Use of church grounds for Oughterard protest march was ‘unacceptable,’ says parish priest

Shane McLoughlin, Ann-Marie Duggan, Lorraine Keane, Margaret and Jim Burke, GoBus.ie pictured at “Sparkle at the g” in aid of Tomorrow for Tomás in the g Hotel. Photo Martina Regan

Shane McLoughlin, Ann-Marie Duggan, Lorraine Keane, Margaret and Jim Burke, GoBus.ie pictured at “Sparkle at the g” in aid of Tomorrow for Tomás in the g Hotel. Photo Martina Regan

A protest march due to be held this weekend in Oughterard will not commence from the church grounds, after the parish priest said it was ‘unacceptable.’

He issued his statement as the protest at the former Connemara Gateway Hotel continues in the village, with more than 100 locals operating a rota to protest their objection to unconfirmed plans to open a Direct Provision centre.

In a pastoral letter, Fr Michael Connolly said that he was aware of the strong emotions about the potential location of a direct provision centre in the former Connemara Gateway Hotel, and that he believes direct provision should be dismantled and replaced by a system that allows for a dignified lifestyle for asylum seekers.

While saying that he would not comment directly on the Oughterard plans, he said that he hopes that any planning proposals would be developed in consultation with local representatives, so that the community can welcome any potential asylum seekers.

He urged locals, to take their lead from Christ. “From the beginning of our church as a Christian society, providing hospitality to the poor and the stranger has been central to our lived reality.

“We are a welcoming people by nature, none more so than here in Oughterard.” He said that people from many nations are already part of local community life and are a source of richness in Oughterard; therefore the need for calm, respectful and reasonable language was great. Fr Connolly added that the use of church grounds for the type of march witnessed on September 14 was unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the five Galway West TDs and Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh who were invited to a briefing in Leinster House, Dublin with Minister of State for Immigration David Stanton on Tuesday night were last evening remaining tightlipped about its deliberations, although it is believed a “frank exchange of views” took place.

The group called “Oughterard Says No to Inhumane Direct Provision Centres”, is planning another silent march this coming Saturday at 11.30am, starting at Station Road. It is believed that the group have concerns about remarks that were made at a robust meeting they had with developer Sean Lyons and Minister Sean Kyne, during which Mr Lyons outlined how he plans to protect his property at the former Connemara Gateway Hotel.

There has been much debate this week about the role of external right-wing extremists in stirring up the Oughterard issue, and locals are keen to disassociate themselves from such groups.

The Galway Anti Racism Network (GARN ) ) is also holding a public rally this Saturday September 28 at 4pm. The rally’s central message is one of unity against rising racism and standing together against the inhumane Direct Provision system.

The crowd will assemble in Eyre Square to meet the residents of the Great Western Direct Provision centre. They will be marching to the Spanish Arch for speeches and then onto the Eglinton Direct Provision centre in Salthill.

GARN co-chairperson Joe Loughnane said that after almost 20 years as a “temporary” measure, Direct Provision is a cruel and inhumane asylum system that warehouses asylum seekers outside of communities, denying them basic rights and forcing them to live off less than €40 a week. “People with residency are stuck in centres because of the inefficiency of the system and a worsening housing crisis.

“Many asylum seekers who recently arrived are living in hostels and B&Bs as all of the DP centres are full. These centres are mostly privately run where the owners turn over a huge profit with contracts from the Government. The secretive tendering process to find new centres is focused on mostly rural towns where absolutely no consultation is carried out, and no acknowledgement of the lack of basic resources that many of these towns’ experience.

The vacuum created by this lack of consultation has recently been preyed upon by anti-immigrant organisations, as the Government stands back while communities unnecessarily compete for basic needs. Dog-whistle politicians, greedy hoteliers and an anti-Irish far right seek to make gains from the misery of asylum seekers and the frustrations of rural Ireland. No more temporary measures. It’s time we put an end to this horrible form of institutional living.

“We need to take a stand against a growing racist threat that is trying to infiltrate our beautiful rural towns. We need to stand with those seeking asylum in this country and call for an end to DP. We call for a policy of building public housing so new arrivals can live within communities instead of being forced outside,” he said.

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