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Locals attending the event in Ballyfermot this evening. Jane Moore/TheJournal.ie
ballyfermot cherry orchard for all

'This is the real Ballyfermot': Local community group forms to show solidarity after protests

Ballyfermot Cherry Orchard For All is the latest community group to form in the wake of protests that have occurred in recent months.

A COMMUNITY GROUP in Ballyfermot has said there is “no place for racism” in their area after forming in the wake of anti-refugee protests held in the area in recent weeks.

Ballyfermot Cherry Orchard For All is the latest community group to form in the wake of similar protests held throughout Dublin over the last six months. 

The group held an event this evening in the People’s Park in Ballyfermot which was attended by over a hundred people, including Lord Mayor of Dublin Caroline Conroy and Senator Eileen Flynn.

The event had live music and saw flags from countries around the world planted in the park “for our families living abroad” and also as a message of “welcome and solidarity to those coming to our community”.

The group was formed by locals and is being supported by Dublin City Council and over 25 organisations, including the Ballyfermot Anti Racism Network, the Ballyfermot Youth Service and the Ballyfermot Traveller Action Group.

Gerry McCarthy, a Ballyfermot resident who was involved in creating the group, told The Journal that locals in the area wanted to counter the “message of hate” that arose following a protest in the area last month.

“A lot of community organisations came together concerned about the incident that happened in Ballyfermot a few weeks ago. The lies were unbelievable, but it was more the tone and the language of hate that we all came together to say ‘this isn’t what we are’. It’s not what we’re about,” he said.

“This is just to say that we’re welcoming in the community and we embrace everybody. Sure the history of Ireland, the Irish are all over the world. My own family have people in America, Australia, England, and it’s the same. We have to think of that.”

People Before Profit councillor for Ballyfermot-Drimnagh Hazel de Nortúin told The Journal that there has been a lot of misinformation shared with locals about asylum seekers in recent weeks.

“We tried at the beginning to correct some of the misinformation online and it wasn’t working because of the way social media works. You put a post up, you might be trying to correct it, but within your comment section, you’re giving a platform for more misinformation.

IMG_8467 (1) Flags of the world in the park for 'families living abroad' and as a 'welcome and solidarity to those coming' to Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard. Jane Moore / TheJournal.ie Jane Moore / TheJournal.ie / TheJournal.ie

“That’s why we had to decide how well we do it in a visual way without just relying on social media,” she said.

De Nortúin said the idea of the group was to show solidarity to communities and to make Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard as inclusive as possible. 

Any hateful language, any hate speech can’t be tolerated. We have a big piece of work to do. We have to do a lot to try and bridge that gap again.

“Hopefully by starting today, people around the community will show that there’s a lot more support than there is division here, and then we just keep chipping away and building away at that.”

Shay L’Estrange, who is involved in Ballyfermot Traveller Action Group, told The Journal that the group wanted to get involved because the Traveller community is “all too familiar” with racist rhetoric. 

“We witnessed racism for decades in the Traveller community, we know the damage that can do to a community, we know it can divide communities, so we got involved in this group to try and counter that,” he said.

“We see it even in our own friends, our own family, where we see these conspiracy theorists spouting lies and misinformation on a continuous basis, and it’s very hard for people on occasions to disseminate between what’s a truth and what’s a lie, and when you get frightened, you can easily get sucked into these far-right organisations.”

L’Estrange said the group wanted to take a dual-approach to the issue.

“It’s our job to call out racists and to ask people to stand up against them, but it’s also important that we work with the community and we dispel some of these lies and misinformation that’s going around.”

Anti-refugee protests

Ballyfermot Cherry Orchard For All is one of a number of community groups set up in recent months to engage with residents and hold events so local people can meet new members of the community.

In the last six months, far-right protests against asylum seekers have become more frequent, with greater numbers in attendance and increasingly extreme rhetoric being used.

Protests have been held in several areas across Dublin, including East Wall, Ballymun, Finglas, Ballyfermot and Tallaght. Attendees have included members of established far-right groups, local residents, and what anti-racism demonstrators call “outside agitators” who recruit fellow protestors via social media.

One such protest in Finglas heard a man in attendance say that the way to “deal” with asylum seekers was to “burn them out of it”.

