Leaders of a protest against newly housed asylum seekers at a former convent in North Cork have seen their concerns rejected by its management.
Dozens of people tonight protested outside the accommodation centre in Fermoy demanding the immediate deportation of 66 recently arrived international protection (IP) applicants.
Speakers at the protest, which drew a number of people to the site in counter-protest, insisted the recently renovated privately owned building should be used to house homeless Irish people.
Some social media posts by protestors in recent days had focused on the facility and towns around Ireland being “flooded” with single men from Africa.
However, in a message to locals, seen by the, the management of St Joseph’s Convent said they were delighted to welcome their “guests”.
It said: “All the families that arrived originate from areas of conflict throughout the world. They comprise mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons.
About 70 people are protesting this evening outside St Joseph’s Convent in Fermoy following the arrival last night of 63 International Protection applicants - 19 families, including 25 children, and eight single females. #Cork pic.twitter.com/5F9Xq3FRmI— Eoin English (@EoinBearla) November 30, 2022
“We would like to reassure everyone that most of our guests are women and all of the male guests at St Joseph’s are part of a family unit. In summary we would like to reiterate that there are no single males in our facility.”
It also thanked the local community for its support for its “newly arrived guests”.
Speakers at a protest insisted those seeking refugee status should be deported.
One of the speakers was Derek Blighe, leader of a group called Ireland First. It’s principles, listed on its website, include that “the Nation of Ireland belongs to the Irish people” and that it wishes to “ensure that the Irish peoples' interests are prioritised with regards to resources”.
He said: “Why couldn’t they have done up the building up for our own people? There are hundreds of people around this town who can’t get a council house, can’t get a mortgage, can’t rent an apartment, or are staying with their parents, and their only option is to leave this country."
He also said the country is “importing fake asylum seekers". He denied he is racist and said he doesn’t judge people on the colour of their skin.
Rory Brogan, from North Cork, who was among the protestors, said he has “no problem with Ukrainians”.
“But we have a lot of people coming in here and we don’t know where they’re coming from… we don’t know what their background is,” he said.
The Department of Integration said the accommodation centre has capacity for 77 people in 19 bedrooms and that 63 people arrived there on Tuesday, including 19 families with 25 children, and eight single women.
“The residents will consist of families, couples and single females. St Joseph’s Convent will not be a centre for single males,” a spokesman said.
The bedrooms will accommodate up to six beds, ensuite, and there are five additional bathrooms. Residents will receive three meals a day.
The department said an integration fund is available to assist in linkages to local communities, and that IP applicants may avail of English language classes through the Enterprise Training Board.
The department said the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) works with a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which provide support to residents in the form of clinics, and in addition there is a department-funded confidential NGO-run helpline to assist with any queries a resident may have.
The department also said it provided a briefing for local representatives about the use of the facility.
A number of gardaí monitored the hour-long protest discreetly during which tradesmen working on the property and people associated with the management or running of the facility were jeered as they left.
They declined to comment.
During the protest, a number of people stood across the road in solidarity with the people inside the centre.
Ann McCarthy, a resident of Fermoy, said she has been inside the convent and met some of the new arrivals.
“It is full of families, and it is a place of shelter,” she said. She said she was welcomed to Fermoy as a newcomer 40 years ago.
“I raised my four children here. It’s a lovely town and I am here because I want to support anyone who comes to this town, and who needs shelter,” she said.
Ronan Condon said the people of Fermoy are not anti-immigration.
“And the person leading the protest has form. He is just here to spread division. It’s all hot air. He has no plan.”