Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Eamonn Farrell Entrance to the Magowna House Hotel and guest homes in Co Clare.
Magowna House

'Horror' after Clare protesters board bus to conduct 'headcount of asylum seekers'

Protests have taken place at Magowna House hotel in Inch, Co Clare, after over 30 assylum seekers were moved into holiday homes there this week.

MIGRANT SUPPORT GROUPS have reacted in “horror” after protesters in Clare reportedly boarded a bus carrying asylum seekers to conduct a headcount and record the men on video.

It marked the latest escalation in demonstrations against migrants, with the Movement for Asylum Seekers in Ireland (Masi) saying the “government is allowing” such actions to happen by “not showing authority and protecting” people fleeing to Ireland.

One Green Party TD, Neasa Hourigan, also told The Journal that the alleged headcount incident needed to be met by gardaí “stepping up to a new level”. 

Gardaí in turn have defended their handling of the protest, claiming they have enacted a “proportional response” which has led to “positive engagement” with demonstrators and others. 

They claimed in their response that the demonstration has been “peaceful” to date.

The latest protests have taken place at Magowna House hotel in Inch, Co Clare, after over 30 asylum seekers were moved into holiday homes there on Monday evening.

Some local people blocked both ends of the hotel road with tractors in response. Several asylum seekers have already left the accommodation due to the so-called blockade.

Bus boarding

Eimear O’Connor, who is the manager of the Clare Immigrant Support Centre, said Wednesday’s incident saw protesters boarding a bus carrying international protection applicants who were told they were being recorded so that protesters could keep track of the number who were entering the site.

The incident, which was first reported by RTÉ reporter John Cooke, was condemned as “absolutely unacceptable” by Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman earlier today.

“Some local people did a headcount and a video of the people that were on the bus, and said they would be doing the same when the bus returns to make sure that only the same number of people came back,” O’Connor told The Journal.

“My reaction is one of horror to be brutally honest, because that’s a very intimidatory thing to do,” she said.

“This was a privately hired bus to take a private group of people on a journey and these people boarded the bus and took video footage. That’s very intimidatory, in particular when they’re newly arrived into the country,” O’Connor said.

She said the men were “made to feel extremely unwelcome on arrival” last Monday.

“They’re human beings that should be treated with the dignity and respect that all human beings deserve. And that we should allow them to settle and integrate as much as they possibly can.

Ireland is the land of a thousand welcomes – where are you is what I say.

“Let’s do what we can to help to settle because that’s what they desire.”

Lucky Khambule, spokesperson for Masi, said the government and gardaí had not dealt with protesters and anti-migrant groups in a string of incidents he listed out stretching back to 2018.

“The gardaí must come to the aid of people that are vulnerable and action needs to happen,” he said. “Nobody is listening to the government, nobody is listening to the ministers because they talk and nothing happens.” 

O’Connor said the support centre where she works is part-funded by the Department of Justice and assists refugees by helping them to seek work.

“Most of the men that arrived are very young, mostly in their 20s, one or two of them are over 40 if as much. A lot of them are here for five months so are eligible for work permits.

“That is their main focus, to get working and get settled and we’re signposting them into a local development company.”

Garda response

In a response to this publication, a Garda spokesperson said gardaí “continue to have a proportionate response” to what they said was a “peaceful demonstration” outside the hotel in Inch.

“Local Gardaí continue to maintain a presence at the location, and continue to have positive engagement with various persons in attendance and are facilitating access to and from the premises,” the statement said. 

“Any Garda response in relation to evolving events is in keeping with a community policing model and graduated policing response taking into account relevant legislation and public safety.

“There is a constitutional right to the freedom of assemble and freedom of speech, subject to statutory provisions.”

The spokesperson said that, “Where necessary, An Garda Síochána put in place appropriate and proportionate policing plans to monitor public gatherings”, but that it does not comment on or provide specific details of its operations.

“An Garda Síochána is not in a position to provide ongoing commentary on specifics of what is an ongoing incident,” the statement concluded.

Integration Minister O’Gorman has told Clare TDs and Senators that the closure of a hotel in Inch housing asylum seekers is not an option.

O’Gorman said it would not be possible to close the hotel, despite concerns being raised by local TDs and Senators, particularly around poor communications from the Department.

He was backed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who told reporters during a visit to the Council of Europe in Iceland that while engagement will be done with the local community, it’s “not a situation whereby we can allow any community to stop people moving into their area”.

Varadkar added: “You know, we’re facing a housing crisis. We’re facing an international refugee crisis triggered by war in Ukraine and war in other parts of the world. And we have to do our best by people and that means using all accommodation available.”

He said it was “too soon to say” whether protests have escalated, pointing to how there were “disturbing” protests around East Wall in Dublin which later eased.

“We [have] seen an escalation now in the last week with events… in particular events in Durban and Sandwith Street. I think what those happen is, when we open new centres, that can be difficult.”

The Fine Gael leader added that several hundred offers of accommodation will be made to refugees by the end of the week.

The Journal understands these three centres are in Clondalkin, Dun Laoghaire and Santry.

‘Scary and shocking’

Khambule said that the incident in Clare was scary and shocking.

While people “have the right to to vocalise whatever differences that they have, they don’t know right to attack people who are vulnerable, who have done nothing wrong,” Khambule said.

“It’s very, very shocking that it has come to that extent of them getting into the bus which they have no business of doing. These people are in need of protection and have had traumatising experiences and this only makes it worse.

“It’s sad that this is allowed to carry on like this. And that it’s been going on for for a long time now,” he said, adding that various incidents have taken place over the past five years, saying that the anti-migrant groups have been “emboldened” over this period.

“In 2018 the far-right torched a centre in Donegal. Up to now the government has not come up to say how the investigation went. It went onto Rooskey where they burnt a hotel. Then it went on to Oughterard. And then Kildare, Fermoy. When people get away with one incident, they will go further.”

A Green Party TD has told The Journal that she will be writing to gardaí to query what actions they are taking.

“This has stepped up to a new level and gardaí need to step to a new level,” Neasa Hourigan said.

“If they’ll intimidate vulnerable people in this situation there is no group that is safe from people like this.

“I just think if you have an issue with government policy, you do not go intimidate and harass and bully the most vulnerable people in that situation who have no decision making power. I think it’s shameful.

“It makes me embarrassed that anybody who would do something like that thinks that they that they’re in the right or that they’re they’re representative of Irish communities, because they’re not, they’re bullies.”

Contains reporting by Tadgh McNally and Diarmuid Pepper in Iceland

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.