None of the concerns that were raised about controversial rural Direct Provision centres have ever transpired, according to the Ombudsman.
Peter Tyndall, speaking to the Oireachtas Justice Committee today about his report on 20 years of Direct Provision, said it was “important to note in the current context that a lot of the supposed outcomes in terms of opening a centre, and integrating communities, have not transpired”.
Mr Tyndall was referring to a recent spate of protests in Oughterard.
Residents called a meeting over concerns about the Connemara Gateway Hotel possibly becoming a centre for asylum seekers.
Residents flagged the size of the town – with a population of around 1,500 – lack of access to medical services and transport facilities, and lack of communication from the Department of Justice about plans for the hotel.
Protests have since been infiltrated by high-profile populists exploiting the community’s concern online, including British commentator Katie Hopkins and Canadian blogger Lauren Southern.
The community has repeatedly denounced input from outsiders with racist or xenophobic views.
Mr Tyndall, the independent adjudicator of how Direct Provision services treat asylum seekers, says the fears are unfounded.
“I have visited some of the centres which have been subject to controversy before they opened, in Lisdoonvarana and Wicklow, for instance,” he said.
Catherine Connolly, the Independent TD from Galway, said the Government is allowing a vacuum to develop by not keeping local residents updated on plans for the town.
“When a vacuum is created and when information isn’t forthcoming to the local community, comments are made by small groups of people, so there is a role of the Government and Department of Justice in relation to that,” she said.
“There were issues raised by the local communities, who want to work with and they’re open to asylum seekers, but the manner in which it’s been done is part of the problem in relation to communities that have lost essential services.”
Mr Tyndall said people should treat others as they wish to be treated.
“Ombudsmen are working together with colleagues across Europe, and many face threats, their offices are facing threats, because of their work supporting asylum seekers,” he said.
“The issue of populism and the issue of the antipathy towards asylum seekers is one that’s affecting the whole of public discourse across Europe, it’s not an Irish issue, as you well know.
“I will lend my voice to this. I’m reluctant, normally, but the reality is we as a country need to be providing for asylum seekers and refugees, and we need to find ways of integrating and helping them integrate in our communities.
Donegal Independent TD Thomas Pringle added that many of the problems raised in Oughterard were also flagged before a centre in Donegal Town opened.
“In Donegal Town they never came to pass. The problems are unfounded, largely, and that’s very important, and it’s sad we don’t have the political will of people to do what is right and not what is popular.”
There are more than 6,000 asylum seekers placed in 37 centres across Ireland, with around 1,400 in emergency accommodation such as hotels and B&Bs.