Achill protesters deny they are under sway of far-right groups
Group set up to welcome asylum seekers upset about divisions in small community
A ‘silent vigil’ protest has continued at the Achill Head Hotel over the past few days. Photograph: Conor McKeown
Locals on Achill island who are maintaining an around-the-clock silent protest outside a hotel that was due to receive asylum seekers this week insist they have not been infiltrated by far-right groups.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said on Friday far-right influences were infiltrating many towns and villages where there was opposition to the opening of direct provision centres.
However, Kate O’Malley, one of a group of local people taking part in the protest outside the Achill Head Hotel in Pollagh, said the protest was “community-led”.
“Everyone here on the silent vigil is from Achill,” she said. “The majority are from Pollagh but there are people from every village in Achill standing with us.
“We have a Facebook page and we have stopped people. If we didn’t know them or they were not invited by someone from Achill, they were not allowed to join. We removed people when we felt the need to do so. If their accounts looked like they were far-right, they were not allowed in the group,” said Ms O’Malley.
On Thursday evening the Department of Justice issued a statement saying the planned arrival of 13 female asylum seekers for emergency accommodation on Friday was being postponed because “an ongoing protest remains in place outside the hotel”.
Those taking part in the protest said they would maintain their presence there until the contract was cancelled. Local man Paddy Mulvany said Pollagh had a population of just 76 people and poor levels of services.
“Three months’ rent [as a direct provision emergency centre] in this hotel would buy three houses in this area. We would welcome the people that would occupy them houses from any part of the world with open arms to be integrated into our community,” Mr Mulvany said.
“We would help them out in every way possible. We would supply them with clothing. We would bring coal to their door. We’d help them with their groceries. We would bring them to our shops to do their shopping.
“But we are standing against direct provision. Direct provision is a flawed system condemned by Amnesty International, and the Irish Government think they can just drop off their dirty little secrets in the west coast of Ireland, where the people are going to turn around and tell the Government straight back: ‘Listen guys, ye need to fix this.’ We will welcome people to this community in the right manner,” he said.
Meanwhile, members of a local group set up in Achill to welcome asylum seekers said they hoped fears could be addressed and asylum seekers integrated into the community.
James McNamara said: “I hope that, like has happened in other parts of the country, like Miltown Malbay, Borrisokane, Wicklow town, when these people arrive and settle in, community fears are calmed.
“They see that they are just ordinary, unfortunate human beings fleeing from dire situations and they are no threat to anybody.”
Lack of consultation
Members of the group were keen to stress they understood some people had genuine concerns and were critical of the lack of information and consultation from the Department of Justice.
Colleen Kilbane said: “If we had been given notification and explained it was only on a temporary basis and that these people have certain needs, I think there would have been a far different outcome to what happened.
“I am so upset to see the community so divided, and the last thing we want is a divided community. It is a small enough community as it is.”
Maeve Cafferkey said she understood the motivation of protesters. “I don’t agree with it [the silent protest] personally. I understand where people have valid concerns and where there is an absence of facts, rumours will spread, and fear and anger just seem to have been fostered, definitely, from a whole range of directions and it has just ballooned beyond what I feel Achill people really feel.”
Noreen Fadian said she “understands the fear” protesters have. “We know where the people protesting are coming from but we’ve all been away, we’ve all had to start from scratch, maybe more than once at times. It is not easy. We shouldn’t be party to making it more difficult for these people either,” she said.