Ballymun resident Fr Peter McVerry has suggested “safe zones” should be legislated for to prevent protests within a 100m radius of accommodation centres for asylum seekers and refugees.
The veteran housing campaigner described recent protests at such centres, including at the Travelodge in Ballymun which houses more than 200 migrants, as “worrying” and “disgraceful”, but did not believe they were representative of the Ballymun community.
“I haven’t been up there and I haven’t spoken to anybody from Ballymun in relation to the protests,” he said. “From my knowledge of the people of Ballymun, I don’t think the protests represent them. I think most people are just getting on with life. There have been refugees in the Travelodge for years and there hasn’t been a whimper out of the community. So I think the protests are being led by the anti-immigrant, right-wing parties.”
A means of tackling the protests, he said, could be to introduce “safe zones” around accommodation centres, similar to those due to be introduced around centres providing abortion services. The Health (Termination of Pregnancy Services [Safe Access Zones]) Bill 2022, currently before the Oireachtas, would prohibit “conduct... which is intended to or may reasonably have the effect of influencing the decision of a person in relation to availing of, or providing, termination of pregnancy services, or interfering [with availing of abortion], or both” within 100m of a provider.
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The Bill would also introduce an offence of harassment punishable with a fine or imprisonment on summary conviction.
“There is legislation to ban anti-abortion activists protesting near abortion providers. Maybe something like that could be introduced to stop these worrying protests right outside people’s homes,” Fr McVerry said.
Asked for his view of the upset of residents in the hotel due to the protests, he said: “I think it’s a disgrace. These people have already suffered terribly. Many of them are fleeing persecution, death and now some people are making them believe they are not welcome in Ireland.
“I would say to any of the people of Ballymun who are opposed to the [asylum seekers], who say they are opposed primarily on the grounds of safety, I’d say the best thing you can do is actually go to the hotel and meet them.
“If they feel you respect them, want to know them, they are much less likely to do anything against the community... But many people in Ballymun feel that Irish society doesn’t give a damn about them and, for some, their response then can be, ‘Well, why should we give a damn about Irish society?’ So they are just repeating the process with the refugees.”
He did not believe poorer communities were more susceptible to anti-immigration sentiment than others.
“If this was in Blackrock or Shankill, you’d get the same protests. But I do think people in Ballymun who feel society doesn’t give a damn about them are just passing that on to the refugees.”