Rooskey anti-racism rally organisers accused of blackening village’s name
Tensions at No to Racism event in Co Roscommon as gardaí investigate recent fires
One of the rally organisers, Leah Doherty (centre) confronts Rowan Croft who was broadcasting live from the rally Photograph: Brian Farrell/Irish Times
There were angry scenes at an anti-racism rally attended by about 50 people in Rooskey on Sunday, with one local woman accusing organisers of blackening the village’s name.
The event, billed as the No to Racism: Asylum Seekers Welcome Rally, was organised by the Leitrim and Roscommon United Against Racism Group near the former Shannon Key West Hotel.
Gardaí are investigating two recent fires, suspected of being arson attacks, at the hotel on the on the Roscommon-Leitrim border, which has been earmarked for use as a direct provision centre.
As the event got underway a local woman objected to speaker Izzy O’Rourke’s assertion that the second fire at the property was a sinister development.
The woman, who did not give her name, asked for proof that the fires were incidents of arson and said the rally was giving the village a bad name.
“You are telling us we are racist, again and again,” she said.
Leah Doherty, one of the organisers, told the woman that it was those who had damaged proposed centre that were giving Rooskey a bad name.
The woman later told reporters Rooskey had welcomed many ethnic groups “since before I was born” and was a welcoming place.
“We are not racist,” she added.
The woman said there were no services in Rooskey, the village did not have a bus route and local GPs were already “run off their feet” yet the Government wanted to move asylum seekers there.
The rally was repeatedly disrupted as organisers objected to the presence of a man named Rowan Croft, who described himself as a “citizen journalist” and was filming the event.
Rooskey native John Lannon told the rally the attacks on the hotel appeared to be racially motivated and “we are here to say that type of behaviour will not be tolerated in this village”.
Harry McConville told the crowd he was born and raised in Rooskey and was against any form of racism. He said those who carried out the suspected arson attacks “must have short memories” if they forgot how Irish people were once treated in London and America.
One local man, who said he would prefer not to give his name, acknowledged there were not many people from the village present for the rally.
He said he believed this was partly due to the failure of the Department of Justice to consult with the community on the planned direct provision centre and also because some “very dangerous people” were spreading misinformation about events in the village.
“That type of thing has been causing confusion, fear and anger,” he added.
He said he expected that if asylum seekers did arrive local people would support them.
Memet Uludag, national chairman of United Against Racism, said people were not there “to point our finger at local people” but to share sadness at the attacks on the hotel.
Independent MEP Luke Ming Flanagan told the rally that while local people had “no truck with racism”, the Government believed in “institutional racism” in the form of the direct provision system.
“Have we learned nothing from Magdalene laundries and from the cess pits we created and put human beings into,” he said.
Fianna Fáil TD for Roscommon-Galway Eugene Murphy said he stayed away from the rally as he believed holding such an event in the village suggested that local people were racist, “which is certainly not the case”.
He called for vacant homes near the village to be renovated for asylum seekers “rather than herding them into a direct provision centre”.