Minister says 'grossly misleading' comments about asylum seekers to blame for Oughterard situation

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has blamed "grossly misleading" information about asylum seeker numbers for the decision to scrap plans for a direct provision centre in Oughterard after a weeks long racism row stand-off.

Minister says 'grossly misleading' comments about asylum seekers to blame for Oughterard situation

Additional reporting by Juno McEnroe

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has blamed "grossly misleading" information about asylum seeker numbers for the decision to scrap plans for a direct provision centre in Oughterard after a weeks long racism row stand-off.

Mr Flanagan hit out at the "disappointing" situation and said it will "exacerbate a very serious situation" as Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan insisted protesters must not be allowed to decided for direct provision sites are built.

In a weeks-long stand-off that began earlier this summer, the former Connemara Gateway Hotel was earmarked as a potential site for a new direct provision centre in Oughterard, west Galway.

While no confirmation of the decision was ever made, at a public meeting last month unaligned Independent TD Noel Grealish claimed asylum seekers from Africa are in reality "economic migrants".

Although the comment was widely criticised and labelled as racist, it also led to a number of protesters both from Oughterard and other areas to focus on the stand-off and to hold pickets outside the potential direct provision site.

And, in a statement this evening after the decision by the bidder for the tender to turn the Connemara Gateway Hotel into a direct provision centre pulled out, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan hit out at what he said is "grossly misleading comments" on the situation.

"In recent weeks grossly misleading comments have been made about the nature of direct provision services in this State. The nature of the services - which have improved steadily over many years and are now in line with EU law - have been totally mischaracterized.

"It is disappointing that a bidder has chosen to withdraw from the tender process for the western region. This is of course their prerogative.

"However, this is a development which will ultimately exacerbate a very serious situation in terms of a shortage of accommodation for those who come to Ireland seeking accommodation and requesting State services," Mr Flanagan said.

His comments - which were echoed by junior minister for equality, immigration and integration David Stanton - came as Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan said protesters must not be allowed to dictate asylum seeker locations.

Asked about the Oughterard developments at Leinster House, Mr O'Callaghan said: “We have to be very careful that we don't allow a situation to develop whereby protests on one level and maybe lawlessness at a higher level can result in direct provision centres just not going ahead.

"We do not have that many [asylum seekers]. There are 6,000 people. I would be concerned if a message is going out that these centres can be stopped if there are protests."

Mr Grealish did not respond to phone calls from the Irish Examiner.

However, fellow unaligned Independent Galway West TD Catherine Connolly - who criticised Mr Grealish's original comments - said the only way to avoid the problems in Oughterard will be to hold "positive meetings" on how best to integrate new people into areas.

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