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Leah Farrell

Opinion With sensitivity and care, we can find a solution to the protests in East Wall

Local Paddy O’Dea writes that in the diverse community of East Wall, the protesters against emergency accommodation do not speak for all residents.

THERE WAS A large gathering on the streets of East Wall for the annual Halloween Night Parade on the 31 October: hundreds of families from the locality in face paint, princess crowns and a patchwork of Toy Story and Spiderman costumes shimmied their way down Church Road to a soundtrack of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the Ghostbusters theme tune.

That same weekend, a gaggle of local runners participated in the weekly Parkrun in neighbouring Fairview Park. Amongst the regulars was the familiar sight of the Sanctuary Runners in their distinct sky-blue running vests. The group have become a local and national symbol of solidarity with individuals seeking asylum on these shores.

Approximately 40% of the north inner city is non-Irish born and this figure would be reflective of East Wall’s population of 7,695 (2016 Census). The area is diverse and is all the richer for it.

Less than three weeks after the colourful Halloween event, a protest was held in the same locality in response to the opening of an emergency accommodation centre in a former ESB office block on the East Wall Road.

The opening of the accommodation took many people in East Wall by surprise. So too did the subsequent protest.

While some locals and a local councillor spoke at this initial protest, there were also outside influences present – raising fears that they had identified an opportunity to hijack the concerns of the former group for their own ends. 

Diverse community

Those protesting the emergency accommodation at the former ESB building have been very vocal in their opposition.

However, they speak for themselves only. The one elected councillor aside, the speakers at the subsequent protests were not elected nor selected to speak for the community. This is an important distinction – they do not represent the views of all East Wall residents.

In fact, most of the residents I speak to are – like me – very upset by the recent protests. Many are particularly aggrieved at the decision by those involved to stage their protests on the doorstep of vulnerable people, as opposed to outside Leinster House or Dublin City Council head offices.

However, they are also unsure about how to publicly articulate their opposition to the protests in a constructive manner that will help bring it to an end, as opposed to further entrenching the different sides, or playing into the hands of outside forces.

There is an urgent desire on the part of many in the area to communicate a message of solidarity and welcome to these asylum seekers and dispel any misconception that the protesters speak for the entire community. Again, they don’t.

However, people recognise that any outreach needs to be done with sensitivity and care.

Thankfully, these conversations are already happening, and there is a vast array of brilliant and talented people looking to connect with the new arrivals in the area.

So where do we go from here?

The protesters have been outspoken in their anger, without necessarily communicating the specifics of their grievances.

On social media, videos and posts have been shared which include phrases such as ‘a lack of consultation’, ‘unsuitable accommodation’, ‘inadequate facilities’ in the area, ‘a lack of Garda vetting’ and ‘single men’ being moved in on buses ‘in the dark of night’.

Some of these concerns are founded in practical implications for those living nearby. Others are shaped by a vacuum of information to date and a fear of the unknown.

Collectively, we need to find a way to de-escalate the situation, map out what the protesters’ grievances are, and then look at how these grievances can be addressed, without further entrenching divisions.

This will require a joined-up approach led by members of the community, elected representatives, and Minister Roderic O’Gorman’s office, amongst other parties. It may also require greater public investment to meet the enhanced needs of a small community that has just seen a (modest) jump in population.

This is an ongoing situation, but in recent days, we have seen other communities around the country, including most recently, Fermoy in Co Cork show us the way. After an initial protest outside emergency accommodation in the town, their counter-protest and ‘refugees welcome’ message was a particularly uplifting example of a community showing solidarity at a crucial juncture

There is now a renewed confidence that in the days and weeks ahead, East Wall too will rise to the occasion.

Paddy O’Dea is a resident of East Wall.

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