justify for a second any malfunctions in relation to communication". "People are entitled, as citizens are going through processes of change, to be communicated with and given the best possible information."
27 September 2019
- In BreakingNews a woman in Oughterard says: "I know what I'm fighting for, I know what I'm standing here every day. I have worked with asylum seekers... I have had them in my home for weeks on end to make sure they were OK. Maybe at the very beginning there were people from the left and right who may have tried to infiltrate - but they were very quickly shown where to go." A local man says: "We hate this idea that we're being tarred as racist."
- I've just sppotted that Wednesday's Irish Times ran an article under the heading "Discontented rural Ireland fertile ground for populists". It concludes: "Communities need to stop whining about how hurtful it is to be mischaracterised as racist, and start focusing on the positives that can come out of an infusion of new life into a place. They also need to start helping themselves. If they could rally around positive initiatives with a fraction of the determination evidenced in Oughterard last week - where more than 60 people manned a picket around the clock - many of the very real problems of rural Ireland could be solved. Unfortunately, as populists know only too well, fear is a stronger call to action than hope."
28 September 2019
- The Irish Times runs an article under the heading "Direct Provision faces new threat, warns Jesuit group". The article begins: "Recent improvements to Ireland's under-pressure direct-provision system could be reversed unless enough space is created for new asylum seekers, the Jesuit Refugee Service has warned."
- RTE reports: "More than 2,000 people are estimated to have taken part in a silent demonstration in Oughterard at the possibility of a direct provision centre being located in a former hotel just outside the town. Protesters carried placards saying Oughterard said 'Yes to refugees, No to direct provision'. The main banner stated 'Oughterard says No to inhumane direct provision centre'. Local businessman Rory Clancy said the demonstration was silent because their voices and the voices of refugees were not being heard. Local independent councillor Thomas Welby, who organised the first public meeting on the issue, said that there was great resolve in the community on the matter. He strongly rejected any suggestions of racism in the community, which he said had always welcomed people from around the world to Oughterard."
- Also reporting on the silent march, the Irish Times writes that Patrick Curran, a local businessman who helps lead the 'Oughterard says No to inhumane direct provision centres' campaign, said it was silent because "refugees have no voice". "In the last week each and every day we have found more and more disturbing information about the inhumanity of the direct provision system and for this reason we are more determined than ever not to allow this social injustice to unfold on our doorstep,” he said. “Oughterard is a tolerant diverse community. We welcome everyone with open arms. We denounce racism in all its forms.”
- Earlier in the week a group calling themselves Leitrim and Roscommon United against Racism issued an open letter in which they say "We will NOT support the Oughterard campaign, who are organising another rally on Saturday, while Patrick Curran and those that support him lead it."
- The Independent reports: "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, ..."
- The Irish Times reports that the Vienna based head of the European Union's human rights agency, Michael O'Flaherty, has uncovered "worrying patterns" of behaviour in the EU in relation to migrants.
29 September 2019
- The Irish Examiner reports:Publican Rory Clancy, spokesman for a demonstration supported by over 2,000 people at the weekend, said the community was once again asking the department to “come and speak to us here in Oughterard”. He appealed to officials to “listen to some solutions which we have put together as a community, and start listening to the people”. “We welcome people into the community under different circumstances,”Mr Clancy said. “Direct provision centres are not homes – we are all entitled to a home, and that’s what we would love to give the people,” he said.
Oughterard resident and environmentalist John Gibbons said his main reason for supporting the march was the “inhumanity of direct provision” where “the only benefactor for this model is the speculator paid millions of euros of taxpayers’ money”. Mr Gibbons described direct provision as a “headage scheme for human beings”, where people were “gathered like livestock and placed in an institution”.
Independent TD Catherine Connolly was the sole Galway West TD to speak publicly on the issue at the weekend, when she addressed a separate event hosted by the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN) in Galway city. Ms Connolly said she did not believe the people of Oughterard were racist, but their "genuine concerns" about direct provision and lack of services in rural towns had been "hijacked". She expressed serious concern about the atmosphere at first meeting about the issue - held in Oughterard earlier this month which was chaired by Cllr Welby – the same meeting where Independent TD Noel Grealish made controversial remarks differentiating between what he described as “genuine” refugees from Syria and African “economic migrants”.
