Oughterard — "first village in Ireland that did not wake up to a Direct Provision centre"

Oughterard is perhaps the first village in Ireland that did not wake up to discover that a Direct Provision centre had been opened in their locality, one local resident said last night, after a week of protests in the area.

The round the clock blockade of works at the former Connemara Gateway Hotel is set to continue after a tension-filled week in Oughterard that has seen it hit the headlines globally.

A group of locals have drawn up a rota to take turns to monitor the site at the former hotel. Earlier this week, security teams moved in with dogs to protect the property, amid fears it could be targeted.

On Tuesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Department of Justice should be communicating with the community of Oughterard about any plans it might have to accommodate asylum seekers, but as yet, there is still stalemate in the saga.

Local resident Jackie Gibney told the Galway Advertiser last night that therre have to be alternatives to the Direct Provision process.

"We are opposed to the process of Direct Provision, because it is not transparent, and is not suitable for accommodating families. There have to be better alternatives.

"Already we know of one man who told the Minister that he would be willing to provide a house for a family of refugees locally, and I am sure there are many more like that.

"Housing families far more preferable than putting 200 people into one building without services, a mile out from the town with nowhere for them to go but on the bus into Galway. And a return bus journey from Galway would cost them what they receive in a week. It is a system that does not work for anybody," she said.

"The only winners in this process are the developers who are set to make tens of millions from the process, and none of the asylum seekers or refugess seee any great beenfit from that cost.

"This is a peaceful protest with the only incident being that in which one of the protestors was injured during a collison with a van, and it will continue," she said, adding that Oughterard is one of the most inclusive villages in the country.

"Our action has ensured that we did not wake up to a completed DP centre on our doorsteps. We hope that our protest will instil a debate that ensures a better system is drawn up in the interest of the refugees and asylum seekers," she said.

Consultation

The Taoiseach has said the Department of Justice should be communicating with the community of Oughterard about any plans it might have to accommodate asylum seekers there.

Leo Varadkar agreed in the Dáil with Labour TD Joan Burton that there should be communications between both sides in Oughterard where 1,500 people marched at the weekend against the Connemara Gateway Hotel being used as accommodation for asylum seekers. Residents also vowed to keep a round the clock protest going in front of the hotel.

The Taoiseach cited Wicklow town and Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare as successful examples of good communications on housing for asylum seekers.

He said the communities were engaged with and “some fears were allayed and some scare stories corrected”.

There might have been an initial negative reaction in the two locations but “now people have come around and welcomed people from other countries into their towns”.

However the Taoiseach also said he had been told communications had not yet occurred in Oughterard because proposals to accommodate asylum seekers “are only at the initial stages and are not developed to the point where the Department is in a position to consult residents”.

“If the plans get to that point, I am sure it will happen.”

On Monday, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan appealed to Oughterard residents to “step back” and wait for the results of an evaluation process. A number of locations were being considered and there would be consultations in whatever location was chosen.

In the Dáil on Tuesday Ms Burton said the Government was doing so much social media commentary but “no communication with people in Oughterard” or discussions with people over proposed changes that would significantly affect people’s lives.

She said there were “ugly scenes” in Oughterard and referred to “deeply upsetting” comments by Independent TD Noel Grealish about “people of African origin”.

Last night, Suzanne McKane, Community Development Worker at Galway City Partnership condemned the recent public remarks made by politicians regarding asylum seekers in Galway.

"We feel that lack of public consultation when opening new centres is an issue for communities. While it is vital at a time like this people are given an opportunity to express their concerns, this should be done in a respectful way with a focus on facts.

"Galway City Partnership has been working with migrants and refugees for almost 20 years. We work with individuals from a large variety of countries, of different religions who come here for different reasons.

"We currently work with asylum seekers and refugees living in Galway City and County and it is our experience that their decision to flee their home county is a difficult one and is often due to fear of violence because of their religious and/or political beliefs or their sexual orientation, amongst others.

"The remarks made by Deputy Grealish last week were inflammatory and factually incorrect. Furthermore the statements are in contradiction to Gaway City’s Local Community Development Committee (LCDC ) own Equality and Human Rights statement. For a public representative to express discriminatory personal opinions is not acceptable and lacks professionalism," she said.

"We would ask that all public representatives condemn such reckless and hurtful behaviour. We would further ask that all Galway public representatives read, sign up and enact Galway’s Equality and Human Rights statement," she concluded.

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