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'We're better than this in Ireland': Justice Department calls on Achill protesters to stand down

Locals have argued that the Achill Head Hotel is not a suitable location for emergency accommodation.

LAST UPDATE | 1 Nov 2019

THE MINISTER OF State at the Department of Justice and Equality has called on protesters in Achill to “show some humanity” and welcome 13 asylum seekers who were due to be housed on the island. 

David Stanton, Minister with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration, and Integration, said the Department is eager to engage with the local communities to work out any issues or fears they may have and called on public representatives to show solidarity on the issue. 

The Department yesterday postponed plans to house 13 women for 3 months in the Achill Head Hotel due to ongoing protests at the site.

It follows similar protests in Oughterard, Galway and Ballinamore Leitrim. In all of these cases, the Department has given in to the pressure and change its plans. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, Stanton said the Department is still “anxious” to go ahead with its plans for the Achill Head Hotel as “the contract is signed” and all other centres are full.

“Show some humanity. Step aside. Let these people in. We will work with communities, we will address any concerns they have,” Staunton said pleading to those demonstrating outside the hotel. 

“I know the people outside have concerns, and they probably don’t mean to intimate, but their presence would be intimidating if we brought vulnerable people down there. We couldn’t put people in that position.” 

“I would call on everybody to stand aside, step down and step back from this. Please help these people and welcome them in. They’re not a threat to anybody.” 

We’re better than this in Ireland. Across our country, we’re better than this.

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he doesn’t believe the protest is “representative of the people of County Mayo”.

“I am asking that the siege be lifted,” Flanagan said.

He claimed that there is some alt-right engagement involved in the situation.

“I have to say, as I saw outside my Department on the steps last evening, I have to say that there is, unfortunately, an insidious alt-right engagement here,” Flanagan said. 

It’s small, it’s vociferous, but it’s acting very unfairly in communities by whipping up an anti-immigrant sentiment which is fundamentally unfair and is not representative of the welcome that the Irish people are noted for. 

‘Fuel to the fire’ 

Local representatives have been critical of the Department over a lack of communication with locals and believe the Achill Head Hotel is not a suitable location for emergency accommodation.

“We are happy to integrate asylum seekers looking to start a new life into our villages and local schools in a different manner,” Fianna Fáil councillor Paul McNamara said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, James McNamara, Achill resident and member of recently formed Welcome Committee said he was concerned that the protests in Achill have been hijacked by people outside the area for their own reasons.

“Obviously I can’t say for certain because I haven’t been down at the protests. The few clips I have seen on TV I couldn’t recognise any of the people. So I don’t really know who is involved. 

I believe there are outside influences adding fuel to the fire. 

He added that no one is in favour of the current direct provision system, “it will be our Magdalene Laundries of the future”. 

“Achill people are generous and open-hearted people. I’m sure if this was handled better there will be a huge welcome from people,” he said.  

With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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