Bishop critical of lack of consultation with local people over direct provision

Department of Justice needs to take ‘leap of faith and begin trusting communities’ at earliest opportunity - Bishop Brendan Kelly

Some of the people taking part in the silent protest   in Oughterard on Saturday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Some of the people taking part in the silent protest in Oughterard on Saturday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

The Department of Justice has been sharply criticised by the Bishop of Galway over its lack of consultation with local people amid ongoing controversy over the proposed location of a direct provision centre in Oughterard.

Speaking this weekend at a mass in the Co Galway town, where there have been ongoing protests over the possible use of the former Connemara Gateway Hotel for a direct provision centre, Bishop Brendan Kelly said the State has fallen far short by inadequately preparing local communities to effectively plan for new arrivals.

“ There has been a lack of consultation, ineffective communication and information-sharing, and an absence of required social infrastructure and resources in health and education. The Department of Justice needs to take a cultural leap of faith and begin trusting communities at the earliest opportunity regarding this sensitive issue,” he said.

Recent events in Oughterard were concerning, he added.

He said the Christian way is to be and to be seen to be welcoming towards the stranger. “There is no place in Jesus’ way for indifference or intolerance towards the ‘poor man at the gate’, he said.

Bishop of Galway Brendan Kelly said there has been “a lack of consultation, ineffective communication and information-sharing”. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Bishop of Galway Brendan Kelly said there has been “a lack of consultation, ineffective communication and information-sharing”. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

He also said though that the current direct provision model is not fit for purpose. “It prevents people from integrating and it contributes towards the deepening of ignorance, resentment and suspicion. In addition, there is a lack of transparency in the management of, and in the quality of operation of the centres. However this does not justify the use of inflammatory language towards refugees and migrants. Such language must always be condemned,” he said.

Racism and xenophobia

The bishop said he and other bishops earlier this summer emphasised their concern about the rising number of incidents of racism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance in Ireland - carried out sometimes by people who consider themselves faithful Christians.

“At this time in the Diocese of Galway I wish to affirm again that human dignity does not depend on the colour of a person’s skin, their nationality, accent, or their religious affiliation. All people are equal, equally children of God, our sisters and brothers.

“Migrants and refugees have already suffered as targets in the country of origin and are often met with hostility at their journey’s end. This is not new: the Holy Family were refugees in Egypt, and Christ himself was an outsider all of his life. In our own families Irish emigrants were often met with prejudice and violence in their host country. We must not readily expunge our own cultural memories and personal experiences.

“Today I call for an end to the current system of direct provision which strips people of their independence, their cultural identity, and their dignity and has lasting traumatic impact on residents. I am also strongly urging the faithful to open the doors of their hearts, homes, parishes and communities and to welcome the stranger as Jesus would have done,” he added.

Silent protest

It is understood the Department of Justice is in negotiations with the owners of the closed Connemara Gateway Hotel to house “less than 250” people while their asylum status is assessed.

While no final decision has been made, locals have vowed to maintain opposition to a centre opening up there and have held a number of protests over the past few weeks.

The former Connemara Gateway Hotel on the outskirts of Oughterard. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
The former Connemara Gateway Hotel on the outskirts of Oughterard. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

On Saturday, locals walked from the town out to the former hotel on the outskirts of Oughterard, where they lined up on both sides of the road before dispersing.

Protesters carried placards with the words “Oughterard says YES to refugees, NO to direct provision”, “Oughterard says YES to consultation” and “Oughterard says no to inhumane direct provision centres”. Children carried one saying “Direct provision is cruel’.

Thomas Welby, an Independent councillor for the area, said it was a very dignified protest and he estimated up to 3,000 people attended.

Cllr Welby said the town is not saying no to migrants, but is against direct provision centres.

“The type of accommodation that is being proposed is inhumane. The department has said that nobody has come up with another solution but the department should do that. That’s their job,” he added.

‘Once decisions are made’

Speaking on Sunday, the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said it seemed to him the local community did not want a centre in their area.

He said he and David Stanton, the Minister of State in the Department of Justice, “will continue to engage once decisions are made”.

“I am very concerned at situations where local opposition is being unfairly and unduly whipped up with anti-immigrant sentiment. The fact of the matter is that once a decision has been made on Oughterard there will be local engagement,” he told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.

“There is no threat to local communities from direct provision. I also say that direct provision isn’t really perfect,” he added.

There was controversy following a public meeting in Oughterard just over two weeks ago when local TD Noel Grealish said the type of people to be accommodated in the centre would be “economic migrants from Africa” whom he described as “spongers” that came in for stinging criticism. He did not attend Saturday’s protest.