Local people on Achill Island who are maintaining an around the clock ‘silent vigil’ outside a hotel that was due to receive asylum seekers this week are adamant they will stand their ground.
On Thursday evening last, the Department of Justice and Equality issued a statement saying the planned arrival of 13 female asylum seekers for emergency accommodation on Friday was being postponed because ‘an ongoing protest remains in place outside the hotel’.
It is the latest delay in a controversy which started almost two weeks ago.
Initially, local Fianna Fáil Cllr Paul McNamara said he was informed 38 men were arriving. However, last week, he said the department, following local representations, changed it to 13 women due to arrive on Friday last with a further 25 asylum seekers, consisting of families, due to arrive this week.
However, the use of the Achill Head Hotel now is in doubt with locals vowing to maintain their presence there until the contract is cancelled.
“We are here 24 hours a day and it will be 24 hours a day until the contract is completely finished,” said local man Michael O’Donnell.
The protest commenced on Thursday, October 24 after a public meeting heard of plans the night before. It was stood down that Saturday following discussions between protestors and the owner of the Achill Head Hotel.
However, the protest recommenced last Tuesday and has been going day and night since. Locals insist neither the hotel nor the immediate area is suitable for direct provision.
Some locals met with officials from the Department of Justice and Equality on Wednesday in Achill Sound and say they had to ‘beg’ the officials to come down to view the hotel on Thursday.
“That statement [about postponing the arrival of the asylum seekers due to the protest] was a cop out by the department,” said local man Paddy Mulvany. “The department pulled out of this because they inspected the site on Thursday and they knew it was not suitable and they are turning this on top of us as negative spin. The department are pulling out of here and we are waiting for written confirmation of that. We are going to remain here until we get written confirmation from the department to this community that they are not going to go ahead with this site,” he said.
“We had to beg them to come and see where the people were being sent to. There was no feasibility study,” added Kate O’Malley.
‘We are not racist’
Friday afternoon was wet and wild in Pollagh and the locals were getting soaked while maintaining their protest but they remained steadfast in their commitment to continuing the protest.
They refused many media requests in the past week but spoke to both The Mayo News and RTÉ on Friday.
They argue that the area is too remote to have the support services needed.
“Even if that hotel was absolutely perfect for them, this is not the area. There is nothing here for them. Seventeen kilometres to the nearest post office, two kilometres to the nearest shop. Achill Sound Post Office is 17km. Castlebar is the next nearest big town, and Westport, around 50km more to both,” said Michael O’Donnell.
“It is also such a far difference from Dublin, for processing their asylum applications,” added Kate O’Malley.
She was clearly upset when speaking about how the protestors have been called racist since the statement from the department was issued the day before.
“We are not racist. We are branded racist all over the world since this came out yesterday. This is wrong. This is false,” she said.
Mary Sweeney took issue with the description of the department of the 13 women being ‘vulnerable’, arguing that was not evidenced by the department’s own actions.
“They are talking about bringing 13 vulnerable women down here but they are not saying they are dropping them off and leaving them to their own devices. That’s not put into it at all and that’s a very serious thing,” she said.