Minister says he will proceed with Achill asylum seeker plan

Women in Dublin emergency accommodation as move postponed over protest

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the State was ‘legally and morally obliged’ to accommodate the women on a temporary basis. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the State was ‘legally and morally obliged’ to accommodate the women on a temporary basis. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has insisted he will proceed with a plan to house asylum seekers at a hotel on Achill island following a series of protests.

Some residents in the area say they are not opposed to having asylum seekers living in their community but are against what they say is a lack of consultation from the Department of Justice. The department had decided to postpone the move on Thursday evening.

Mr Flanagan said he wanted to continue with the proposal to accommodate 13 female asylum seekers “as soon as possible” after further consultations with locals, and he urged community leaders to “show leadership”.

“While we have postponed the move pending further discussions, we have not abandoned the process. The intention is to proceed.” He said the State was “legally and morally obliged” to accommodate the women on a temporary basis.

“I accept that the whole direct provision issue is of course challenging. In Achill, renting a private hotel as an emergency measure, it is an option. In circumstances where options are limited, it is a viable option.

“Legally, and I would have to say morally, we are obliged to offer the essential protection on an emergency and temporary basis, and what concerns me is that there are a small number of vociferous people who are seeking to exploit local concerns without engaging in finding solutions, and that is why I am asking the people of Achill to lift the siege.”

The decision to postpone the move was taken because of fears for the women’s state of mind, he said.

“I felt it would have been inappropriate to proceed because having people with placards, with pickets, with protests would add further to the vulnerability of the women.”

The women remain in emergency accommodation in Dublin.

Alt-right sentiment

Mr Flanagan said his department had taken on board criticisms about a lack of communication following protests elsewhere, but said there was growing concern about the rise of “alt-right” sentiment around the country.

He said he had heard reports of such sentiments from public meetings countrywide and would introduce hate-crime legislation in tandem with Minister of State for Immigration and Integration David Stanton.

“The solution must be something of a shared effort. Nobody wants to see asylum seekers sleeping rough. It is important that communities and the Government allow for these essentials while their applications are being processed.”

However, locals on Achill who are maintaining an around-the-clock silent protest outside the hotel say they have not been infiltrated by far-right groups.

Local protester Kate O’Malley 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.”

Others criticised direct provision as a “flawed system”. However, a refugee support group said recent protests calling for an end to direct provision were actually about race and difference “dressed up in human rights language”.

Racial undertones

Bulelani Mfaco of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland said protests had contained “cheap slogans from alt-right groups” and “racial undertones”.

Since the news about the postponement of the move emerged, Mr Flanagan said he had received, over the past 24 hours, approaches from “people up and down the country who feel they may be able to assist”. These offers are being examined, he said.

The department said it had booked available beds in the Achill Head Hotel in low season as emergency accommodation for 38 asylum seekers.

“This is short-term emergency accommodation for a maximum period of three months [to end January 2020].

“The 38 residents will be 13 single women, and the balance of 25 people will be made up of a small number of families due to arrive in the coming weeks. This is well within the normal number of people occupying this hotel in the tourist season.”