Taoiseach says Justice should communicate with Oughterard on asylum seekers

Varadkar cites Lisdoonvarna, Wicklow Town as examples where discussions ‘allayed fears’

Some of the people taking part during a protest on Monday outside the former Connemara Gateway Hotel in Oughterard, Co Galway.  Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Some of the people taking part during a protest on Monday outside the former Connemara Gateway Hotel in Oughterard, Co Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

The Taoiseach has said the Department of Justice should be communicating with the community of Oughterard about any plans it might have to accommodate asylum seekers in the Co Galway town.

Leo Varadkar agreed in the Dáil with Labour TD Joan Burton that there should be communications between both sides in Oughterard where 1,500 people marched at the weekend against the Connemara Gateway Hotel being used as accommodation for asylum seekers. Residents also vowed to keep a round the clock protest going in front of the hotel.

The Taoiseach cited Wicklow Town and Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare as successful examples of good communications on housing for asylum seekers.

He said the communities were engaged with and “some fears were allayed and some scare stories corrected”.

There might have been an initial negative reaction in the two locations but “now people have come around and welcomed people from other countries into their towns”.

However the Taoiseach also said he had been told communications had not yet occurred in Oughterard because proposals to accommodate asylum seekers “are only at the initial stages and are not developed to the point where the Department is in a position to consult residents”.

“If the plans get to that point, I am sure it will happen.”

On Monday, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan appealed to Oughterard residents to “step back” and wait for the results of an evaluation process. A number of locations were being considered and there would be consultations in whatever location was chosen.

In the Dáil on Tuesday Ms Burton said the Government was doing so much social media commentary but “no communication with people in Oughterard” or discussions with people over proposed changes that would significantly affect people’s lives.

She said there were “ugly scenes” in Oughterard and referred to “deeply upsetting” comments by Independent TD Noel Grealish about “people of African origin”.

The Taoiseach and Mr Flanagan were among a number of politicians who called on Mr Grealish to withdraw remarks he made at a public meeting in Oughterard, claiming the centre will house “economic migrants” coming from Africa “to sponge off the system here in Ireland”.