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Protestors insist vigil will stay until ‘concerns are addressed’


TAKING A STAND The protests against the Direct Provision plans for the Achill Head Hotel are continuing.

Edwin McGreal

Locals in Pollagh who are maintaining a 24-hour silent protest at the Achill Head Hotel over plans for an emergency Direct Provision centre there insist they will stand their ground until their ‘concerns are addressed’.
Today marks the beginning of the fourth week of continuous protests over plans to use the hotel as an emergency Direct Provision centre. Locals are calling the protest a ‘silent vigil’.
In a lengthy statement issued this week, the Pollagh Community Group members said they will continue their stand until a number of matters are addressed.
“Our community will continue with our vigil 24/7 until these concerns are addressed in an appropriate manner and the right outcome and solution for all involved is sought, as well as the untruthful statements issued by the Department (of Justice and Equality) rectified,” they stated.
The group, which was formed in the last week, consists of people from the village of Pollagh who are protesting at the hotel.
In the statement they point the finger of blame at the Department of Justice and Equality for poor engagement with locals. News of the plans first broke on the island unofficially on Wednesday, October 23, and many people – including Mayo TD and Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring – have been critical of the lack of consultation with local communities in opening emergency Direct Provision centres.
The Department initially said 38 men were due to arrive at the hotel but that was renegotiated to 13 women and 25 people, consisting of family groups. The arrival date was pushed back on four occasions.
Plans to use of the hotel as an emergency centre are currently in limbo.

Huge unrest
The Pollagh Community Group statement continued: “The Department of Justice must take full responsibility for this mess that they have created. They have caused huge unrest in rural communities and allowed residents of Achill to be labelled as racist. They have single handedly destroyed the reputation of the people in our villages and allowed us to be viciously attacked and trolled online because of their actions.
“We whole heartedly apologise to the asylum seekers who are caught up in this terrible mess and would like to reiterate the statement we made at the very beginning at a local meeting, that our issue does not lie with the asylum seekers or with people seeking refuge – in fact, we have further highlighted their suffering and plight and hope to drive forward change for them in the near future. The problem here is with the Government and the how the Department of Justice have handled this matter from the very outset,” they stated.
The Pollagh Community Group also takes issue with the Department of Justice and Equality referring to the 13 women due to be arriving at the Achill Head Hotel as ‘vulnerable’, arguing that although the Department was aware of the women’s vulnerability it failed to ensure that would be adequate supports for them in the area.
“Our community is not happy that the Government are leaving these people entirely to their devices in a very remote location with no proper support networks put in place. If these people are vulnerable, they need to be protected and supported in the correct manner,” they stated.
The Pollagh Community Group also argues that the area itself is not suitable. “The concerns that we have raised from the very beginning have not changed,” the statement reads, “and we have been consistent in our message that Achill, because of its remoteness, lack of amenities and services as well as the logistics of how asylum seekers need to access services that this island cannot offer, is not a suitable location for emergency accommodation.”
The group members further add that there is a lack of clarity about how many asylum seekers could be housed in the Achill Head Hotel and how long the hotel could be used as an emergency centre.

Flanagan and Ring under fire
The Pollagh Community Group statement is also extremely critical of both Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Westport-based Minister Michael Ring.
It states that Minister Flanagan’s referral to the protest as a ‘siege’ caused ‘huge upset and offence amongst the local community’, arguing that it was ‘a very defamatory statement to make about the local people’.
The group members are also critical of Minister Ring, who they said ‘failed the people of his constituency in a huge way with his refusal to engage with any of the local community regarding this matter’.
They took issue also with Minister Ring saying in a RTÉ Radio 1 interview that he had heard protestors who did not have local accents.
“Many of the local residents have taken great offence to his statement regarding the accents of local people and the insinuation that there is outside influence in this matter. The residents would like to clarify that the vigil being held 24/7 at the property is 100 percent community led and community driven,” they said.  
Monica O’Gorman, on behalf of the group, said the statement’s content was agreed by all members of Pollagh Community Group. She also said that there are over 150 people from Pollagh and other villages in Achill taking part in the protest on a ‘rota’ basis.