There were some disgraceful scenes at the public meeting in Oughterard in Co Galway on Wednesday evening to voice concerns that the former Gateway Hotel in the area may be turned into a direct provision centre. The statement from Noel Grealish TD that African asylum seekers are bogus economic migrants looking to ‘sponge off the system’ and that the only genuine refugees were ‘Christians fleeing ISIS’ was unworthy of any public representative. Also there was clearly a far right racist element at the meeting – only a minority but bent on manipulating the concerns of the majority to serve their extreme racist agenda.
Nor does the blame for this debacle rest only with Grealish and the far right. The Fine Gael government, along with their Fianna Fail partners, also bear a heavy responsibility. First’ they bear responsibility for the very existence of the dreadful Direct Provision system. For years asylum seekers themselves and anti-racist campaigners have been telling successive governments that this system is inhuman and should be ended. It deliberately isolates asylum seekers, prevents them working and integrating in society and sets them up for attack in Oughterard as before in Rooskey. Second, there is the way the Government is implementing its Direct Provision strategy repeatedly situating the centres in small under resourced rural communities without proper consultation in a way that further isolates and exposes the asylum seekers and is very likely to provoke a reaction. Fine Gael TD and Minister of State, Seán Kyne, who was there was pathetically weak in the meeting and pathetically weak on RTE, completely incapable of either standing up to the racists or giving clear answers to questions.
However the matter goes further than individual politicians or a tiny minority of racists and would fascists. There is huge anger in Irish society at the way people have been and are being treated in this supposedly booming economy. There is anger in rural Ireland at feeling neglected and left behind – look at the small farmers and beef workers. There is anger at the decay and crisis in the HSE. Above all there is rage everywhere at the scandal of homelessness and the housing crisis.
As Catherine Connolly TD said at the meeting, to loud applause it should be said, what is needed in Co. Galway and in Ireland as a whole is meetings and protests on the scale of Oughterard over the housing crisis and against the tax dodging vulture funds. The truth is attacking asylum seekers or Direct Provision Centres will not build a single house, create a single job or reduce by a single day the wait for urgent hospital treatment. All it does, to the benefit of both the government and the far right, is divide working people and divert anger onto fellow workers, who as builders and doctors and nurses would be part of the solution if we welcome them and allow them to contribute to our society.