- The Irish Independent reports:The Bishop of Galway - speaking in Oughterard, where protests continue against a direct provision centre planned for the town - has called for an end to the controversial system of asylum seeker accommodation.Bishop Kelly's complete homily is available here.
“Today I call for an end to the current system of direct provision which strips people of their independence, their cultural identity, and their dignity and has lasting traumatic impact on residents,” said Bishop Brendan Kelly in a homily at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in the Connemara village today.
“It is not fit for purpose. It prevents people from integrating and it contributes towards the deepening of ignorance, resentment and suspicion. In addition, there is a lack of transparency in the management of, and in the quality of operation of the centres. “The State has fallen far short by inadequately preparing local communities to effectively plan for our new arrivals. "There has been a lack of consultation, ineffective communication and information-sharing, and an absence of required social infrastructure and resources in health and education.”
Two thousand people turned out at a protest yesterday over concerns about the location of a direct provision centre in the Galway town. The protests have now entered their third week Posters at the protest read "Oughterard says yes to refugees, no to direct provision". poster Some protesters called on the Minister for Justice to find an alternative to direct provision.
However, there were concerns that anti-immigration groups were attempting to “infiltrate” the community’s protest, according to local publican and spokesman, Rory Clancy.
- Here is a post from an organizer of the Oughterard protest.
30 September 2019
- Last Friday's Irish Examiner along with other news outlets ran items on Gemma O'Doherty. I mentioned above that she contributed posts to the Facebook page used to found the Oughterard protest. The Irish Examiner now reports:A woman whose mixed-race family was subjected to racist online commentary following their appearance in a supermarket advertising campaign said she was “physically shaking” when she read messages posted to Twitter about her fiance and toddler son. Fiona Ryan, her Brazilian-born fiance, Jonathan Mathis, and their 22-month old son featured in an advertising campaign for retailer Lidl.
Earlier this month the ad was tweeted by former journalist Gemma O’Doherty with the comment: “German dump @lidl_ireland gaslighting the Irish people with their multicultural version of ‘The Ryans’. Kidding no-one! Resist the Great Replacement wherever you can by giving this kip a wide berth. #ShopIrish #BuyIrish.”
Ms Ryan said she learned of the tweet when the producer of the television ad phoned to warn her. She told Sean O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1: “She couldn't bring herself to say it over the phone to me, so I went and looked at it myself...When I first saw it, I was actually shaking, physically shaking. I had my 22-month-old son beside me so I had to kind of pull it together." Ms Ryan went about gathering evidence of the abusive messages for gardaí, and despite initially being told it was a civil matter, she said the garda Victim Support Unit has since told them there is an investigating officer assigned to their complaint. “I had to go through all the tweets myself and screenshot the ones that were pretty, for want of a better word, racist. When I read through them all, I was pretty shook, I feared for my safety, for my son's safety straightaway. It was pretty harrowing to have to read through all that and I don't think anybody should be subjected to that kind of online abuse."
1 October 2019
- The Irish Times reports:The developer of a hotel in Oughterard which was earmarked to open as a direct provision centre says he has withdrawn his tender and will not be proceeding with the development.
Speaking on Galway Bay FM on Tuesday morning, Sean Lyons, owner of the Fazyard Limited company, said the development of the former Connemara Gateway hotel would “100 per cent” not be going ahead.
Protestors have maintained an almost constant presence outside the hotel since a community meeting was held in the town in early September opposing plans for a direct provision centre to open in the area.
Mr Lyons criticised the Department of Justice for its lack of communication in recent weeks, saying his company was left at the forefront of the debate without clarity around the project. Mr Lyons confirmed he had informed the Reception and Integration Agency of his decision to withdraw on Monday.
The businessman said he also contacted the protest committee requesting that his workers be allowed to access the site to collect their tools but that they had not been allowed past the blockade yet. He reiterated the request on radio, saying once the tools and equipment was gone he would be “finished with the premises, we’ll be gone”.
“It’s just not worth it from the point of view of the workmen and their safety, all they’re trying to do is work,” he said.
“Nobody is happy with this situation. We needed more support and there should have been more information given out.”
- The following was posted to the protest Facebook page.
- The Irish Sun reports:TOWN SUGGESTION BOX
Speaking on RTE Radio 1's Today with Sean O'Rourke, local businessman Rory Clancy said he thinks there are other ways to integrate asylum seekers into the community that would be more beneficial than direct provision.
He said the town's people set up a suggestion box of ideas to house asylum seekers to be given to the Department of Justice.
He explained: "Yesterday evening we started a suggestion box for alternatives to DP centres, so we’ve asked the community to put together ideas we were hoping we could bring to the government with suggestions going forward.
"For instance, if we were to maybe look at a family coming into our village, at the moment we’d say we have a parish house there that’s unused for instance
"That's an empty parish house sitting there and there’s a few in the country and we could look at making sure they were renovated correctly and a suitable home for a family.
"Kind of suggestions like that and again maybe derelict houses in the community that maybe the government could buy and give them a fair chance of a home."
- Many people at #Oughterard are tweeting very uncomplimentary messages about the oughterard people, several even drawing parallels to the Ku Klux Klan. I'll not print these. One tweeted a poem:
The Migrant & Refugee Rights centre tweeted:The tender for a #DirectProvision Centre in #Oughterard has been withdrawn. We believe that this protest wasn't about #DirectProvision. This protest became about race & difference dressed up in the language of human rights but human rights are not exclusionary.
These were bad faith arguments manipulated by those who would seek to undermine the integration of asylum seekers in Ireland. This wasn't about a proposed individual centre - it was about undermining the right to claim asylum in Ireland. We need to be vigilant for this.
There were people who had legitimate concerns about resources – access to schools, GPs etc and it is a shame that a consultation process was not put in place to allay these potential fears before the protests happened. We hope that lesson has been learned.
Ending #DirectProvision is an admirable aim. H/ever the reality is that 6000+ people are living in direct provision centres right now & a further 1400 in emergency accomm. If DP ended in the morning most of these people would become homeless. Accommodation is urgently needed.
- The Irish Examiner reports:Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has blamed "grossly misleading" information about asylum seeker numbers for the decision to scrap plans for a direct provision centre in Oughterard after a weeks long racism row stand-off.
Mr Flanagan hit out at the "disappointing" situation and said it will "exacerbate a very serious situation" as Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan insisted protesters must not be allowed to decided for direct provision sites are built.
"In recent weeks grossly misleading comments have been made about the nature of direct provision services in this State. The nature of the services - which have improved steadily over many years and are now in line with EU law - have been totally mischaracterized.
"It is disappointing that a bidder has chosen to withdraw from the tender process for the western region. This is of course their prerogative.
"However, this is a development which will ultimately exacerbate a very serious situation in terms of a shortage of accommodation for those who come to Ireland seeking accommodation and requesting State services," Mr Flanagan said.
His comments - which were echoed by junior minister for equality, immigration and integration David Stanton - came as Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan said protesters must not be allowed to dictate asylum seeker locations.
Asked about the Oughterard developments at Leinster House, Mr O'Callaghan said: “We have to be very careful that we don't allow a situation to develop whereby protests on one level and maybe lawlessness at a higher level can result in direct provision centres just not going ahead.
"We do not have that many [asylum seekers]. There are 6,000 people. I would be concerned if a message is going out that these centres can be stopped if there are protests."
4 October 2019
- RTE's Callan's Kicks performed a satirical sketch about Oughterard today.
- The following was posted to the protest's Facebook page today.I have just sent the following email to firstname.lastname@example.org in relation to the Callan Kicks Show this evening and his disgusting portrayal of Oughterard.
To Whom It May Concern
I am contacting you in relation to the Callan’s Kicks Show earlier this evening and the disgusting portrayal of Oughterard.
It begins as if it is an advert that you would expect from Fáilte Ireland. After the introduction, “welcome to Oughterard the jewel in the crown of rural Ireland”.
Next we hear what can only be described as Racist Comments, “Go Back to where ye came from”.
He goes on, “at Oughterard, there’s fun for all the family, sp long as there’s not too many of ye and your all in possession of a return ticket”. This is totally unacceptable.
Now he continues to say “explore Glengowla Mines, visit our beloved derelict hotel”. What business does he have for mentioning a Genuine Business in Oughterard and furthermore on whose authority has he done this.
This is clearly not Entertainment but a cheap slur on the village of Oughterard. Now he try to put it out there, that the locals are being manipulated by the right wing and relates to Facebook Pages.
