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East Wall protestors march to the Dublin Port Tunnel Jane Moore/The Journal
East Wall

East Wall protesters block Port Tunnel a second time over asylum seeker accommodation

The group said protests ‘will continue every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until further notice’.

AN EAST WALL protest group blocked Dublin Port Tunnel this evening and called for the local asylum seeker accommodation centre to be closed.

The group, which announced that it plans to block the tunnel three times a week until the centre is shut down, prevented traffic from accessing the Port Tunnel.

Traffic was disrupted on Monday night when protesters blocked the Port Tunnel for a number of hours.

A group called The East Wall Committee released a statement apologising to commuters for blocking the Dublin Tunnel but claimed their “actions are regrettable but necessary”.

The group added: “We offered to work with the government on a solution and they dismissed us. Their refusal to listen to us has forced our hand.”

The statement said protests “will continue every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until further notice or until the (Direct) Provision centre is closed down”.

It also said that “protests will escalate nationwide if this government does not close this centre in its entirety”.

Speaking to The Journal this evening, Malachy Steenson, an activist and former member of the Workers’ Party, said that there was a lack of facilities in the area and that it couldn’t sustain a population increase.

One of the most outspoken locals during the recent protests, Steenson previously spoke as a guest at the Irish Freedom Party’s Árd Fheis.

“No government can treat its citizens in the way this government is treating them, with just imposing decisions on them that affect their quality of life,” Steenson said.

‘Unsustainable’

 “There’s a 4,000 population in this East Wall area, you cannot increase that by 10% overnight.

“It’s not sustainable for a government that keeps talking about sustainability. That is not sustainable. We don’t have the facilities to sustain that number of people coming into this area.”

He added that there was an “absence of facilities”, citing a lack of doctors and full-time teachers in the area.

He said that protesters gave Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman a week to close the accommodation centre, but he refused to do so.

On 29 November, he signed a letter headed by a protest group calling itself the East Wall Committee, in which it said it intends to block the Dublin Port Tunnel three times a week until the asylum seeker accommodation centre is closed.

Steenson told The Journal that the protest was organised by the protest group, which is separate to the area’s residents’ association. He said that he recognised “maybe 95% of the faces here” as local people from East Wall.

Asked what he thought about people who chanted “get them out” at previous protests, he said: “A lot of the chants of “get them out” related to when a politician was named.”

When The Journal attended a protest on 21 November, chants of “get them out” were heard in relation to the asylum seekers in the old ESB building, along with shouts of “they are the enemy” and “this is our country”.

Steenson said he thought this happened “on one occasion” by a “very small” group of people.

Hundreds of people attended this evening’s protest and marched from East Wall Road to block the Port Tunnel. A number of Gardaí were also present at the protest.

Speaking to The Journal, one woman who didn’t want to be named asked: “When are [the government] going to stop bringing people in?”

“Our own can’t even get the dole. They’re means tested. They’re not able to afford to rent any property that’s out there for them now. There’s nothing for our own, but yet they’re taking all these in and I’m doing this and that, and our homeless sleeping on the streets freezing?”

A man attending the protest who also didn’t want to be named took issue with claims that those attending the protests were racist or prejudiced.

“It’s nothing to do with that. Anyone that knows their Irish history knows that the people of Ireland that went abroad to other countries, we built the other countries. We didn’t sponge off the states. It wasn’t possible back then as well, so it’s not fair for it to happen here,” he told The Journal.

The Committee claims they were not consulted about asylum seekers being accommodated in an old ESB building in the area and add that they want to “keep the protests free from political opportunism and sabotage”.

IMG_7240 Traffic queuing at the Dublin Port Tunnel

Nigel Murphy, one of the protesters named in the group’s statement, said during a demonstration last week that their anger is towards the government and not people housed in the building.

Speaking on Newstalk yesterday, Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon, who covers the East Wall area, said he had been “inundated with calls from people saying that the protest certainly don’t represent their views or how they would approach things”.

Gannon added: “What started last week as part of a larger cohort of people from the north inner city and East Wall discussing how they weren’t informed or didn’t feel consulted has very quickly descended into what I will only describe now as a far-right rally.”

The Department of Equality and Integration say “the sheer scale of the present crisis inevitably means buildings repurposed for the temporary, emergency accommodation must be occupied on a faster timeline than would otherwise be the case”.

Minister Roderic O’Gorman also last week told a Joint Committee on the refugee accommodation crisis: “We are having to act far more quickly than I would like, but it is for the very simple reason that we are needing to be able to find beds and spaces for people on a daily basis.”

The Department added that is has had to accommodate over 64,000 people since the start of the year.

As a result, the Department said it “has been forced to avail of all offers of accommodation made, including the use of office buildings such as the building in East Wall”.

The Department also confirmed that the capacity of the building at East Wall is 380 persons, which is made of up families and single adults on separate access controlled floors.

The protests

The make-up of groups attending and organising the protests in East Wall, which have taken place since mid-November, has been the subject of intense speculation online and in the media.

Local councillor Nial Ring previously told The Journal that a group that first blocked the Dublin Port Tunnel on 28 November was made up of “99% residents”, and that smaller groups who attended previous protests didn’t “seem to be around” at that stage.

But although protests have been attended by concerned locals whose political affiliations are unknown, demonstrations have also been supported and encouraged by parties and non-local individuals associated with the far-right from an early stage.

Ahead of one of the first protests on 19 November, the Irish Freedom Party posted a video on social media of refugees moving into the former ESB headquarters and describing it as a “plantation” with the hashtag #IrelandIsFull, both of which are terms regularly used by Irish advocates of the white nationalist Great Replacement conspiracy theory.

The Irish Freedom Party has regularly encouraged people to attend protests that have taken place, and its president Hermann Kelly repeated the claim that Ireland was “full” in an interview about East Wall on the UK-based channel GB News.

The demonstrations have also been encouraged by far-right figures on Facebook, YouTube and the messaging app Telegram, where it has featured prominently in channels devoted to anti-Covid lockdown protests, ethno-nationalist discussions and conspiracy theories.

Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally and Diarmuid Pepper

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