Inch protests to continue despite removal of Magowna House blockade

‘Honest, open discussion’ played role in decision to remove blockade at Magowna House in Co Clare, says Joe O’Brien

The organisers of a blockade outside a facility in Co Clare designated as a centre for asylum seekers have said they will continue to protest despite the lifting of the blockade on Sunday morning.

Following a meeting with Minister of State for Integration Joe O’Brien on Thursday, Inch Community Group has decided to allow access to the road outside Magowna House Hotel in line with the Minister’s request.

However, despite the end of the blockade, the round-the-clock protest will continue on the Magowna Road, but not directly outside the accommodation centre. “We remain convinced that this location is totally unsuitable for the purpose of asylum seeker accommodation,” said a spokesman for Inch Community Group.

“Our community group has decided to continue our peaceful protest at both ends of the Magowna Road. We welcome the engagement with the Minister over the past days, and, for now, we will remove the so-called blockade, as he has requested.


“Inch community will not protest at Magowna House Hotel.”

The decision by local residents to lift the blockade was welcomed by Mr O’Brien.

In a statement released on Sunday, Mr O’Brien, who had spoken with local residents, said an “honest, open discussion” had played a role in the decision to remove the blockade.

Local residents had been protesting outside Magowna House since last Monday after a group of 33 applicants for international protection were brought to stay in the hotel building.

“I welcome the decision of the residents to remove the blockade,” said Mr O’Brien. “My meeting with the residents on Thursday, in Ennis, was an honest, open discussion, and I am pleased that engagement has helped bring some improvement to the situation.”

Mr O’Brien had previously committed to a four-week freeze on asylum seekers being brought to the hotel for accommodation. In his statement, Mr O’Brien reiterated his commitment to return to Clare and to continue to engage with locals and applicants for international protection.

“I look forward to working with the provider [Magowna House] and my officials to develop a programme of education, training and other supports for the people residing in Magowna House. I look forward to returning to Magowna in four weeks as agreed.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman has said he does not think the blockade was “an appropriate form of protest”. Mr O’Gorman, speaking to Newstalk’s On the Record with Gavan Reilly, said he believed in people’s right to protest against and disagree with Government policy, but that any protests should not be “intimidatory”.

“We know some people have left Inch, some of the IP applicants have left,” said Mr O’Gorman. “I think that’s really disappointing, and that’s why I say I don’t believe a blockade approach is an acceptable form of protest.

“Often people have misconceptions about international protection applicants, particularly male international protection applicants. My experience is that after IP applicants have been living in a place for a while, those preconceptions disappear because people either meet them and see they’re just normal people, or they don’t meet them, their paths don’t cross, and no issue arises.”

Mr O’Gorman acknowledged that concerns around the communication with local residents of Inch in relation to the new accommodation was a “legitimate criticism”.

“I recognise in Inch the information out to local reps wasn’t out as early as it could have been,” he said. “We were in a really pressure situation in terms of trying to secure accommodation for people who were on the streets; we’ve got better at getting information out to local reps and communities, but I recognise that in the situation in Inch it was very tight there. That’s a legitimate criticism.”

The Minster revealed that the total number of homeless international protection applicants had been brought down from more than 500 to 300 over the course of the weekend. “Between Friday and Saturday we’ve been able to offer accommodation to 220 of the 520 people who were unaccommodated, so the unaccommodated list has reduced now to 300. We’ll be able to reduce it further early into next week with more offers, and then in the subsequent week there will be more accommodation coming on as well.”

Asked about the issue of early communication with affected communities on RTÉ Radio’s This Week programme, Senator Timmy Dooley, previously a TD for the Clare constituency, said such communication was certainly preferable, but there was no getting away from the fact that some people were simply opposed to the housing of applicants for international protection in their area.

“Yes, the communication could be handled better,” he said. “But I just want to be clear; early communication is not a panacea. There are some people who will have a problem with the principle in the first instance. So, communication – whilst it’s helpful in my view because you get the facts out, you’re seen to be transparent and it takes one issue off the table – it would be foolhardy and foolish to think that early communication will make all these issues go away.

“I think people need to understand how these asylum seekers or international protection individuals, how they’re going to be integrated and what resources will be provided, and I think that would go a long way, if there was a package of measures there.

“And some communities have done excellently, let’s not lose sight of that either.”

One of the measures raised over the past week as a way of potentially addressing a portion of the issue was to use the roughly 1,250 “rest beds” spread across 27 centres for International Protection applicants.

These beds were originally sourced to provide additional capacity for Ukrainians, however, and while Mr O’Brien has suggested local authorities “pivot” so as to repurpose them, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, James Browne, suggested those who had offered them would have to be consulted before any such move.

“Many of those would have been put forward by local communities, community centres, GAA clubs, and may not necessarily be ideal for people to move into on a medium term basis,” he said on RTÉ's The Week in Politics..

“And certainly, we talked about community consultation and there would have to be very serious consultation with those community groups who might have put forward beds for a particular reason and now it is proposed to use them for alternative purposes.”

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist