Immigrant Council warns refugee protests will drive wedges of division in communities

Up to 70 people attended a protest in Fermoy on Wednesday evening against newly-housed asylum seekers at a former convent in the town.
Immigrant Council warns refugee protests will drive wedges of division in communities

Protestors in Fermoy on Wednesday evening demanded the immediate deportation of 66 recently arrived international protection applicants.

Protests such as those in Fermoy and East Wall in recent days will drive wedges of division in communities and re-traumatise people arriving, according to the Immigrant Council of Ireland.

The council’s chief executive, Brian Killoran, appealed for calm in localities where communities are frustrated, and urged the Government to increase its level of planning for people fleeing to Ireland.

It comes after up to 70 people attended a protest in Fermoy on Wednesday evening against newly-housed asylum-seekers at a former convent in the town. 

The protesters demanded the immediate deportation of 66 recently arrived international protection applicants. During the protest, one of the speakers, Derek Blighe, questioned why the convent building, which has been converted into an accommodation centre, could not have been done up “for our own people”. Mr Blighe is leader of a group called Ireland First.

Protests have been continuing at East Wall in Dublin against the location of a centre for asylum seekers in the area, with protesters blocking the Port Tunnel on Wednesday night for a second time.

Mr Killoran said communities must consider where best their frustrations about a lack of local infrastructure is best pointed, adding: “Is it at individuals, families and children who have fled war and persecution, or should frustration be best pointed at the political and economic forces which have repeatedly failed to respond to the growing needs of Irish communities?” 

He said protests against those fleeing conflict will not address the issues local communities face.

Protests 'do more damage then good'

He added protests “will only serve to do more damage than good by re-traumatising adults and children, driving wedges of division in communities and bolstering the aims of those with extreme anti-migrant sentiment who are seeking to exploit these situations".

He concluded: “We appeal for calm, and for increased Government-level planning, communication and investment to the benefit of all who live in our communities.

According to the Department of Integration, the Fermoy centre — St Joseph’s Convent — has capacity for 77 people in 19 bedrooms. Nineteen families — including 25 children — and eight single women arrived at the centre on Tuesday evening.

The en-suite rooms in the centre can accommodate up to six beds and there are five additional bathrooms in the building. Residents will receive three meals a day.

Mr Killoran said public sentiments around migration and the support of refugees is strong in Ireland but said: “While protests may make headline news every day, there are countless people across Ireland working either in support organisations or voluntarily within their own communities to create an environment of welcome for those who have come here in search of sanctuary. 

"This is true of East Wall, Fermoy and many other locations. They are the frontline workers in making the challenging process of responding to the high levels of need we have seen this year a success — one which we as a country can be proud of.”

On Saturday, a solidarity rally will be held at the Cistercian monk statue beside the Church of Ireland church in the town, to welcome immigrants to the town.

One of the organisers, Kate O’Connell of the Fermoy and Mallow Against Racism group, said the community of Fermoy is now starting to mobilise against the protest held on Wednesday night.

She said: “Our town has been misrepresented. Refugees are welcome in this town — they always have been and always will be.”

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