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'There's an absence of information': Calls for clarity after 700 people attend meeting about Galway direct provision centre

Locals are concerned about what it would mean for the town if the building accommodates asylum seekers.

Oughterard, Co Galway
Oughterard, Co Galway
Image: Google Maps

A LACK OF communication from the Department of Justice & Equality has “allowed a vacuum to develop” around its sourcing of accommodation for asylum seekers, Galway TD Catherine Connolly has said. 

There has been anger in Oughterard, Co Galway recently regarding ongoing refurbishment works at the Connemara Gateway Hotel which has been closed for a number of years. 

Locals have expressed concerns covering a spectrum of issues about what it would mean for the town if the building becomes accommodation for asylum seekers. 

At a public meeting last night of political representatives and community members – attended by approximately 700 people – locals vented their frustration over a lack of consultation regarding the building. 

Locals have also complained that Oughterard does not have the infrastructure to support international protection applicants in the area and have accused the Department of secrecy regarding the hotel. 

A process to evaluate offers from premises is currently underway to find suitable locations for direct provision centres in the region, the Department confirmed to TheJournal.ie.

“Following the most recent tender process, an evaluation of offers is underway. We cannot confirm the location of new centres at this time,” a spokesperson said. 

“When the evaluation and commercially sensitive aspects of the process are completed, the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) will begin engagement with local communities and their political representatives.”

Local councillors have also said nobody in Oughterard knows if the search for locations for asylum centres is related to the work that is underway at the hotel.

The Department also recently issued a €65 million tender for new direct provision centres for Co Kildare, Co Wicklow, Co Meath and Co Louth to provide accommodation and services to international protection applicants.

Since 2018, the Department has struggled to open new centres due to arson attacks at hotels in Moville, Co Donegal and Rooskey on the Roscommon-Leitrim border.

Locals have consistently raised concerns that communities are not properly consulted by the Department ahead of contracts being signed with private business owners. 

Galway TD Catherine Connolly described last night’s meeting, in which a number of anti-migrant remarks were made, as “one of the most difficult meetings” she had attended.

Connolly has now called for clarity from the Department regarding the situation in Oughterard. 

“The Department of Justice are not covering themselves in glory, they’re not learning from debacle to debacle,” Connolly told TheJournal.ie.

“I think the absence of information and the absence of openness is allowing a vacuum to develop which is not helpful and it’s inciteful.”

Connolly added that continued secrecy from the department helps neither local communities nor asylum seekers. 

She said she had attended the meeting understanding that it was about an unauthorised development at the old hotel but that it was a meeting to protest the rumoured plan to accommodate asylum seekers there. 

Local Social Democrats councillor Owen Hanley said: “There is a fundamental flaw with direction provision. It is an inhumane institution and I continue to argue that the state must abolish direct provision.

“But it’s clear that concerns about a lack of consultation and questions over infrastructure have been hijacked by those seeking to fan the flames,” he added. 

Since September 2018, international protection applicants have been placed in hotels and B&Bs due to this pressure on Ireland’s asylum system. 

The average daily rate across direct provision centres is €35, according to the Department of Justice & Equality. The average cost for emergency accommodation is €100 per person per night, TheJournal.ie recently reported

So far, the Department has spent over €12 million on emergency accommodation. Until new Direct Provision centres come on-stream, the Department’s Reception & Integration Agency (RIA) will continue to contract hotels and B&Bs, it has said. 

There are currently over 1,100 international protection applicants living in emergency accommodation with 30 hotels and B&Bs in 12 counties contracted by RIA to provide bed and board.

A number of issues for people living in emergency accommodation highlighted by TheJournal.ie include difficulties accessing GP services, delays in PPS numbers being allocated in order to receive weekly payment, lack of educational access for children and unsuitable accommodation.

Meanwhile, the Department has struggled to maintain existing Direct Provision stock. 

In July, Hatch Hall direct provision centre in Dublin – which accommodated 200 people – closed ahead of its redevelopment into a five-star hotel. 

Established in 1999 in response to a sharp increase in the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland, direct provision has been repeatedly critcised by migrant rights groups due to the length of time people remain in centres while their asylum applications or appeals are processed, the conditions of centres as well as the psychological effects on those living in these centres. 

It’s estimated that over 60,000 asylum seekers have been placed in direct provision centres since its introduction. 

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