Ballinamore residents protest against asylum seekers plan

Meeting held over proposal to accommodate up to 130 people in Co Leitrim town

A view of High Street, Ballinamore. Photograph: Google Street View

A view of High Street, Ballinamore. Photograph: Google Street View

 

A protest is under way in Ballinamore Co Leitrim outside an apartment block where the Department of Justice is proposing to accommodate up to 130 asylum seekers.

An estimated 350 local people attended a “crisis meeting” in the town on Sunday night where there was unanimous support for a proposal that a peaceful demonstration be held from Monday morning “until the situation is resolved”. The meeting was urged to show the department that the people of the town were willing to stand “as they did in Oughterard”.

After a show of hands people were asked to maintain a “peaceful silent demonstration” and to sign up for shifts if they were willing to take part in the round the clock protest.

Following the 90 minute meeting, about 200 people walked in silence to the proposed centre at The Rock quarter, which adjoins Tesco, on the outskirts of the town, having been invited to do so “to send out a message”.

Local residents and businesses had been invited to Sunday’s meeting via a text message which stated “the future of our town is at stake”. They were told that people from surrounding parishes were also being encouraged to attend “as it will affect their children also”.

A number of speakers at the meeting said they were not opposed to accommodating asylum seekers but said they wanted “proportional provision” and believed 130 was too many given the population of the town.

One speaker said 130 would mean a 15 per cent increase in the population of the town and would be the equivalent of an extra 3,000 people in Sligo, or 30,000 in Limerick city or 187,000 in Dublin.

The meeting agreed to support a statement prepared by the organisers of the meeting expressing “grave concern” and “complete opposition” to the proposal to accommodate 130 asylum seekers in the town.

Acknowledging the Government’s commitment as part of an EU programme to accept those fleeing war, famine or persecution, the statement said the plan to accommodate so many in such a small community was completely disproportionate to the needs of both the asylum seekers and the community at large.

It said that the people of Ballinamore had been “the last to know of the plan”. The attendance called on the department to halt the proposal immediately, and to reevaluate its policy of provision centres across the country.

The statement also addressed the issue of racism and said people in other areas who had “stepped forward to represent their communities” had been accused of racism.

“Let us be clear. There are only two types of people who are not welcome in Ballinamore – racists and people traffickers whose aim is to maximize profit on the backs of those less fortunate,” the statement said.

A number of speakers warned that the proposed accommodation would effectively be a “ghetto” and said dispersing a small number of families throughout the town would give them a better opportunity to integrate.

One woman who lived in a former direct provision centre in Ballinamore and who has lived in the town for 13 years, joked that she was the “only black woman in Ballinamore” and said she supported the meeting.

“I am proud to be part of the community,” she said, adding that it had always been very hospitable to her and her family. The woman said she believed the local community had the right to know the demographics of the people who were coming so local schools could plan.

She said that when 130 people were coming with no consultation “I feel your pain as an immigrant”. Another speaker pointed out that in 2001, 48 people had moved into a direct provision centre in a former hotel in the town. “We have already done our share. That is forgotten,” she said.

A number of speakers criticised the lack of consultation with the local community and said a public meeting last week had been “a PR exercise”.

In a statement yesterday, Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny said he expected that a meeting at Leinster House next Thursday between Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton and local community leaders would bring some clarity on the number of families expected and the arrangements being made with schools and childcare facilities .