TD whose car was set on fire says Government must not give in to ‘bullies’

Martin Kenny urges Minister not to back down on asylum centre in Co Leitrim

The aftermath of an arson attack on Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny’s car recently. Photograph: supplied by Brian Farrell

The aftermath of an arson attack on Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny’s car recently. Photograph: supplied by Brian Farrell

 

The Government has been urged by Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny not to give in to “bullies” in the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers as he cited protests in his home town Ballinamore, Co Leitrim.

Earlier this month, Mr Kenny’s car was destroyed in an arson attack outside his home in the early hours of the morning.

He had supported a proposal to accommodate asylum seekers in Ballinamore where a local community group mounted a silent round-the-clock protest in opposition to the plan.

The Sligo-Leitrim TD said in the Dáil that the Government had made mistakes in how it dealt with local communities in establishing direct provision centres.

“The mistakes have to be learned from but that doesn’t mean we should be prepared to back down from bullies,” he said.

“That can’t happen and certainly as far as I’m concerned it should not happen in my area. I’m putting that to you directly,” he told Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Minister of State for Equality David Stanton.

He was speaking during a debate on the provision of accommodation and other services to applicants in Ireland for international protection.

Mr Kenny said the Government needed to be transparent and very clear in its dealings with local communities, whose concerns were sometimes fed by fear.

But he said it was very difficult to address those concerns “if they’ve walked down a direction of protest and blockade”.

He said the situation had turned “very ugly” in many cases and “sometimes that’s because there is that little seed of racism planted among people - to be afraid of the foreigner”.

They “bring people to boiling point in communities” and “they do things that are regrettable and absolutely irresponsible”. He said everyone had a duty to “ensure that the rule of law extends everywhere that it doesn’t finish at the boundary of a town”, allowing a small cohort to “decide that they are going to rule from here on”.

Opening the debate, Mr Flanagan said he was unaware of any workable alternative to direct provision. Government had focused on addressing the systems flaws, he said. He said any credible alternative “must be capable of providing the wrap-around services that applicants need on arrival. They are seeking protection in a strange country where they may not know the language, customs or law.”

He said services in Ireland “are on a par with other EU countries. In fact, in many instances, our services are much better”.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said Ireland is the most peripheral EU country and would not face the large numbers of people other countries are receiving.

“But people do arrive and are entitled to seek international protection,” he said adding that “we need to recognise that this is going to be a long-term issue and we should be building accommodation”.

He said the difficulties people faced included the delay in processing their applications for asylum. “One way of speeding up the process is to end perennial delay caused by the Minister for Transport Shane Ross in refusing to appoint judges.”

Minister of State Sean Kyne said the Government needed to look again at the requirements for confidentiality in tender contracts for direct provision centres because of the “information vacuum” which led to a mushrooming of rumours about plans for the 60-bed hotel.

His experience of direct provision protests in Oughterard was one of the most difficult of his political career, he said. The lack of clarity feed the rumours, including one that there would be five people to a room. Then there was a rumour that the rooms would be subdivided so the number rose to 600 and later local radio reported that 300 single men would be housed there.

The debate continues.