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'We don't want to create an 'us and them' scenario': Tullamore councillors to discuss planned Direct Provision centre

“It’s a fait accompli, I would prefer if there had been more consultation,” one councillor said.

File photo of the Marian Hostel in Tullamore.
File photo of the Marian Hostel in Tullamore.
Image: Google Street View

THERE HAS BEEN a lack of consultation with the local community ahead of the planned opening of Direct Provision centre in Tullamore in Co Offaly, councillors in the area have said.

However, they have called for restraint ahead of a meeting with officials from the Justice and Education departments and the HSE tomorrow.

The Department of Justice yesterday announced that a Direct Provision centre would open at the Marian Hostel in Tullamore early next month and will accommodate 168 people who will move in on a phased basis.

The property was offered to the department, which is struggling to secure premises to accommodate asylum seekers, via the recent public procurement competition for the midlands region.

Concerns have been raised by some public representatives about the lack of consultation with local people as well as the impact the centre opening could have on services in the area.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie today, Fine Gael councillor Neil Feighery said there had been much speculation in recent months that a Direct Provision centre would open in the town but that nothing was confirmed until yesterday.

“It certainly seems to have been foisted upon us, a situation that has been replicated around the country. It seems as though the department picks a location, signs a deal with the owner and the local community is only informed once the contract is signed,” Feighery said.

“It’s a fait accompli, I would prefer if there had been more consultation.”

Misinformation 

Feighery said some “misinformation” has been spread about refugees and migrants in recent days and called for a measured discussion, based on facts, about the opening of the centre.

We have a responsibility as public representatives to deal in facts, we have a duty to be careful, not to create an ‘us and them’ scenario.

Feighery said he would hate to see protests against the opening of the centre happen in Tullamore, as occurred in other parts of the country.

“I wouldn’t like to see some of the scenes that happened in Oughterard or Leitrim happen in Tullamore, that was very unsavoury,” he said.

In October, a tender for a Direct Provision centre in Oughterard in Co Galway was withdrawn amid local protests.

The following month, a group that was protesting against plans to house asylum seekers in an apartment complex in Co Leitrim stood down their protest after the owners of the complex in Ballinamore secured a High Court injunction preventing protesters interfering with works to complete the structure.

The Department of Justice has struggled to open new centres following arson attacks in 2018 and 2019 at hotels in Moville, Co Donegal, and Rooskey on the Roscommon-Leitrim border. Most centres are at capacity and since September 2018 international protection applicants have been placed in hotels and B&Bs around the country.

“We cannot allow the same thing that happened in Ballinamore to happen here, I would hate to see that,” Feighery told us.

A spokesperson for Nasc, the Migrant & Refugee Rights Centre, today said: “It’s really important that the Department of Justice have consultations when a new centre is being set up.

“However it’s most important that all discussions are based on fact and not scaremongering. We also need to talk about the benefits that asylum seekers bring to communities.”

‘Asking hard questions’ 

Councillors from the Tullamore Electoral Area are set to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow afternoon to discuss the situation, ahead of a meeting with government officials and HSE representatives.

Feighery said he and other councillors will ask them “hard questions about the provision of services that will be put in place to support these residents and what the long-term plan is for residents”.

He said the opening of the centre “will be a challenge in terms of the provision of services such as healthcare, education” but added: “We can certainly rise to the challenge as a community in Tullamore, the last thing you want to see is these people becoming a target.”

Feighery noted that, despite the lack of consultation, the proposed location of the new centre more suitable than certain other areas where Direct Provision centres have opened as it’s in the centre of a town with many amenities within walking distance.

“There are challenges but I don’t think they are insurmountable,” he added.

Feighery said Syrian refugees who have moved into the area are settling in well and “make a valuable contribution to the local community”.  

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“We have an international obligation to take in asylum seekers and I for one understand that obligation. We don’t know exactly where these people are coming from but many will have fled war-torn countries, I’m sure they would love to be able to stay in their home country,” he said.

Speaking on Today with Sean O’Rourke earlier, local independent councillor John Leahy, the former leader of Renua, said he had “no problem with asylum seekers coming in to Tullamore” but claimed migrants are “leapfrogging” ahead of local people on housing and GP lists. Offaly County Council said this is not the case.

Feighery said accused Leahy of “deliberately mudding the water”, adding: “some of his claims were intentionally outrageous”. He noted that every county takes in a certain number of people who have been granted international protection, and that some of these people are housed via a “completely different scheme” that is funded separately though the local social housing list.  

TheJournal.ie spoke to a number of other councillors who said there had been a lack of consultation about the opening of the centre but they did not want to comment publicly until after tomorrow’s meeting.

In a statement released yesterday evening, the Department of Justice said the centre will provide independent living facilities to residents in line with the new standards for Direct Provision.

“We want to provide the local community with as much information as possible.

“A meeting has been arranged between Department officials and local representatives from the Tullamore municipal district in the coming days to discuss what supports will be in place to facilitate the new accommodation centre and its residents,” the statement said.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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