Judge grants injunction against Ballinamore protesters
Court hears fire started beside 25-apartment complex for asylum seekers in Co Leitrim
An aerial view of the building in Ballinamore Co Leitrim that has been proposed to accommodate asylum seekers. Photograph: Lorraine Teevan
The owners of an apartment complex for asylum-seekers in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, have secured an injunction preventing protesters interfering with works to complete the structure.
The High Court heard there had been an attempt to burn down a Tesco store attached to the 25-apartment building at Rock Centre. A two-metre high wire fence has also been erected around it to prevent workers getting in and security personnel and workers have also been subject to threats and intimidation, it was claimed.
Among those injuncted from protesting outside the Rock Centre in Ballinamore are local Fine Gael councillor Ita Reynolds, auctioneer Gordon Hughes, pharmacist Brian Cribbin and local businessman Adrian Smith.
Along with Fred Walsh, who is allegedly involved in protests against Quinn Industrial Holdings, and Desmond Wisley, who allegedly provides protesters with food and operates drones around the building, they are described in court documents as some of the leaders of the protest.
The injunction notice will be posted at the building and will apply to all other protesters.
On Friday, Mr Justice Max Barrett said, having heard an ex parte (one side only) application on behalf of the property owners, Remcoll 2 Ltd, he was “unhesitatingly” granting the injunction.
People are perfectly entitled to engage in lawful protest but when it descends into unlawfulness, they can expect to be dealt with firmly by the courts and the State, he said.
The court heard the Ballinamore property was originally an apartment/retail development built in 2006 which fell into disrepair and had only three commercial tenants, including Tesco. It was bought last year by Remcoll which spent €1.2m on upgrading it to create 25 residential units for 25 families.
Barrister Bernard Dunleavy, for Remcoll, said this will be the first time asylum-seekers will have their “own door” accommodation, complete with facilities such as a supermarket, a GP surgery and a mental health services room, as well as a store which will provide for the particularly dietary requirements of those living there.
This was a “very significant shift” away from the type of direct provision centres previously provided here, counsel said.
It was within a week of fit-out and completion in October when two public meetings were held in Ballinamore and a 24-hour picket was placed on the property on October 20th, counsel said.
The previous night, October 19th, a person who could not be identified on CCTV poured petrol outside the entrance to the Tesco store and set it alight. While it failed to cause any damage, had it taken hold the entire development would have been burnt to the ground, counsel said.
This happened around the same time as local Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny’s car was burnt out outside his home after he was supportive of the Ballinamore asylum centre, he said.
The picket outside the building involves around 20 people but swells to 45 at times when the protesters use whistles to alert people standing at different points around the development, he said.
Large blocks of concrete and water tanks were put on front of all entrances and security staff were locked inside overnight when they were installed. This was in the context of there being no other means of escape where an attempt to set a fire had already been made, counsel said.
On October 22nd, a wire fence was erected, a lock was changed on one of the access doors, and glue was used to seal doors.
Paul Collins, chief executive of Remcoll, said in an affidavit that he spoke with some of the identified leaders and told them the protests were putting his employees in danger, especially in regard to fire safety. The obstacles at the entrances were later removed.
Mr Collins said builders attempting to gain access have been intimidated and most have refused to carry out finishing works.
Security staff were told “people will be hurt” if they attempt to cross the picket line. The “turning point” came on November 7th when it was decided it would be unsafe for telecommunications worker to enter, Mr Collins said.
The protesters have now entered the property and an architect engaged to conduct final works got into the building but was prevented from moving from room to room.
A night security man, in an affidavit, told of being verbally abused, pushed and filmed by the protesters and of feeling like he was working in a prison or a cage. Mr Justice Barrett granted orders restraining the named defendants and all others besetting or trespassing on the property or impeding access.
The injunction also prevents them filming or recording Remcoll’s staff or agents and from posting the footage on the internet or social media. The case comes back next week.