Now he suggests that the visitors are coming to Steal!!
He continues to have his cheap digs and goes on to mention the Local TDs, however he is careful not to mention their names!!
Now he continues with a reference to Biafra, what is his meaning behind that?
He talks about taking a selfie at the Quiet Man Bridge, which let’s not forget brings a lot of visitors to Connemara, on account of the Quiet Man Movie and of course he has to have a dig at that and a reference to 2Domestic Violence”.
He claims that you are only welcome in Oughterard if you are a “rich yank with credit cards”.
He follows on by saying, “we’re not racist, we just have deep concerns about inhumane way direct provision works”. He says, “that is not just an excuse we just cam up with” and links it to the Royal Family and the Daily Mail.
His ends by relating to the Wild Atlantic Way and Oughterard as a xenophobic state, which is reprehensible to say the least.
His final word is “stay away if you can’t pay your way”.
If RTE think that this is Entertainment, then I strongly suggest that there are very serious issues within their Broadcasting Department.
After listening to this, it has left a very bad taste in my mouth and I suggest that serious questions need to be answered, because I suggest that RTE have impugned the honour and reputation of the People of Oughterard.
I look forward to your response in this matter and I can assure you that I will also be taking this up with the Broadcasting Authority Ireland.
Kind regards, Mxxxxxx Bxxxxx Sent from my iPhone
5 October 2019
- The Irish Examiner publishes an item under the heading: "Ireland should offer warm place of refuge and not replicate Oughterard scenes":What the country does not need replicated is the scenes that developed in Oughterard. Surely, even in the midst of various domestic problems, this country should offer a warm place of refuge, even if only temporarily, for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet,, writes Michael Clifford
THE whooping and hollering was in bad taste. Last Tuesday, protestors outside the former Connemara Gateway Hotel near the village of Oughterard were letting it rip. They were thrilled that their two-week protest had succeeded.
The owner of the premises had bowed to pressure and withdrawn his tender to house a direct provision centre there.
The protesters claimed their glee was directed at the Department of Justice, the Government, the system. But the reality is that the spontaneous joy also sent a message to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Any asylum seeker aware of the scenario would be compelled to conclude that they were not welcome in Oughterard.
There was also much cant at the scene of their victory. “We were here for the good of people who would have been crammed in here like cattle,” one local told RTÉ’s Drivetime programme on Tuesday. That misplaced concern is about as believable as the average Boris Johnson utterance.
Another said: "We were concerned for the good of the town, for the good of asylum seekers.”
- Today Patrick Curran posted the following to Facebook:The Editor of RTE chooses what to play on RTE and what not to play on RTE. He choose not to play any of the excellent speeches we saw on this page including the incredibly passionate speeches from John Gibbons and Rory Clancy even though the RTE reporters on the ground who recorded them thought they were excellent. He choose not to play them as he knew they would touch the hearts of the nation. When they took them back to their studios they were told they couldn't be used. They then decide to release a piece insinuating Oughterard is full of racist, far right extremist, xenophobic, domestic violence supporting, sheep shaggers. The whole of Connemara, Galway and the West of Ireland should now boycott RTE and refuse to pay their TV license.
7 October 2019
- Marian Earl spoke about the reasons for the Oughterard protest on Claire Byrne Live.
11 October 2019
- 10 days after the end of the protest there is still a large pile of rubble in the middle of the 'hard shoulder' in front of the Connemara Gateway Hotel, as well as rubble off the road in the entrance to the hotel. On the day the protest ended one local organizer told Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio that he didn't know who tipped the rubble there during the 24/7 protest, to which Mr O'Rourke replied "sure you don't". To me, the hard shoulder rubble seems a serious road hazard.
- Some Oughterard locals are still forwarding to Facebook items about:
- fake refugees, and large numbers of rejected asylum applications. [Note: official Eurostat figures show that significantly less than 15% of applications are rejected.]
- inhumane conditions in DP centres [Note: severe overcrowding is caused by an insufficient number of centres/social housing.]
- arguments for a halt to the srpead of 'multi-culturalism' in Ireland.The internet provides easy access to many Youtube videos and blogs by Irish vloggers and bloggers (at least one of whom seems to have been invited to the Oughterard meeting and several of whom were present at the meeting) who espouse views in line with a US movement called the alt right. See this Wikipedia page for more details on the movement.
