GARDA Commissioner Drew Harris will have his hands full for the foreseeable future trying to combat a sinister element of criminality that is creeping deeper into communities, especially in border areas where it would seem many former paramilitaries are making their presence felt. In many cases, they are becoming self-appointed henchmen for legitimate causes and have tarnished some of them with their tactics.
Last March, we wrote about how the racist bully boys had prevailed after arson attempts on the Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey on the Roscommon-Leitrim border and a similar attack this month last year on a hotel in Moville, Co Donegal, both of which had been earmarked as direct provision centres to accommodate 80 and 100 people, respectively. The Department of Justice did a u-turn and walked away from the two projects, much to the relief of local residents who justifiably felt that the proposed numbers of asylum seekers each of the towns concerned was being asked to take in were disproportionate to the size of the places concerned.
Recent weeks have also seen stand-offs with local residents’ groups opposed to direct provision in places such as Oughterard in Co Galway, Achill Island in Co Mayo and Ballinamore in Co Leitrim. Protesting residents – none of whom had been consulted in advance – have been adamant that they are not against accepting their fair share of asylum seekers, but do not want direct provision centres with people living in what they condemn as ‘inhumane’ conditions.
In all cases, the lack of consultation with residents of towns or villages where it is proposed to set up direct provision centres, or some new version of them under the guise of emergency accommodation, continues and the Department just cannot keep on doing the same thing all the time and, inevitably, getting the same result. This is not good for the asylum seekers or for the residents and the outmoded direct provision system needs to be replaced with more practical and amenable solutions.
Some places have been more welcoming, Macroom being an example of where a local support group has been working to integrate asylum seekers staying in the former Riverside Park Hotel into the community through involvement in organisations such as Tidy Towns and
sports clubs. In Co Tipperary, the people of Borrisokane have also extended the hand of friendship to the asylum-seeking families moving into the village after doing an about-turn on the matter.
At the initial public meeting about the use of a refurbished block of apartments in Borrisokane to house families seeking asylum, some locals expressed reservations about so many of them coming into such a small community. However, when a group of far-right activists from Ireland and abroad tried to orchestrate protests against the asylum seekers, locals had a Damascene conversion and admirably decided that they would welcome the families after all and not be dictated to by outsiders.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has expressed his concerns about ‘a small number of alt-right political activists,’ who are not representative of the various communities involved in the protests against direct provision centres, ‘whipping up anxieties in local communities.’
The problem got even more sinister 11km from Ballinamore when the car of local Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny was fire-bombed outside his family home in the wake of comments he had made in support of accepting asylum seekers and urging that ‘we have to stand together against hate speech and fascist talk.’
Commenting in the wake of the arson attack, Mr Kenny said one of the first people he thought about at the time was Quinn Industrial Holdings executive Kevin Lunney, who was abducted and tortured in the border area in September. The people who perpetrated the attack on the latter have since made further threats against all the other QIH executives and any Cavan County Council workers that take down defamatory roadside posters that have been erected in the Ballyconnell area, notwithstanding the plea from original Quinn Group founder, Sean Quinn, to desist from violence and to withdraw their threats.
The worrying undercurrents of threats against legitimate business people and the cynical hijacking of bona fide peaceful protests by people seeking to stir up populist hatred and bigotry are sinister developments that need to be tackled with greater urgency by An Garda Síochána and perpetrators need to be apprehended and brought before the courts as soon as possible.