Last month, a crowd of protesters in Ballyfermot gathered outside the home of local independent councillor Vincent Jackson and “roared obscenities” while his family were in the house. 

The protest was in relation to an allegation that there were refugees staying in a number of schools in the area. 

“There is no truth in this and we put out some information that there is no truth in it,” Jackson said at the time. 

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, who is also involved with Ballyfermot Cherry Orchard For All, said the forming of the group was an “important step” towards creating and maintaining an awareness that “everybody should be treated with respect, regardless of their culture and their background”.

She told The Journal that some of the things being said at anti-refugee protests and online were “pretty disgusting”. 

“It’s particularly disgusting when they’re standing there shouting ‘burn them out’. I can absolutely understand that people are angry about the housing crisis. I meet them every day of the week, people who are 12 or 14 years on a housing list, but migrants are not to blame for that,” Smith said.

There’s a lot of myths around that migrants get preferential treatment, but they don’t. That’s not how the system works.

“I think the housing crisis has fed into a negativity, and that negativity has been exploited very nastily by well-thought-out fascists who understand how to use social media to frighten people, to stir up hatred and fear, and unfortunately, it has worked so far, but hopefully we’ll be pushing back against it now with community events like this.”

The ‘real Ballyfermot’

The Journal also spoke to a number of locals who attended the event this evening. One man, Seamus, said he wanted to show support in the wake of the protest in January.

“We experienced what happened at the roundabout there a few weeks back when they came and the language out of them. There was a hatred that was palpable. It was just completely unethical, wrong against everything. They were just shouting and ranting, really,” he said.

“It’s not Ballyfermot. This is the real Ballyfermot where people are welcome. We’ll care for each other for our children, but we’ll also look after people who are in need. That’s the real Ballyfermot.”

Alan, who has lived in Ballyfermot for almost 60 years, told The Journal that what happened to Jackson was “very sad” and made him want to support the community.

“I agree with immigration. People should be allowed to come into this country. An Irish person was always able to go to any other European country, any country around the world and still be accepted.

“That’s what I agree with and that’s why I’m here today, to show solidarity with the people of Ballyfermot and with immigrants as well that have come to Ireland.”

He also said the Government should be doing more “to let people know what’s happening”.

“That would make things a lot easier. People would be more accepting of it then.”

IMG_8517 Senator Eileen Flynn speaking at the event. Jane Moore / TheJournal.ie Jane Moore / TheJournal.ie / TheJournal.ie

Jody, who also lives in the area, said that holding similar community events in future will help to counter misinformation.

“The more people that are out there empowering each other, understanding and getting the facts, the less that will be,” she told The Journal.

Ballyfermot Cherry Orchard For All is planning to hold other community events going forward in an effort to build solidarity with locals. 

Speaking at the event, Senator Flynn said there had been a lot of “fear mongering” around asylum seekers and refugees from certain groups.

“These people are jumping on the back of very real campaigns – homeless campaigns, the cost of living campaign – and these people are not nice people. What they’re spreading is rumors, lies, hatred, and they’re trying to divide us as a community here in Ballyfermot.  The same with Drimnagh, the same with Clondalkin,” she said.

We will not allow these people to divide our communities and to spread hatred within our community.

“We are a lot of things but we do not hate people because of the colour of their skin or because of the community that they come from, because we know, not just me as a member of the traveller community, but coming from Ballyfermot, a few years ago, if you went for a job, you weren’t getting that job because your address was Ballyfermot. You weren’t trusted because you were from Ballyfermot.

“Them things have changed and we have to change with them. We’re not going to be an oppressed community who goes on to oppress other people.”

Lord Mayor Caroline Conroy said she was “delighted” to see so many people attending the event in solidarity. 

“I’m from Ballymun, and we’re the same. I will not have other people say that we’re racist, we’re haters, that we don’t want to include, that we don’t invite new communities into our community. That’s what we’re made of,” she told those gathered at the event.

“If you have an issue with housing, the health service, go outside the Dáil, contact your TD, your councillor. I’m a councillor, I have no problem talking to anybody or supporting anybody in those situations.

“But to stand outside someone’s temporary home and shout ‘get out’, ‘burn them out’, that is not about housing, that is not about social services, that is not about the health service: that is pure and utter ugly hate, and that is not what we’re about.”

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