A worrying thread of tweets and posts, which appear to document invitations to alt-right activits to participate in the Oughterard protest, is documented here.
- Today is the second day of the Turkish Army's offensive against Kurdish-led Syrian forces in northeastern Syria. The Kurdish-led forces had been helping to fight against ISIS in the region. Turkey's offensive has been facilitated by Donald Trump's withdrawal of US forces in the region and by Recep Tayyip Erdogan's threats to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe if European countries continue to brand his country’s military incursion in Syria an occupation. The Turkish offensive has increased the flow of refugees from the region.
13 October 2019
- Browsing the internet today, I discovered that there is an ongoing online campaign against asylum seekers in Carickmacross which has characteristis in common with online aspects of the Oughterard protest. The kind of things I came across were:
- An anonymous article hosted on the website thetricolour.com under the headline Carrickmacross Women fearful of Migrant Gangs. The article beginsWomen in the town of Carrickmacross County Monaghan say they now feel unsafe and afraid walking the streets of Carrickmacross due to large gangs of migrant men congregating around the town .
- An online petition Do You Feel Intimidated When Walking Around Carrickmacross. Signatories have left comments such asI would never permit my family to travel to Carrickmacross due to vicious gang rapes and murders being perpetrated against the indigenous Irish locals by migrants. A woman was recently beaten and raped by a Roma gang. Not too long ago a father of three was murdered by a Lithuanian. If me or mine were assaulted in Carrickmacross, I'd have no expectation of justice. Moreover, I'd expect it to be swept under the rug and be labelled a racist. Travelling to or through Carrickmacross is not worth the risk.
- An associated online petition Should The Direct Provision Center In The Oasis / Treacys Hotel Be Stopped.
16 October 2019
- The Irish Times reports:The judge who officiates at citizenship ceremonies has called for new legislation to combat hate crime amid increasing reports of attacks on minorities. ... “I don’t use Facebook. I’ve kept pure of that so I’m blind to a whole lot of stuff that goes on. But I’m told it’s terrible,” he told The Irish Times.
There have been several recent high-profile incidents of racism in Ireland including online death threats made against a mixed-race couple last month who appeared in a Lidl advert. Also last month, Independent TD Noel Grealish said that Africans arriving into Ireland were economic migrants “sponging off the system” while addressing a public meeting in Oughterard.
Although not mentioning Mr Grealish, Mr McMahon said the developments in Oughterard were “sinister and upsetting”.
- A second Irish Times article reports:Locals in Oughterard protesting against a direct provision centre in the town were “used” by outsiders seeking to further their own political agenda, Mr Justice Bryan McMahon has said.
... The direct provision system is far from ideal, the judge said, “but it’s the best we’ve got and it’s a hell of a lot better than it was five years ago”. He said he did not see any immediate alternatives to the system. “It is all well and good saying put [asylum seekers] into the local communities where they’ll get houses to rent. They won’t.”
17 October 2019
- The Irish Independent reports:Residents in two rural Irish towns have raised concerns over a lack of community services as more than 200 asylum seekers are set to arrive in their communities. Locals in both Ballinamore, Co Leitrim and Borrisokane in Co Tipperary were told over the last couple of days that new direct provision centres will open in their communities in the coming weeks.A public meeting is being held this evening in Borrisokane.
"It doesn't matter if people are coming from Dublin or Mars, there's just too many of them," he told the Irish Independent.
Ballinamore will see 130 people move into the area in the next two to three weeks, while approximately 75 people will arrive in Borrisokane this Monday.
Around 150 people attended a public meeting last night in Ballinamore where concerns were raised.
The direct provision centres in both towns will take shape in the form of apartments, where families will have access to their own cooking facilities and privacy. In both towns, construction of the apartment blocks began during the boom and the builds weren’t finished. "The developer [in Ballinamore ] has promised to build a medical practice within the centre and has said that he's working with the department to ensure adequate supports."
- RTE's Drivetime interviewed people from Borrisokane, including Independent Councillor Michael O'Meara who feels that background checks should be done on people before they move into the town. Michael O'Meara also feels that Borrisokane people are not like Oughterard people.
