Parish priest barred from centre for asylum seekers by owner over comments

A parish priest yesterday confirmed he has been banned from visiting a centre for asylum seekers.

Monsignor John Byrne, the parish priest of Portlaoise, Co Laois, was due to visit the Montague Hotel centre in Emo this morning with minister of state at the Department of Justice and Equality Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin.

However, Fr Byrne said he had received a phonecall from the owner of the Montague Hotel, Seán Lyons telling him he would be refused entry because of comments he had made about the centre.

Mr Ó Riordáin has visited direct provision centres and met groups attempting to support the asylum seekers.

The Emo centre houses 160 asylum seekers — about 100 adults and 60 children. The residents recently held protests to highlight the conditions in which they live in and the time they must wait before they get a decision on their asylum application.

Many have to wait more than five years to receive a final determination on their application to remain in Ireland.

Yesterday, Fr Byrne confirmed that he had spoken about the unfairness of the system of direct provision, but stressed he had never made any specific comments about the Emo centre.

Referring to his phone conversation with Mr Lyons, Fr Byrne told Midlands 103 Radio: “He told me he had a problem about that and I wasn’t welcome to the Montague.

He had said I preached about it, which I didn’t. I did address the direct provision system.

“He didn’t seem to accept that, so he effectively barred me from his property.”

Previous efforts by voluntary groups to meet asylum seekers at the Emo centre failed when they were refused entry to the building. Meetings have taken place with residents, but at venues outside the hotel.

In September, asylum seekers living at the Montague Hotel refused food in a protest over living conditions and delays in processing their applications. It was one of a number of similar protests at direct provision centres across the country in recent months.

Many Montague Hotel residents stressed that their frustration was not with the management of the hotel, but at the asylum system itself, which had left many waiting for a decade or more for their applications for asylum to be processed.

It was not possible to contact Mr Lyons for comment yesterday.

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