The Mayor of Cork County has moved to clarify comments he made at a public meeting about International Protection Applicants in Fermoy, saying he did not support plans by anti-immigration activist Derek Blighe to physically block asylum seekers coming to the town.
Long serving Fianna Fáil Cllr Frank O’Flynn, who was elected Mayor of Cork County in June, was one of five local councillors to attend the meeting called by locals last Wednesday to highlight concerns about plans to house 56 International Protection Applicants at a property at St James’s Place in the town.
At the meeting which took place on the street and was attended by about 25 people, Cllr O’Flynn said that he had no problem with Ukrainians or asylum seekers families coming to Fermoy, but he did have concerns about single male asylum seekers being accommodated in such centres.
“I stand four square with the people of Fermoy and the people of the area on what’s happening here,” said Cllr O’Flynn as he urged people to email the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman to highlight their concerns about the proposal.
“If it’s not good enough for the people, it’s not good enough for Frank O’Flynn. We are not going to stand for this and the one thing that is going to succeed is people power, the more people that come out and let the minister know we are not going to stand for this in our beautiful town (the better).”
Cllr O’Flynn had just finished his speech when he was addressed by anti-immigration activist and founder of Ireland First, Derek Blighe, who challenged Cllr O’Flynn to say whether he would be willing to join in a blockade outside the building to stop asylum seekers entering the premises.
“Can I just say one thing there, Frank ... would you support a blockade of the gate, blockades have worked all around the country – they have worked in Donegal, they have worked up Wicklow – if you blockade the gate, they can’t come in, would you support a blockade?” asked Mr Blighe.
“No problem,” said Cllr O’Flynn twice in response in a video of the meeting which has been posted by Mr Blighe on his Facebook page and which appeared to suggest that Cllr O’Flynn was endorsing the proposal to mount a blockade to stop asylum seekers being moved into the property.
Cllr O’Flynn was challenged on the issue by former Labour senator and Cork County Councillor John Gilroy, who said he had no issues with councillors attending such a rally and expressing whatever views they wish but Cllr O’Flynn, as Mayor of Cork County, should be more careful in his comments.
“I know other councillors attended that meeting and spoke, as is their right, 100 per cent, but I think as Mayor of Cork County, which is a largely symbolic role, Cllr O’Flynn is representing the people of Cork. and he should remember that and be responsible and careful what he says in that role.
“I want him to clarify if he is representing Cork County Council policy when he says he is willing to support a blockade because I know the great work that both Cork County Council and Cork City Council are doing with the Ukrainian community, so his comments need to be clarified in that regard.
“He is, as Mayor, the public face of Cork County Council and I think it would send out the entirely wrong message if we were to see the Mayor of Cork County standing on a picket line blockading refugees, fleeing war and persecution, to stop them accessing accommodation provided by the state.”
Mr Gilroy, who is no longer involved in politics or a member of the Labour Party, said he accepted that Cllr O’Flynn was not wearing the Mayoral chain on the night, but everyone knew he was the mayor, and he couldn’t say he was attending the meeting just as a councillor and not as mayor.
“It is the responsibility of politicians as community leaders to lead and act positively and not to be stirring up nonsense like this and whipping up a frenzy which will be exploited by the far right because they will be claiming now on social media that the Mayor of County Cork is backing them,” he said.
Contacted by The Irish Times, Cllr O’Flynn said he was happy to clarify the matter and said he did not support a blockade of the premises at St James’s Place and had attended the meeting to hear the views of local people concerned about the numbers of asylum seekers being sent to Fermoy.
“I am not supporting any blockade, there is a petition supporting blockade – I did not sign it nor will I be attending the blockade there ... I welcome all people to Ireland and am all for inclusivity – I attended the meeting to find out more after I was contacted by concerned local people, that’s all.”
Last December, Mr Blighe organised protests over the housing of 60 asylum seekers at St Joseph’s Convent in Fermoy but the protests prompted a big counter rally attended by over 300 people who said they were horrified by the anti-refugee protests and said Fermoy was a welcoming town.