Plans to locate a direct provision centre in Oughterard may have been scrapped, but Galway will still have to face its obligations to provide accommodation to people seeking asylum in Ireland.
This is the view of Green Party Galway City West councillor Pauline O'Reilly. She says the Oughterard controversy has highlighted the inadequacy of the State's direct provision system, and that greater provision of social housing is the means by which to deal with the issue. "I dread to think that there is even one more child who has no accommodation as they flee persecution," she said.
According to Cllr O'Reilly a third of all those accommodated in direct provision are children. "They deserve to have family spaces with security and that needs to be provided by the State, not by private developers in our communities," she said.
Lack of consultation with locals in Oughterard was one of the reasons the proposed centre met such opposition. As a result, Cllr O'Reilly is calling for cross-sectoral commissions to be set up each time new centres or housing are created. "This will make the process smoother and address fears," she said. "There are positive opportunities for communities such as increased numbers for schools that are in danger of closing."
Concerns over anti-immigrant sentiment
However, both she and Connemara Green Party councillor Alastair McKinstry [pictured above] said concerns over the direct provision centre were "cynically" exploited by some, and used as an opportunity to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment.
"The majority of people in Connemara stand against racism and in support of refugees," said Cllr McKinstry, "but we have seen videos of the marches in Oughterard used in far right websites and social media. They are using the protests against direct provision to pretend that we are against refugees and asylum seekers, and we need to guard against this."
He said speaking to people in Oughterard and Moycullen, they want to see "positive alternatives" created. "We need to pro-actively build social housing for all and consult with our communities," he said. "We will continue to work to provide positive answers, beyond just the campaigns against particular DP centres."
A 'damning indictment' of direct provision
This week a tender to provide a direct provision centre at the former Connemara Gateway Hotel in Oughterard was withdrawn by the applicant. the attempt to turn the building into a centre to house asylum seekers caused enormous controversy and resulted in round-the-clock protests by locals in recent weeks.
'I hope we will continue to be the country of céad míle fáilte and a city where all tribes are welcome' - Cllr Owen Hanley
Those involved in the demonstration say they are pleased with the decision to abandon plans for a direct provision centre, and that their efforts to secure reforms of the system for dealing with refugees will continue. They have also called for greater public consultation with communities where direct provision centres are proposed.
The controversy has highlighted the inadequacy of, and endemic problems within, the State's direct provision system. Brian Killoran of the Immigrant Council says the current model tends to 'cluster' people together instead of integrating them into the community, and that he was concerned by Government comments that it is talking about "improving" direct provision services, rather than "changing the system".
Labour senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin [pictured above] described the situation was a "damning indictment" of the Department of Justice. "They are continually standing over a system which is clearly beyond repair and reform," he said. "When you stand over that system, some elements will try to hijack concerns that communities have about change or developments in their area."
This was a view echoed by Social Democrats Galway City East councillor Owen Hanley who says the controversy highlights "the need for a replacement for our asylum seekers process immediately".
He says he hopes the situation will result in the scrapping of the direct provision system, and result in a more compassionate manner of accommodating asylum seekers in Ireland. He said: "I hope we will continue to be the country of céad míle fáilte and a city where all tribes are welcome."