- On a separate topic, the Leitrim Observer reported:Plans for the construction of additional housing units in Ballinamore are the first phase in what has the potential to be a €30m investment in the South Leitrim town over the next five years.The planning application seeks permission for the construction of 18 x 2-bedroom apartments. Planning is also sought for the construction of 3 x 2-bedroom and 16 x 3-bedroom houses in the form of three two-storey terraced blocks.
Sinn Féin Deputy, Martin Kenny, said he had become aware of the proposed development and believed it offered “a lot of potential for the Ballinamore area.”
18 October 2019
- Tipperary Live reports on yesterday's public meeting in Borrisokane:One man who said he was from east Galway called on residents to "do an Oughtarard" to prevent the centre opening.
Fears were raised from the floor that the families may not speak English.
Two women said they were "terrified" by the prospect, with one concerned the families may just "hang around the street".
One woman said that asylum seekers in other towns were "intimidating women", while another said that her "blood was just boiling" at the proposal.
However, the most vehement objection came from Borrisokane native and leader of the National Party Justin Barrett, who said incidents of crime and vandalism had increased where other direct provision centres had been located.
- A couple of days back CNN ran an item on Galway under the heading Ireland has a hate crime problem and its legislation is not fit to deal with it.
- The following was posted on Facebook today.
22 October 2019
- The Irish Times reports:Objections by locals in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, to the arrival of up to 130 asylum seekers and refugees which has led to public protests “can be comprehensively addressed”, the Department of Justice has said.
Over 350 people attended a meeting on Sunday to debate concerns about the plan revealed last week to house asylum seekers at newly-renovated apartments in the town, offering “own door self-catering accommodation”.
Some 30 protesters, including some local business owners, on Monday started a “silent demonstration” outside the apartments wearing high-vis vests and carrying “No to People Traffickers”, “System Failure” and “Community not Compounds” placards.
In a statement the Ballinamore Community group said the Government should begin a programme of “proportional provision”, and share refugees and asylum seekers around the State, saying the plan for their town was “bordering on criminal”.
25 October 2019
- The Oughterard says NO to inhumane Direct Provision centres facebook page has granted public access for the last couple of weeks. Some posts to the page are very much concerned with improving the plight of asylum seekers. Other posts focus on homeless Irish citizens, or support for protests in Ballinamore, Borrisokane, and Achill, or on the unreliability of mainstream media, or on the enormous profits apparently being made by providers of accommodation to those in the direct provision system, or on the lack of consultation of the people by the government, or on the poor representation of the people provided by certain elected representatives, or provide links to articles in "alternative news" sites such as Gript, and The colour Ireland, and The Burkean. I'm using "alternative news" here in a sense analogous to the phenomenon that underpins Donald Trump's electoral support in the USA.
Here is the latest post on this Facebook page.
- The Spinnoff, an award winning New Zealand news site with daily following of 100,000 readers, ran an article some weeks ago under the heading #Oughterard: how alt-right racists claimed victory over a tiny Irish town. The article concludes:Long may #Oughterard remain the exception to small-town hospitality, and not become the new norm.
- Fortunately the dangerous pile of rubble on the hard shoulder outside the Connemara Gateway Hotel was cleared this morning. A big thanks to the men who cleared this!
- The Sinn Féin website reports:Speaking during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil today Sinn Féin TD for Sligo, Leitrim, North Roscommon and South Donegal Martin Kenny TD spoke about how racist language was becoming normalised and should be rejected by all parties in the Dáil.
Teachta Kenny continued:
“The hatred that these people disseminate, mainly through the Internet, is regrettably taking root in some places in our society and that is what I want to talk about today.
“The language the far-right uses and the tone of speech that it normalises has taken root among people who would otherwise be decent and reasonable. That is where the greatest danger lies. It has become acceptable for some people to talk about asylum seekers being 'dumped' in a town.
“The word ‘dumped’ insinuates something is of no value. We only dump rubbish.
“This issue goes beyond immigrants and minorities. It is also an issue of class because in many places around the country where there are proposals to build emergency accommodation or social housing, there are objections from communities which are excited by hysteria that they do not want “those sort of people” around them.
- The Irish Times reports:‘WE DON’T WANT THIS TO BE OUGHTERARD 2.0’: BORRISOKANE HAS DECIDED TO WELCOME ITS NEW DIRECT-PROVISION CENTRE. BALLINAMORE, IN CO LEITRIM, HAS NOT.
