A renewed appeal has been issued to the Department of Justice to engage with the Co Galway village of Oughterard over alternative models for accommodating asylum seekers.
Publican Rory Clancy, spokesman for a demonstration supported by over 2,000 people at the weekend, said the community was once again asking the department to “come and speak to us here in Oughterard”.
He appealed to officials to “listen to some solutions which we have put together as a community, and start listening to the people”.
“We welcome people into the community under different circumstances,”Mr Clancy said.
“Direct provision centres are not homes – we are all entitled to a home, and that’s what we would love to give the people,” he said.
“Going forward, nationally, the offers that are there to come down and support rural communities will be taken up,” Mr Clancy said, pledging the protest would continue.
Mr Clancy also condemned what he describe d as “tactics used and abusive stuff online”, stating that this is “not what Oughterard is about”.
I can 100 per cent - hand on my heart - say the people of Oughterard are not racist.
Saturday’s silent march from the village to the hotel was the second such demonstration this month in opposition to locating a direct provision centre at the Connemara Gateway Hotel just outside the village.
The Department of Justice has said no contracts have as yet been signed for new direct provision centres in the west, and has said it is bound by the contract process not to discuss details in advance.
However, community activists in Oughterard say the department is “hiding behind “ a contract procedure which requires advance consultation.
Concerns have been expressed about locating a centre in a village with a population of 1,300 where there is only one doctor and limited public transport.
Saturday’s march began on Station road, after an appeal by local parish priest Fr Michael Connolly not to start on Roman Catholic church grounds.
Participants carrying banners and wearing high-vis yellow vests were joined by representatives from Connemara, Clifden and Mayo.
Independent Galway county councillor Thomas Welby was the only local politician to participate.
Oughterard resident and environmentalist John Gibbons said his main reason for supporting the march was the “inhumanity of direct provision” where “the only benefactor for this model is the speculator paid millions of euros of taxpayers’ money”.
Mr Gibbons described direct provision as a “headage scheme for human beings”, where people were “gathered like livestock and placed in an institution”.
Mr Gibbons was part of a group of five from the community who met Minister of State for Justice David Stanton on the issue and also met Sean Lyons of Fazyard Ltd, the company seeking a tender for accommodating asylum seekers in the Connemara Gateway.
Afterwards, Mr Gibbons and fellow delegation members reported concerns about “intimidation” to the Gardai in Salthill. Mr Lyons has denied he made intimidating remarks to the group.
Independent TD Catherine Connolly was the sole Galway West TD to speak publicly on the issue at the weekend, when she addressed a separate event hosted by the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN) in Galway city.
An estimated 200 people supported the GARN rally, held to protest against racism and to call for an end to the system of direct provision.
At the Galway city event, Mayor of Galway Mike Cubbard said there was "no room for racism" in the city.
Mr Cubbard said he believed direct provision was a system “similar to mother and baby homes” and mistakes are being “repeated”.
Ms Connolly said she did not believe the people of Oughterard were racist, but their "genuine concerns" about direct provision and lack of services in rural towns had been "hijacked".
She expressed serious concern about the atmosphere at first meeting about the issue - held in Oughterard earlier this month which was chaired by Cllr Welby – the same meeting where Independent TD Noel Grealish made controversial remarks differentiating between what he described as “genuine” refugees from Syria and African “economic migrants”.
GARN co-chair and People Before Profit local election candidate Joe Loughnane said that while people in Oughterard had “legitimate concerns”, and facilities were lacking, this was “not a reason to give a platform to far-right and racist views”.
Mr Loughnane said the “missing voice” in the Galway city event was asylum seekers who felt they would be victimised if they spoke.
The protest was also addressed at Spanish Arch by Labour, Green Party, Social Democrat and Independent councillors, before it marched out to Salthill to express solidarity with asylum seekers living in the Eglinton direct provision centre there.
Former Galway mayor Niall MacNelis, who spoke at the Galway city event, expressed disquiet about the presence of a small group of anti-immigrant activists in Eyre Square on Friday night.