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Further protests in Dublin's East Wall over asylum seeker accommodation

Hundreds of people gathered to protest at the housing of refugees at the old ESB building this evening.

This evening's protest in Dublin.
This evening's protest in Dublin.
Image: The Journal

SEVERAL HUNDRED PEOPLE attended a protest in Dublin’s East Wall this evening against the housing of refugees at an old ESB building.  

It followed a similar protest at the building on Saturday with this evening’s protest blocking East Wall Road. Gardaí were also present at the building and nearby. 

A number of speakers spoke to the crowd, with one local resident saying that there was no consultation with the community ahead of the use of the building for those seeking asylum. 

Nigel Murphy, representing the local residents’ group, told the gathered crowd that East Wall is a multicultural neighbourhood “and we want to keep it like that”, adding that the issue was nothing to do with race. 

“The issue we have with this is they put 150 men in this building without consultation. No politician came to us, nobody spoke to us and they snuck them in in the middle of the night,” Murphy said, claiming that none of the asylum seekers in the old ESB building are from Ukraine.

“I don’t have any anger towards them men, they’re just pawns in a game. Our anger must be directed towards Roderic O’Gorman. That’s where the anger is,” he said.

He claimed that people are worried about their children going to school in the area and that elderly residents were afraid to leave their homes due to the asylum seekers. 

As Murphy spoke using a microphone, shouts could be heard from the crowd including “plantation” and “this is our country”. 

When Murphy said that the asylum seekers in the building were not the enemy, there were further shouts from the crowd, including “they are the enemy”. 

He encouraged the “official” local residents’ group to disperse peacefully after the protest following the interruptions. 

A second speaker then began to speak, but was interrupted by chants of “get them out” and further shouts from the crowd. 

The speaker said the residents are “in this for the long run” and “will be here every night until this building is closed”. 

When the second speaker ended his speech, he said that they would return tomorrow at 5pm to protest again. Another man then stood up to speak.

This person began to share known online conspiracy theories, at one point saying: “there’s a plan to replace the Irish”. 

Shortages

At Saturday’s protest, residents claimed that the building was being used to accommodate male-only asylum seekers. 

In a statement to The Journal, the Department of Integration said the old ESB building is being used to house both families and single people seeking asylum. 

The department said: “The pressure to accommodate over 64,000 people since the start of the year has led to significant shortages particularly for the international protection cohort. The Department has been forced to avail of all offers of accommodation made, including the use of office buildings such as the building in East Wall, in order to address the accommodation shortfall.

“While the Department is aware that some types of accommodation such as office buildings and tented solutions is less than ideal it is working hard to find solutions, through the use facilities management companies in some cases, to offer emergency food, shelter and sanitation provision to both cohorts,” the spokesperson said.

According to the spokesperson, the capacity of the old ESB building is 380 persons, made up of both families and single adults on separate access-controlled floors. They added that single people will not have access to the family floors. 

“Residents will be accommodated over 5 floors, mainly in twin bedrooms, with family rooms ranging from four up to six beds per room to a small number of dormitory style bedrooms,” the spokesperson continued. 

“The Department continues to engage with local representatives to provide information, and will be providing more information directly to the community in the coming days.

“Unfortunately, the sheer scale of the present crisis inevitably means buildings repurposed for the temporary, emergency accommodation of those seeking refuge must be occupied on a faster timeline than would otherwise be the case.

“Irish people have shown remarkable solidarity and welcome for those who come here seeking refuge, and the Department is keen to foster positive linkages with the local community for the new centre in East Wall and in all other locations throughout the country.”

‘Very significant’ migration issue

Speaking at a new housing development in Shankill today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin urged people to continue to “warmly” welcome Ukrainian refugees in their communities.

He said that “there should be consultation” with communities about accommodation, but said that there is currently a “very significant issue in terms of migration, not just in Ireland, but across Europe”.

“First of all, we have an unprecedented number of people having to flee Ukraine because of the brutal war that Putin is raging, and Putin wants these type of issues to arise in societies,” Martin said. 

He said the Russian president is weaponising migration and bombing infrastructure “to, in many ways, provoke more people to leave Ukraine”. 

“That’s clearly the agenda over the winter period, as well as the weaponisation of food and the weaponisation of energy, which has led to the energy prices increases and the energy crisis more generally. So as a society I would appeal that we hold this together.”

The Taoiseach said that communities “the length and breadth of the country” are doing “exceptional work in welcoming Ukrainian families”.

“I’ve witnessed this myself travelling around the country, met Ukrainian communities who have been very well and warmly received and that’s the spirit that I would urge people to continue with, notwithstanding the very significant challenges more generally,” he added.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One programme this afternoon, Irish Refugee Council CEO Nick Henderson said the group is “concerned” about communities protesting at the housing of refugees.

‘Drifting into dangerous territory’

former-esb-electricity-supply-board-head-office-two-gateway-east-wall-road-dublin-republic-of-ireland-now-repurposed-for-asylum-seekers-and-immigrants File photo of the former ESB head office in East Wall. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

“We are concerned. There is definitely a trend in recent weeks around communities or certain people within communities speaking out against the idea of accommodation of refugees and people seeking protection,” Henderson said.

“It’s certainly a situation that’s deteriorated since the summer, but we do think with the right communications in place both at a national level and very importantly at a local level, people within communities can be given the appropriate information, support services can be prepared and leaders in communities can also be notified or prepared around accommodating people in this situation.”

Henderson also said that we are “drifting into very dangerous territory” around “stigmatising single males”. 

“I’ve worked with people seeking protection for 20 years as a legal adviser in different capacities and some of the most vulnerable people I’ve worked with have been single men,” he said.

“I think we have to be really careful around stigmatising single men and using it as a trope, which ultimately could be racist.”

Online commentary

Online, far-right activists have also seized upon the protests to generate support, The Journal’s FactCheck unit has found during its investigation of the protests today.

The protests were promoted and praised, alongside conspiracy theories, racist content, and pro-Kremlin propaganda, on social media channels that, collectively, have tens of thousands of followers.

Members also posted videos of far-right activists harassing people they believed to be asylum seekers on streets near the ESB Networks building. Commenters speculated that those seen in the videos were not real refugees, or complained that they did not appear to be from Ukraine.

Groups of activists were also praised for coming up to Dublin from other counties to protest at East Wall, as well at a Pfizer office in Ringsend, and in support for Enoch Burke, a teacher who was jailed for breaking a court order, following an altercation involving his opposition to using a student’s favored gender pronouns.

International protection

The department said that over 14,000 international protection (IP) applicants have arrived in Ireland in the last 12 months. The average arrival figure for IP applicants for the 10-year period from 2010 to 2020 is 3,500.

As of 13 November, there are 17,192 people accommodated in International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS), the department said. At the same time in 2021, there were approximately 7,250 persons in IPAS accommodation.

Since the war in Ukraine began, the International Protection Procurement Service (IPPS) has worked to facilitate the accommodation solution for both IP applicants and over 46,800 Ukrainian beneficiaries of temporary protection (BOTPs), an unprecedented volume of persons seeking refuge in Ireland.

- With reporting by Shane Raymond and Rónán Duffy

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Jane Moore

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