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Thu, May
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"I am so upset to see the community so divided"


Achill welcome group frustrated with department's handling of Direct Provision episode

Edwin McGreal

Members of a welcome group set up in Achill to welcome asylum seekers are critical at the Department of Justice and Equality's handling of plans for the use of the Achill Head Hotel as an emergency Direct Provision centre.
Members of the welcome group were planning to organise events for the asylum seekers who were due to arrive yesterday but their arrival was postponed in what the Department of Justice and Equality said was because of 'ongoing protests' at the planned centre, the Achill Head Hotel.
Members of the group were keen to stress they understood where people taking part in a 'silent vigil' at the hotel were coming from and were very critical of the lack of information and consultation from the Department of Justice and Equality.
"If we had been given notification and explained it was only on a temporary basis and that these people have certain needs, I think there would have been a far different outcome to what happened. 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.
Maeve Cafferkey said she understood where those demonstrating outside the hotel were coming from.
"I don't agree with it [the 'silent vigil'] 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.
Noreen Fadian said she 'understands the fear' protestors have.
"We know where the people protesting are coming from but we've all been away, we've all had to start from scratch, maybe more than once at times. It is not easy. We shouldn't be party to making it more difficult for these people either," she said.
Edan McHugh was also critical of the department.
"Even in the best case scenario it would be tough on a community but the way it is being run both in the Direct Provision centres and in the communities, the way they are being engaged with, it is just horrible, it is atrocious," he said.
James McNamara expressed the wish that Achill could follow the lead of other places in Ireland where there were initially reservations to the opening of direct provision centres.
"I hope that, like has happened in other parts of the country like Milltown-Malbay, Borrisokane, Wicklow town when these people arrive and settle in, community fears are calmed, they see that they are just ordinary, unfortunate human beings fleeing from dire situations and they are no threat to anybody," he said.
Grainne Seoighe took issue with criticism of the hotel.
"Maybe the hotel isn't perfect but if you are living on the streets of Dublin, a garden shed is a palace. The accommodation couldn't have been that bad that it couldn't provide somewhere dry and warm for those people," she said.
Tracey Gallagher said Irish people ought to emphasise with the situation asylum seekers find themselves in.
"We all went to the USA in the 1980s and we were all illegal and now they are being rounded up and shipped out with no concern for the families they've raised there. I don't know how we can complain about illegal immigrants, we were illegal immigrants in every country in the world," she said.
Rita Duffy said it was vital Ireland learned lessons from episodes like this.
"At some stage Ireland is going to have to pick up its challenge and I have great hope and belief in the Irish imagination. I believe we could do something here that is unique and maybe create something of a template for other countries.
"This [immigration] isn't going to go away, it is only going to increase so we better get good at trying to help people rebuild their lives because if we are human or if we have any regard for our own humanity or our own belief in humanity, that's exactly where we need to go," she said.