An anti-immigration protest was staged outside Columb Barracks in Mullingar on Thursday night against the planned relocation of 120 asylum seekers to tented accommodation inside the former military installation over the coming weeks.
Up to 300 people, made up of mostly local people but with a strong Dublin contingent, marched from the barracks shortly after 7pm and made their way through the centre of the town, halting traffic and chanting while a Garda presence observed from a distance.
According to a spokesperson from the Department of Integration 15 tents will be erected “for a limited period” of up to eight weeks to accommodate asylum applicants at Columb Barracks. It plans to use the site “for a maximum of 12 months”.
A group by the name of Mullingar Says No! organised the protest, and has said it intends to hold similar demonstrations over the coming weeks.
The group passed around leaflets to the crowd which speculated that the former military instillation could be used “to house up 1,700″ asylum seekers in the future.
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Speaking outside the gate of Columb Barracks, Patrick Hussey, one of the local organisers, said: “People are concerned over the number of migrants being moved into Mullingar. I haven’t attended one of these [marches] before and I think they should only be attended by locals.”
Another local man, Ben Mee, who joined protesters at the town’s Market Square following the march, said “I accept that there’s a war in Ukraine and I accept that we need to help but there is a limitation”.
The Columb Barracks Restoration & Regeneration Committee, a voluntary organisation that aims to transform the site, has raised concerns regarding the disruption that may be caused to 30 community groups who use the facility for their activities.
However, Helen Donnelly, chair of the committee, said they wished to distance themselves from the protest staged in Mullingar on Thursday. “We have nothing to do with this protest. What we want is for Roderic O’Gorman and his department to sit down and consult with us to come to a positive outcome for both the communities within the barracks and visitors who come.
“This is the only way, we feel, for a positive outcome to be achieved, and we want a positive outcome. Negotiation is key and if that was done in the first place this protest wouldn’t be happening.
“As far as I’m aware no community groups within the barracks are involved in the protest. The situation has been manipulated and doubled in volume, leaving things in a dangerous place.”
Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy said on Thursday there would be no disruption to community activities taking place at the facility. “The refugee accommodation area will be fenced off, and a professional facility management company will operate the site on the behalf of the Department of Integration.”
The Longford-Westmeath TD added that while 120 males will stay in tented accommodation for an estimated period of eight weeks, the circumstances would change once Portakabins were installed.
“Portakabins will not be used to house single males. At peak capacity the Portakabins will house approximately 200 family members total,” said Mr Troy.