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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Protests against refugees in Killarney and Rosslare

Hundreds of people marched in Killarney, Co Kerry, this afternoon in a silent protest led by residents of the Muckross Road area where a hotel is set to host 70 male international protection applicants.

A single banner ‘Killarney Has Its Fair Share’ was carried by children at the head of the march which at one point swelled to between 400 and 500.

The march began at Fair Hill and proceeded along the town centre ending at the Kingscourt/Harmony Inn on the Muckross Road, the town’s most prestigious tourist route where around 250 people gathered.

It follows two public meetings which have called on the Department of Integration to halt sending numbers of refugees and asylum seekers to the tourist town.

Killarney now has around 3,000 Ukrainian and international protection applicants in about 40% of the tourist accommodation of the town.

Public meetings at the Old Weir Lodge and at the East Avenue Hotel where 300 people assembled on Sunday heard fears for ‘brand Killarney’ domestically and internationally, because of the lack of accommodation for tourists and a downturn in tourist dependent business.

Council management had also written to International Protection Accommodation Services (Ipas) to ask it to delay the latest arrival until services were put in place. 

However, the department has said it has to avail of all offers of accommodation because of the pressure of numbers arriving.

Meanwhile KASI, the non-governmental agency Killarney asylum seeker initiative dealing with asylum seekers and refugees has appealed to the community not to ‘prejudge’ the 70 new arrivals.

“As a local NGO supporting asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants, our slant on it is if another 100 or 1,000 people arrive in Killarney, we will continue to provide the necessary support and services to the newcomers to the best of our ability with the resources we have.

“However, we genuinely understand as well and agree that local services are over-stretched and under-resourced, including our own,” KASI general manager Marilyn Catapat-Counihan said.

Frustration should be directed towards government decisions regarding where it accommodates people and not to those 70 male asylum seekers, she urged, referring to social media ‘rhetoric’.

Rosslare 

Meanwhile, a large demonstration in Rosslare today attracted around 1,000 people, local reports suggest. 

Between 1pm and 2pm, traffic to and from Rosslare Europort was disrupted by the demonstration, which centres on plans to convert an old hotel for the use of international protection applicants.

A previous planning application, which was granted, had earmarked the site for a nursing home.

Locals say they are annoyed that up to 420 more refugees are scheduled to be housed by next May in the old Great Southern Hotel, which is currently being renovated.

The west wing of the former hotel, which was originally given planning permission for a nursing home, is near completion, and some 170 refugees will be housed there.

The remaining 250 residents will arrive when the rest of the hotel is finished around May next year.

Locals said a new nursing home is badly needed in the area, and carried banners saying ‘Save our nursing home’ and ‘Enough is enough’ during the demonstration on Saturday.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, Independent TD for Wexford Verona Murphy said the situation facing locals was “ridiculous” in terms of these planning matters.

She said there was a meeting with Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman on Wednesday, and he said it was a planning matter and not one for his department.

“It was an abandoned site. It was given planning permission in May 2022 for a nursing home. A commencement notice in May of this year was validated. 

“In October, Wexford County Council received another notice which it validated, and said it would house international protection applicants.” 

She said Wexford County Council had made a mistake in this regard. 

“It’s incumbent upon them not to have protests at our national port because of their deferral to make a decision,” she said.

Locals also said that there was a lack of services in the area, which is at saturation point.

Fermoy 

Separately, a demonstration was held earlier this week in Fermoy, Co Cork, around supposed plans to accommodate over 50 international protection applicants at Abbeyville House, an old historic building in the centre of the town.

The event on Wednesday was attended by a locals and a number of local councillors, including the Mayor of Co Cork. It was also attended by anti-immigration activist Derek Blighe. Parts of the event were videoed and uploaded to Facebook.

In a statement, Fermoy and Mallow Against Division said that efforts have been made over the last year to ignite division in the town around the accommodation of international protection applicants and Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia, including in centres such as St Joseph’s in the town.

“Since that time, the town has endured a sustained campaign of lies and misinformation about people who come and make Fermoy their home,” the group said.

“[And] since that time, literally hundreds of local people have been involved in integration activities of one kind or another. 

“Many positive friendships formed through the Sanctuary runners, and International Choir, StreetFeast celebrations through St Joseph’s residents volunteering in local charities.

“Local people have stepped up to make the welcome that Fermoy is known for a reality. The integration of people in St Joseph’s has been a resounding success because local people reached out the hand of friendship.

“We stand against the misrepresentation of our town as anything other than inclusive and welcoming of anyone regardless of their gender or background.” 

Kate O’Connell, from Fermoy and Mallow Against Division, said that “time and time again racist tropes” have been deployed to describe migrant and non-Irish men.

“What’s been said about them has been refuted and disproven,” she said. 

We’re really concerned about community cohesion. 

“When you have agitators stirring racial tensions, particularly pitting Ukrainians against international protection applicants, it makes things more difficult.”

The group also criticised the presence of councillors at the event.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mayor of the County of Cork Frank O’Flynn said there had been contact from local residents, who are “not against anybody coming into the country”, but concern for the building itself and the lack of information available on the matter.

“There was a lack of information and consultation,” he said. “There are rumours and counter rumours.”

Mr O’Flynn said Fermoy was a “very welcoming place” and had “truly embraced” the new groups of people that had moved there in recent times.

He said he and councillors were supporting local concerns and aiming to get more information from the Department of Integration in relation to the plans for Abbeyville House. He had written to the minister on the matter, he said.

In the video of the event shared to social media, Mr O’Flynn said that “people power” could succeed and urged others to contact the minister on the matter.

Fine Gael councillor Noel McCarthy said that recent arrivals in Fermoy have settled in “fantastically well” and have made big contributions to the town.

“That’s not the reason I’m concerned,” he said, adding that Abbeyville House would not be a suitable accommodation for 56 people.

“As I said, this is the wrong allocation for the wrong location,” he said. 

“People in Fermoy are not against the refugees. The people in St Joseph’s have made a vital contribution to the town of Fermoy. In 12 months, I’ve never got any complaint about them.

“It’s overcrowding at a location, and there people genuinely concerned the way the rumour mill goes on. The Department [of Integration] needs to give clarity to us on it.” 

Both Mr O’Flynn and Mr McCarthy distanced themselves from questions asked of them in a video of the event on if they’d support attempts to barricade the entrance to Abbeyville House.

“I’m a law abiding citizen, and wouldn’t support that,” Mr O’Flynn said.

Mr McCarthy said they were caught unaware at the demonstration of the presence of particular individuals.

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