26 October 2019
- The Oughterard says NO to inhumane Direct Provision centres facebook page is still very active. Here is one of today's posts.The Economic Migrant
For the economic migrant hiding under the banner of both refugee and asylum seeker, under the Hotel California house rules for Direct Provision ‘where you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave’ a feast of bounty awaits them if they manage to do just that. The next step is to check into the Social Welfare Hotel (SWH) where there is no incentive to ever check out again for a multi-cultured menu of benefits awaits that is second to none in Europe or the world.
One former refugee couple from Nigeria claimed rent allowance of €49,000 plus unemployment benefit of €132,000 to pay off their mortgage in Ireland after they had booked into the SWH. Another booking saw a woman in continuous receipt of Irish social welfare and rent allowance payments totalling €67,000 despite living in Nigeria for years.
To give a cultural balance here: an Albanian refugee who had checked in to the same SWH returned to his home country later while still claiming unemployment benefit, rent allowance and child benefit, totalling €10,000. Another Albanian guest who stayed here was claiming more than €51,000 in social welfare payments while still working. Nigeria and Albania are classed as safe countries where there are plenty of opportunities for work over there but better opportunities over here if you simply don’t work and earn more money too while doing nothing.
For starters in this monetary assistance world, a former economic refugee migrant is eligible for single person allowance of €203; if he has a wife then factor in another €135 and €34 for each child they might have. These are all weekly payments. It gets better. There is also the Housing Assist Program (HAP) that can run up to €3000 a month for just one family based on locality and availability, and these payment are set to go only one way and that is up. Then there is the free medical, fuel allowance and a host of other grants either given by government or charity based. All of these monies are tax free. To allow for political correctness there is also the black, brown or white economy as outlined above to add to the totality of benefits.
The fault lines are opening in this chasm quickly and this simply cannot sustain itself, and we as a nation must promote the political will for change starting with the asylum process itself that causes this incentive to not work. This will also help the genuine refugee and Irish citizen, recently naturalised or otherwise, who wants to work but may well be forced to become an immigrant again if a more fairer and balanced system slips away.
- Here are two more:
30 October 2019
- Just one more of many subsequent posts about the proposal to house 38 asylum seekers on Achill:
- And two of a number of posts about the proposal to house 30 asylum seekers in Kinvara.
31 October 2019
- Two views on the Achill Head Hotel.
And some more photos of the hotel taken on a sunny day.
1 November 2019
- RTE reports:Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has asked for "the siege to be lifted in Achill". He said protests against direct provision were "misguided" and that Ireland was "morally obliged to offer protection to people who come to our shores without notice". Mr Flanagan said that he believed there was a small group of people "whipping up anti-immigrant sentiment", which he said was not the view of the Irish people.
He said: "Unfortunately there is an insidious alt-right engagement here. "It is small, it is vociferous and it is acting very unfairly by whipping up anti-immigrant sentiment that is fundamentally unfair and not representative of the welcome that the Irish people are noted for.
Meanwhile, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland said "people are scared when they see that an Irish TD's car is being torched because he is siding with asylum seekers".Mr Khambule said: "People are scared to call this racism. I say, why not?" He added that The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland has not been contacted by any of the protest groups who claim that plans for emergency accommodation in their area is inhumane.
- Breaking News reports:
A member of a welcome committee set up to support asylum seekers due to arrive on Achill Island has said that “anybody with a heart would have to reconsider” opposing the housing of vulnerable women in a local hotel. James McNamara said he was very disappointed that the Department of Justice had changed its mind about its plan to house asylum seekers at a hotel on the Mayo island.
Some 13 female asylum seekers were due to arrive at the Achill Head Hotel today but the Department of Justice confirmed yesterday it had postponed their arrival. In a statement it said: “The Department of Justice and Equality had hoped to transfer 13 vulnerable women to the Achill Head Hotel. "The hotel was to provide emergency short-term accommodation to women who have come to Ireland seeking international protection. "They were to be in Achill for a maximum stay of three months. "However, an ongoing protest remains in place outside the hotel, so the Department has regrettably decided that, at the moment, to ask the women to move there would not be in their best interests, as they may be vulnerable while awaiting decisions on their protection applications”.
