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Department of Justice defends Achill statement


Edwin McGreal

The Department of Justice and Equality has responded to criticism of its use of the term ‘vulnerable’ when referring to 13 women who were due to be housed at an emergency Direct Provision centre on Achill Island.
Today (Tuesday) marks the start of the sixth week of continuous round-the-clock protests at the Achill Head Hotel in Pollagh, which was due to be used as an emergency centre for asylum seekers on a three month contract.
As of yet, no asylum seekers have arrived. Thirteen women were due to arrive on Friday, November 1, followed by 25 people, consisting of family groups, the following week.
However, in a statement on Thursday, October 31, the Department said it had ‘hoped to transfer 13 vulnerable women’ but because ‘an ongoing protest remains in place’, the Department ‘has regrettably decided that, at the moment, to ask the women to move there would not be in their best interests, as they may be vulnerable while awaiting decisions on their protection applications’.
In a recent statement, the Pollagh Community Group, a group representing locals at the protest, took issue with the Department’s statement.
“Our community is not happy that the Government are leaving these people entirely to their own 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 said.

Responding to a query from The Mayo News, the Department of Justice defended the use of the term.
“Any person who is seeking international protection on the basis that they are fleeing persecution or the risk of serious harm in their home country, and who comes to a new country with potentially no knowledge of the local customs or language, can be considered as vulnerable,” they stated.
The Department went onto add that a ‘range of supports is offered to all people seeking international protection’. It said that English-language courses would be ‘run by the local Education and Training Board’ and added that ‘access to all local health services’ is provided.
The Department also refuted Pollagh Community Group’s comments about remarks that the group alleges were made about the suitability of the hotel.

Following a meeting with local representatives in Achill on Wednesday, October 30, three officials from the Department of Justice and Equality visited the hotel the following day. In their statement the Pollagh Community Group stated that ‘during the inspection, they [the officials] admitted to the residents that they were shocked to see how unsuitable the property actually was’.
The group also said the officials ‘confirmed’ that if the hotel owner were to carry out ‘small renovation works, an increase in capacity at the property to house more asylum seekers would be considered’.
The Department refuted both claims.
“At no point did any of the Department officials remark that they were ‘shocked to see how unsuitable the property was’. Nor did they make any comment regarding increasing the capacity at the hotel. The Department booked 38 beds at the hotel for a three-month period (to end January 2020),” they stated.

‘Truthful, accurate and honest’
The response by the Department has subsequently been criticised by the Pollagh Community Group, who issued a statement on the matter at the weekend following questions by The Mayo News.
“The Pollagh Community Group stand over their statement and comments made to date about the Department of Justice. Everything we have issued around this matter has been 100 percent truthful, accurate, honest and completely factual – unfortunately the same cannot be said about information and comments issued by the Department surrounding this matter.
“We accept the explanation made by the Department about the vulnerability status but we question why the 38 men and the 25 other people were not labelled with the same status as the 13 women and why the word ‘vulnerable’ was used in this instance only? Overall we are very disappointed with the fact that the Department has failed to engage directly with the group and we are still awaiting answers to concerns and issues raised at the meeting which took place on October 30 with Department officials.
“Until these concerns and issues – which are in the best interests of asylum seekers and our local community – are addressed in the appropriate manner, our 24/7 vigil will continue at The Achill Head Hotel in Pollagh,” they stated.