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Thu, May
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Achill demonstrators argue department statement was 'spin'


Edwin McGreal

Locals on Achill Island who are maintaining an around the clock 'silent vigil' outside a hotel that was due to receive asylum seekers this week argue their presence is not why the arrival was delayed.
On Thursday evening the Department of Justice and Equality issued a statement saying the planned arrival of 13 female asylum seekers for emergency accommodation yesterday was being postponed because 'an ongoing protest remains in place outside the hotel'.
It is the latest delay in a controversy which started on Wednesday of last week. Initially, local Fianna Fail Cllr Paul McNamara said he was informed 38 men were arriving. However, last weekend, he said the department, following local representations, changed it to 13 women due to arrive yesterday with a further 25 asylum seekers, consisting of families, due to arrive next 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.
"That statement (on Thursday night) was a cop out by the department," said local man Paddy Mulvany. "The department pulled out of this because they inspected the site yesterday (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.
"Department officials walked around the rear of the hotel yesterday (Thursday). They had a look at the conditions and what was available here and they knew from their visit to this area that this was not a suitable location nor was the hotel in suitable condition for such use. They were shocked," said Mr Mulvany.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said yesterday that far-right influences were 'infiltrating' many towns and villages where there was opposition to the opening of Direct Provision centres.
However locals on the 'silent vigil' in Achill dispute such allegations.
"Everyone here on the silent vigil is from Achill," said local woman Kate O'Malley. "The majority are from Pollagh but there are people from every village in Achill standing with us.
"We have a Facebook page and we have stopped people. If we didn't know them or they were not invited by someone from Achill, they were not allowed to join. We removed people when we felt the need to do so. If their accounts looked like they were far-right, they were not allowed in the group," said Ms O'Malley.
Ms O'Malley and Mr Mulvany were present at a meeting with department officials and community representatives on Wednesday night. They contend they learned from that meeting that no assessment of the suitability of the area was conducted and the assessment of the hotel's suitability was inadequate.
They stated Pollagh has a population of just 76 people and poor levels of services.
Mr Mulvany said however locals at Pollagh were happy to welcome asylum seekers 'in the right manner'
"Three months rent (as a Direct Provision emergency centre) in this hotel would buy three houses in this area. We would welcome the people that would occupy them houses from any part of the world with open arms to be integrated into our community. We would help them out in every way possible. We would supply them with clothing, we would bring coal to their door, we'd help them with their groceries, we would bring them to our shops to do their shopping.
"But we are standing against direct provision. Direct provision is a flawed system condemned by Amnesty International and the Irish government think they can just drop off their dirty little secrets in the west coast of Ireland where the people are going to turn around and tell the government straight back 'listen guys, ye need to fix this'. We will welcome people to this community in the right manner," he said.