Céad míle fáilte Some members of the Achill Says Welcome group pictured in Halla Acla in Achill Sound on Friday last.
While many local concerns were expressed at a public meeting in Achill on Wednesday, October 23, the meeting also saw plans for a welcome group set in train.
It was first mooted by Saoirse McHugh of the Green Party, who is a native of Dooagh, the next village to Pollagh, where the Achill Head Hotel is located, and received backing from others at the meeting.
Loosely formed with no committee structure, the group has 800 likes on Facebook and their stated aim is to ‘work with the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland to help end the State’s inhumane direct provision system, while extending a warm welcome to our new neighbours who are the victims of that system’.
They met early last week to organise plans for welcoming asylum seekers initially due to arrive last Friday. However, those plans were aborted when, on Thursday night, the Department of Justice and Equality said the arrival was postponed because of ‘ongoing protests’ at the planned centre, the Achill Head Hotel.
Speaking to The Mayo News on Friday, members of the group were keen to stress they understood where people taking part in protests at the hotel were coming from and were very critical of the lack of information and consultation from the Department of Justice and Equality.
“I just think that if we, the parish of Achill, had been given notice that these people were coming in and there was a community meeting, you would have had a far different outcome. I think people would have pulled together and seen how they could make the people welcome.
“I am so upset to see the community so divided and the last thing we want is a divided community. It is a small enough community as it is,” said Colleen Kilbane.
‘Absence of facts’
Maeve Cafferkey said she understood the concerns of protestors.
“I don’t agree with it [the protest] personally. I understand where people have valid concerns and where there is an absence of facts, rumours will spread and fear and anger just seem to have been fostered definitely from a whole range of directions and it has just ballooned beyond what I feel Achill people really feel,” she said.
James McNamara said way the news of the emergency direct provision centre was ‘dropped as a bombshell’ combined with a ‘lot of misinformation and a complete lack of communication’ created many problems but members of the group wanted to respond.
“We are coming together out of a sense of compassion and to show that Achill people are warm hearted, generous open people and the protest is not a true reflection of the nature of Achill people,” he said.
Noreen Fadian said her family, and many like them in Achill, know the realities of displacement all too well.
“I’m one of nine children and every one of those nine children had to leave Achill at one point or another to go and find work. We all left, we all had hearty welcomes and I couldn’t wait to get back to my home place where I was born and bred in Achill which I did six years ago. I’m delighted to be back. What is going on at the moment is not the general consensus of the Achill people and the parish of Achill. It is not just Achill Island, we are a parish of Achill. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but we are welcoming, warm hearted parish and we have nothing against anyone,” she said.