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Justice Minister Flanagan 'very disappointed' over comments made at Galway direct provision centre meeting

Locals expressed their frustration at a meeting in Oughterard yesterday evening.

Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan.
Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan.
Image: Leah Farrell

JUSTICE MINISTER CHARLIE Flanagan has expressed his disappointment over growing anger and recent remarks made about a possible Direct Provision centre in Galway.

At a meeting in Oughterard of political representatives and community members yesterday evening – attended by approximately 700 people – locals vented their frustration over a lack of consultation 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 means for the town if the building becomes accommodation for asylum seekers. 

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 Justice & Equality of secrecy regarding the hotel’s ongoing refurbishment.

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.

Flanagan today said these were “very difficult and challenging issues”. 

“I’m very disappointed at some of the commentary coming from Oughterard, I wasn’t there myself. My colleague Minister Sean Kyne was there,” Flanagan said. 

“I intend on having a discussion with [Kyne] later on this evening, receiving a first-hand report from him. And I have to say these are very, very difficult and challenging issues.

“We have international obligations, and national obligations, as far as persons from the international stage seeking asylum in this country is concerned. I acknowledge that we don’t have too many choices. And I would hope that the comments that I’ve read and heard from last night’s meeting, I’m satisfied that they’re not reflective of the views of the people of Galway.”

‘Debacle to debacle’ 

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. 

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,” the TD 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. 

A number of possible premises are being looked at, Flanagan confirmed today when asked if Oughterard was under consideration by his Department. 

“And I want to again, underline that this is the most complex issue. We don’t as a government have too many choices, in terms of fulfilling and living up to our international obligations. We are obliged.”

Flanagan added that he was “quite satisfied that we are fully supported in this endeavor, that we provide international protection to those persons seeking that in this country that involves board and food, lodgings and, and shelter and the basic assumptions.”

“So I would hope that as we go through the tender process, that we will be in a position to make announcements on new centres over the next few weeks,” he said. 

Flanagan added that his Department is “receiving up to 50 applications per week” for international protection. 

Emergency accommodation

Since September 2018, most 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.

The EU Reception Conditions directive, which Ireland signed up to last year, states that the Minister for Justice may provide emergency accommodation. But it must be for “as short a time as possible”. 

With reporting from Christina Finn

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