Anti-racism rally in Rooskey hears calls for end to direct provision

‘We are all the one race, the human race’, rally which followed suspected arson attack on hotel earmarked for asylum seekers hears

John Lannon from Rooskey  speaks at the rally. Photograph: Brian Farrell

John Lannon from Rooskey speaks at the rally. Photograph: Brian Farrell

 

Over 100 people, many carrying Leitrim and Roscommon flags, have attended an anti-racism rally close to the hotel in Rooskey which was damaged in a suspected arson attack last Thursday evening.

A number of speakers at the event condemned the “oppressive” direct provision system which they said was inhumane and should be dismantled.

A rumoured counter-demonstration billed on social media as a “pro-tourism” rally, failed to materialise.

The attendance at Sunday’s rally included a number of people from Ballaghaderreen who spoke of the positive experience of welcoming Syrian refugees to that town over two years ago.

The event was held on the edge of the Shannon across the road from the Shannon Key West Hotel on the Roscommon Leitrim border which has been the subject of controversy since it emerged before Christmas that the Department of Justice plans to accommodate 80 asylum seekers there.

The rally was organised by “Leitrim and Roscommon United Against Racism” who said the gathering was intended to give people from the two counties the opportunity to condemn the suspected arson attack and to reject the “casual racism” being directed online at asylum seekers and refugees.

The rally was organised by “Leitrim and Roscommon United Against Racism” who said the gathering was intended to give people from the two counties the opportunity to condemn the suspected arson attack on a hotel in Rooskey earmarked for asylum seekers. Photograph: Brian Farrell
The rally was organised by “Leitrim and Roscommon United Against Racism” who said the gathering was intended to give people from the two counties the opportunity to condemn the suspected arson attack on a hotel in Rooskey earmarked for asylum seekers. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Garda investigations into the attack on the disused hotel are continuing.

Rooskey native John Lannon said he was dismayed that such an event needed to be held and dismayed that people had tried to set the hotel alight, apparently because they opposed its use as a direct provision centre.

Mr Lannon said direct provision was not fit for purpose, was inhumane, unjust and unreasonable but “ we should not scapegoat the people trapped in that system, people who had to flee from persecution, from war, from oppression who come to Ireland to seek sanctuary”.

He said it was “very worrying” when people attacked hotels and buildings to stop them being used as direct provision centres. “We need and we do take a stand against that, to say there is no place here for racism in this community or in any community or in any society”, he added.

Another speaker Leah Doherty said the event had been organised to condemn the “disgusting attack” on the hotel which was similar to the attack on a hotel also to be used for asylum seekers in Moville, Co Donegal, before Christmas.

Leah Doherty, one of the rally organisers speaks to the media. Photograph: Brian Farrell
Leah Doherty, one of the rally organisers speaks to the media. Photograph: Brian Farrell

“These are racist attacks. These are done by people who are a small minority but who are causing extreme discomfort and divide in our communities,” she said.

‘Festering online racism’

Ms Doherty said there was a section in Irish society who believed “we have to look after our own first” but people at the rally believed it was possible to look after everyone.

She appealed to the government to end direct provision, and to treat refugees and asylum seekers with dignity.

A direct provision resident Balelani Mfaco from Capetown said people Iike him had no choice about everyday things like what they eat or who they share a room with.

Eamonn Crudden, one of the organisers said he was concerned at the “festering online racism” which became more apparent after the fire. “I think we are seeing an alt-right appearing in Ireland. This is not part of the democratic process to set fire to a hotel”, said Mr Crudden.

Debbie Beirne, one of the founders of the Welcome to Roscommon group in Ballaghaderreen, said she felt it was important to be there because “this fear has taken a grip and it has no place”. She said the Ballaghaderreen experience showed that the arrival of refugees there had done nothing but enhance the town. “People’s fears are unfounded and I think it’s time to speak out and say enough of this nonsense and not let these guys have a voice”.

She said that if the attack in Rooskey turned out to be arson “then we are living in scary times”.

Harry McConville (73) from Mullagh, Rooskey said he felt it was important to support the rally. “We are all the one race, the human race,” he said.

Carrying a hand written “Choose Love” sign, he said the talk about a direct provision centre which started before Christmas made him wonder had nothing changed in 2,000 years. “Is there no room at the inn?”.

Saj Hussain, a Pakistani-born barber based in Ballaghaderreen, who has worked closely with the new Syrian community there, broke down as he appealed for people to realise how refugees have suffered. “I meet every day with people, their loved ones are still getting killed,” he said. An Irish resident for 18 years, he said “idiots” were trying to spread hate.

“It is a short life, it is a little life, please, please do not waste this life hating each other. We should try to help each other love each other and look after each other”.

The disused Shannon Key West hotel was one of three planned new direct provision centres. The Caiseal Mara Hotel, in Moville was severely damaged in a fire in November, was another of the three centres. Repairs are scheduled, but not yet under way.