Operator received ‘upsetting and racist’ warning ahead of soup kitchen opening

The operator of a soup kitchen network claimed he was warned not to set up in Ennis, Co Clare, as a woman there allegedly warned him that “she didn’t want any blacks, winos, or Travellers” in the town.

Some residents confronted Oliver Williams as he opened a soup kitchen in Ennis yesterday.

It was the seventh of a network providing 2,500 meals, weekly, to the needy.

However, Mr Williams said that, in advance of establishing the Ennis amenity, a woman had travelled to Loughrea, Co Galway, and issued a warning.

The woman’s comment “was very upsetting to me and extremely racist”, Mr Williams said.

Last evening, a local authority assured residents the soup kitchen was unauthorised and an official letter would be sent to Mr Williams.

At a meeting of Ennis Town Council, Cllr Peter Considine (FF) offered his advice to Mr Williams: “You can’t ride into the town like it’s the Wild West and open up a saloon like this.”

Mr Williams already has soup kitchens operating in Galway City, Roscommon, Sligo, Loughrea, Athlone, and Tuam.

However, residents from the St Flannan’s Terrace area of Ennis yesterday arrived at Mr Williams’s kitchen to tell him to find an alternative location.

One man said: “This is a private residential area. We are a very tight community here; we are extremely concerned at what you are doing.

“The least you could have done is go round and knock on doors.

“If you want to do a good deed, fair play to you, but we would really, really, appreciate if you would look at an alternative site.”

Residents confirmed they have started a petition demanding the soup kitchen not go ahead.

Locals also said the woman who made the comment to Mr Williams did not speak on their behalf.

Mr Williams said some of the residents’ concerns were unfounded, pointing out commercial activity was not allowed on site.

He confirmed plans for a women’s refuge in the building are now on hold due to local concerns.

Residents turned out in greater numbers at the town council meeting.

Town manager Ger Dollard confirmed the soup kitchen activity on site was unauthorised under the planning acts.

He told councillors and residents that the council would be taking action to ensure that activity on site cease.

“The appropriate notices will issue,” he said.

Mr Williams’s plan also faced widespread opposition from councillors.

Cllr Paul O’Shea (Lab) said: “I really think what is proposed is a non-runner. There has been no consultation with local residents and it seems a bit of a fiasco, the whole thing.”

He said there is a need for a soup kitchen in Ennis but that the council’s civic hall could be used for such a purpose.

Councillor Johnny Flynn (FG) said: “The whole idea that a plan like this would be uncontrolled and unregulated, no matter how important it is for the recipients, is not acceptable.”

Cllr Tommy Brennan (Ind) said there is no need for a soup kitchen in Ennis. “I am totally against a soup kitchen in the town of Ennis. It is not needed. We have organisations in Ennis that provide for the elderly and those that need feeding.”

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