- A post from Oughterard concerning Achill:
2 November 2019
- The Irish Times reports:Former president Mary McAleese has said it bothers her greatly to see people who are strangers to Ireland treated in ways that are contrary “to the ethic of our country and our people”.
Without specific reference to protests against accommodating asylum seekers in Achill, Ballinamore, and Oughterard, she spoke on Saturday of people who had to leave their homes and “suddenly they have nowhere, and nothing. And now they rely on the kindness of strangers.
“My God tells me I have to be the stranger who is kind. That simple . . . it bothers me greatly finding that [in] a country that I’m so proud of, that sometimes people are not experiencing the kindness that I know is the ethic of our country and our people.”
- The Irish Examiner reports:The Archbishop of Tuam has commented on the ongoing row over the housing of asylum seekers in Achill and said Christians are morally obliged to welcome the stranger.
"Ireland is now moving from an era of austerity and recession to a more prosperous period in our economic cycle. As Christians we are morally obliged to welcome the stranger and, in the context of our improved circumstances, we have a responsibility to share with those who are less fortunate than ourselves. We should also be particularly alert to those who are experiencing serious upheaval and a crisis of hope in their lives.
"Critically, we also have a moral obligation to serve the common good by preventing the exploitation of sensitive situations concerning vulnerable people by those who trade in hatred and fear.
"Most Irish families know only too well that feeling of fear and trepidation that accompanies emigration. Let our faith, and our own lived-experience, be a model of generosity to others.
- And a post to Oughterard says NO to inhumane direct provision centres".
- The Irish Examiner reports that: "Ballinamore residents set to launch asylum-seeker welcoming committee".
A group of Ballinamore residents who are set to launch a welcoming committee in the Co. Leitrim town this week say they want an “alternative voice” to be heard on the issue of asylum seekers. The group has already met with campaigners from Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon, who welcomed over 200 Syrian refugees in 2017, seeking advice on how to support asylum seekers.
Local resident Caroline Dempsey said she stepped forward after local TD Martin Kenny’s car was set alight in an apparent arson attack outside his home. “I think that was a catalyst and I just wanted to show that there is an alternative voice in Ballinamore and it is becoming more mainstream."
3 November 2019
- A post to Oughterard says NO to inhumane direct provision centres".
- RTE's Claire Byrne Live devoted a large part of today's programme to the direct provision issue. The programme guests included:
- TD Martin Kenny who's car was set alight after expressing sympathy for asylum seekers in Leitrim.
- Michelle Doherty and John Nolan, from Oughterard, whose car tyres were slashed in relation to their wish to open a direct provision centre in Oughterard.
- A representative of a group from Achill who are wanting to welcome asylum seekers to Achill. The representative said that there are services for the 2500 residents of Achill, and that these could be stretched to accommodate a few asylum seekers. The representative also said that friends of his had stayed at the Achill Head Hotel in late summer 2019, and that the accommodation there did not give rise to any complaints from his friends.
4 November 2019
- Some response to RTE's programme.
- The Mayo News reports:AN alternative accommodation proposal for asylum seekers due to be housed in Achill has been turned down by the Department of Justice and Equality.
Cllr McNamara told The Mayo News last night (Monday) he arranged an alternative accommodation proposal himself but said it was rebuked by the department. “I offered alternative accommodation in the parish if the department wanted to integrate people in a different manner, with houses in different parts of the island.
He added he had received firm commitments from three property owners and was confident more could be sourced. “I have sourced three houses from three different property owners in three different parts of Achill. These houses are ready to move into now and could house three families.
7 November 2019
- Click here for a more readable copy of this letter to the Galway Advertizer.
End of blog.That, folks, is the end of my blog about Oughterard and asylum seekers. In order to compile the blog I had to peep into the world of Twitter and Facebook. But I think I'll now return to a personal world free of both these fora. Bye!
Oughterard PostscriptOn 9 February 2020 the Irish Times reported:Independent TD Noel Grealish and Sinn Fein's Mairéad Farrell were the big winners from the Galway West constituency. Mr Grealish's controversial remarks about African migrants being "spongers" would appear to have helped rather than hindered his campaign. His comments made at a public meeting in Oughterard about a direct provision centre for the village saw him triple his support there from 200 first preference votes to 600 votes.