Department of Justice ‘disappointed’ with decision to withdraw Oughterard tender

Flanagan says those against direct provision should make clear how they would house those currently in centres around country

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: he has said that  “grossly misleading comments have been made about the nature of direct provision services in this State”. Photograph: Getty Images

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: he has said that “grossly misleading comments have been made about the nature of direct provision services in this State”. Photograph: Getty Images

 

People who have called for direct provision to be abolished have not been as clear in laying out how to house those who are currently in centres around the country, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said.

Mr Flanagan was reacting after a developer of a hotel in Oughterard, Co Galway, which was earmarked to open as a direct provision centre, withdraw his tender. He said he would not be proceeding with the development.

The decision by Sean Lyons, owner of Fazyard Limited, to halt the development of an accommodation centre for asylum seekers at the former Connemara Gateway hotel follows more than a fortnight of round-the-clock protests at the site on the outskirts of Oughterard town.

In a statement the Department of Justice said this was “disappointing”, but noted it was the bidder’s prerogative to do so.

“However, this is a development which will ultimately exacerbate a very serious situation in terms of a shortage of accommodation for those who come to Ireland seeking accommodation and requesting State services,” it said.

Mr Flanagan himself said in recent weeks “grossly misleading comments have been made about the nature of direct provision services in this State”.

“The nature of the services – which have improved steadily over many years and are now in line with EU law – have been totally mischaracterised.

“People have demanded we close down our accommodation centres. They have been less forthcoming with proposals as to where housing would be sourced for the 6,014 people currently availing of services in centres, the 1,379 people being provided with shelter and services in emergency accommodation and the dozens of people who will present today, tomorrow and the next day seeking the protection of the State.”

The Department of Justice has been criticised for not adequately engaging with local communities which are being earmarked for new centres, but defended itself in the statement. “We recognise the need to engage with communities in advance of new centres opening, and we are working to improve community engagement structures and how all the State parties respond when a centre is proposed,” it said.

Oughterard campaign leaders say the help of the far-right is not welcome. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Protesters against direct provision in Oughterard, Co Galway, last month. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also warned that the alternative to direct provision for asylum seekers was to house them in camps and containers like in France, Germany and other EU states. “And I hope we never get to that point here in Ireland,” he said.

Arson attacks

In the Dáil Mr Varadkar said he shared the concerns of Fianna Fáil TD Fiona O’Loughlin, who said the decision to withdraw the tender was particularly worrying following the arson attacks on other proposed centres in Moville, Co Donegal, and Roosky on the Leitrim-Roscommon border.

She acknowledged that the direct provision system was far from ideal, but “it is what we have on offer for our asylum seekers and refugees”.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said Ireland’s Catholics had “consistently called out the direct provision system”.

There was “no doubt this particular incident in Oughterard shows us the failure of the current approach”, he said. “We need to think small, we need to think interagency where the churches, the communities, the social services, the educational services and all of us can work together.”

He recalled how “someone said to me during the summer ‘is it possible the direct provision centres are the Magdalene Laundries of the future?’”

“We in the church, through very bitter experience, have had to accept our failures of the past which were failures by the church and failures by the State. There are enough alarm bells ringing today to suggest that we need to take a fresh look at this.”