Achill residents insist they are not opposed to asylum seekers but have safety concerns
Concern that ‘outside forces’ are ‘piggybacking’ on local protests
News of plans to use the Achill Head Hotel as a direct provision centre emerged on Wednesday of last week and a heated public meeting took place on the island that night.
Residents on Achill Island, Co Mayo have insisted they are not opposed to having asylum seekers living in their community but are opposed to lack of consultation from the Department of Justice and have safety concerns about a proposed site.
A plan to house asylum seekers at a hotel on Achill Island was postponed due to an ongoing protests at the hotel. Some 13 female asylum seekers were due to arrive at the Achill Head Hotel in the village of Pollagh on Friday but the Department of Justice has now confirmed it had postponed their arrival once more.
In a statement it said: “The Department of Justice and Equality had hoped to transfer 13 vulnerable women to the Achill Head Hotel. The hotel was to provide emergency short-term accommodation to women who have come to Ireland seeking international protection. They were to be in Achill for a maximum stay of three months. However, an ongoing protest remains in place outside the hotel, so the Department has regrettably decided that, at the moment, to ask the women to move there would not be in their best interests, as they may be vulnerable while awaiting decisions on their protection applications”.
It added that officials from the Department have been engaging with public representatives from the area since last week, and on Wednesday night, they met with elected and community representatives in Achill. “They discussed community concerns and the engagement has continued today. The Department is disappointed at the continuing protest but it will continue to engage, in an effort to resolve the situation,” it said.
In a statement issued on Friday morning, residents who resisted the placement of the asylum seekers in the hotel said : “We are not opposed to having asylum seekers in our community, but what we are opposed to, is the lack of consultation from the department around this matter and safety concerns that the site is not suitable for this group of people to be housed in”.
The group has been maintaining a vigil outside the hotel and has vowed to continue it until the receive we have “a full and transparent communication from the Department about the plans they have put in place regarding the welfare of the asylum seekers and proper amenities for them to access whilst here in Achill”.
‘Anybody with a heart’
James McNamara, a member of a welcome committee set up to support asylum seekers due to arrive on Achill, said that “anybody with a heart would have to reconsider” opposing the housing of vulnerable women in a local hotel.
Mr McNamara said he was very disappointed that the Department of Justice had changed its mind about its plan.
Mr McNamara told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that while there was a “justifiable sense of anger” at the lack of consultation, he knew “in their hearts Achill people are generous.”
However, he said he feared that Achill people are “being stalked by outside forces with their own agenda.”
He said he did not recognise the faces of any of the protestors on television coverage. “I believe outside influences are adding fuel to the fire. I don’t really know who’s involved.”
However, the residents’ group said it is made up “completely of local residents from all over Achill who have huge concerns surrounding the suitability of the hotel for long-term use of these vulnerable people.
“Our village will increase from 76 to 114 people which is a 50 per cent population increase. Our concerns and anger also lie with the Irish Government who have continuously kept us in the dark regarding the matter and who failed to consult with us regarding a suitable plan for any help or support for the asylum seekers on their arrival to Achill and our fears and concerns about the vulnerability of the group.”
News of plans to use of the Achill Head Hotel as an emergency direct provision centre emerged on Wednesday of last week and a heated public meeting took place on the island that night.
The first group of asylum seekers were due to arrive the following day but following the meeting, their arrival was pushed back to Wednesday of this week.
On Tuesday, it emerged their arrival had been pushed back to this Friday. This has now been postponed once more.
The department met local Fianna Fáil Cllr Paul McNamara and community representatives in Achill on Wednesday night to hear their concerns. Protests took place outside the hotel where that meeting took place.
Cllr McNamara stated he was initially informed by department officials that 38 men would be housed at the facility but that this was changed following representations in the face of local pressure. He stated this week that 13 women were due to arrive on Friday with more asylum seekers, including families, arriving next week.
Silent protests took place at the hotel on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week and resumed on Tuesday of this week.
A Facebook page supportive of the protests titled ‘Achill Says No To Inhumane Treatment of Asylum Seekers’ has over 950 members, though not all are from the locality.
Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan has expressed “extreme concern” at the decision by the Department of Justice to postpone the plans. Recent events in Oughterard and Ballaghaderreen along with fires in Rooskey and Moville were also cause for concern, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
Mr O’Callaghan was further concerned that “outside forces” were “piggybacking” local protests. “People are trying to stir this pot.”
A protest outside a proposed centre for asylum seekers in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim is continuing. And earlier this month Sean Lyons, owner of Fazyard Limited, announced he was withdrawing his tender to open a direct provision centre at the former Connemara Gateway hotel on the outskirts of Oughterard in Co Galway. The centre was widely opposed by the local community, many of whom took part in round the clock protests over a two week period at the site.