Four-week freeze proposed on new asylum seeker placements in Clare hotel in bid to lift blockade

Joe O’Brien travelled to Magowna House in Inch on Thursday to meet residents and protesters

Minister for State for Integration Joe O’Brien has told Inch residents in Co Clare that no new additional International Protection (IP) applicants will be brought to Magowna House over the next four weeks.

In Ennis on Thursday evening, Mr O’Brien said that he made the proposal to a residents’ delegation as part of a bid to have the road barricades erected by locals to and from the former Magowna House Hotel removed.

The barricades have remained in place since 33 IP applicants arrived at Magowna House on Monday evening.

Outside the Temple Gate Hotel in Ennis, Mr O’Brien said that his request to the residents’ delegation at a meeting “was that the barricades are taken down and in four weeks time I will come back down and meet with them again and during that four weeks, no additional people will come to Magowna House”.


Mr O’Brien said that the residents’ representatives are going to take his proposals “back to the wider community and see if they are accepted”.

He said: “I hope that in four weeks time the people of Inch will see that this is a better situation for the residents and a less fearful one for them as well.”

He added: “It is linked to the barriers going down. The barriers need to come down and I will come back in four weeks time and we will discuss where people are then. We are not thinking beyond that at the moment. I have told them that I would like this to be a place where we can bring more people.”

Mr O’Brien, who also met residents at the centre, added: “I have asked them to drop the barricade – that is the main reason I came down here today.”

“I don’t feel it is an acceptable thing to do – I understand why they have done it. I don’t agree with it and that is why I am here to convince them to hopefully take that barricade down.”

A separate meeting was held on Thursday between Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, Minister for Justice Simon Harris and Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman.

A spokesman for Mr Harris said the Ministers and commissioner agreed that finding accommodation for currently unaccommodated international protection applicants is an “absolute priority for the safety of the individuals involved.”

The ongoing liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Government on the general provision of accommodation was also discussed. “The Ministers and Commissioner recommitted themselves to further develop on this, including at a local level,” a spokesman said.

Drew Harris also told Ministers that a number of investigations are underway into recent incidents and that these are “live and active.”

The meeting was arranged after last Friday’s protests in Dublin which culminated in the belongings of asylum seekers being burned after they had vacated a makeshift camp in an alley off Sandwith Street.

Earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said efforts were under way to bring an end the blockade.

Speaking in Dublin, he repeated that the blockade was wrong and no community could have a veto on who should, or should not, live in their area.

“The blockade should end. It’s not right for anyone to block a public road or to block access to someone’s accommodation. So I’m very clear about that. But we also don’t want to dismiss concerns.”

Before travelling to Co Clare, Mr O’Brien said the Government was looking at different ways of engaging with the community in Inch and with local representatives on the matter.

“We are at a sensitive time [in the talks] and I don’t want to divulge too much information,” he said.

Mr O’Brien also disputed statements by TDs in Dublin North East, including Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats, that there was a lack of consultation on the proposed use of a premises in an industrial estate in Santry to accommodate asylum seekers.

Mr O’Brien said there was as communication and consultations with TDs and the local community since four weeks ago that included a meeting, the taking of questions from residents, and a response to the questions which were given last Monday.

Mr Varadkar said he was encouraged by the cross-party response from all four TDs in Dun Laoghaire to the proposed accommodation centre there, which will house over 100 asylum seekers.

Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit-Solidarity TD for Dún Laoghaire, said that the planned accommodation for international protection applicants in his constituency was “absolutely the right thing to do, to use a building that has been lying vacant for nearly a decade to provide accommodation for people who have none. We are seeking reassurances that this building is fit for purpose, however it is certainly better than tents.”

“Currently I and some colleagues are contacting community groups and we are hopeful that the local community will be welcoming and will help these new arrivals integrate.”

Alongside the centre in Dún Laoghaire, it was announced on Wednesday the Government will open centres in Santry and Clondalkin in Dublin for people seeking international protection in the coming months.

Documents distributed to TDs recently outline plans for a larger, phased process accommodating people at two larger sites – Dolcain House in Clondalkin and a warehouse in Airways industrial estate in Santry, Dublin. Nearly 700 people will be housed between the two centres.

According to documents given to TDs, more than 300 single men will be accommodated in Santry, while 386 will be housed in Clondalkin.

There will also be two smaller sites: Magowna House – where international protection applicants are already being moved – and the former Senior College Dún Laoghaire building on Eblana Avenue that needs significant work to make it habitable.

Gino Kenny, People Before Profit-Solidarity TD for Dublin Mid-West – in which the new Clondalkin accommodation will be located – said the new measures were “not ideal” but were a better solution than asylum seekers sleeping on the street.

Dessie Ellis, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Northwest – the constituency where the new Santry accommodation will be located – welcomed the fact there had been “some” consultation with the local community when it was made known that 300 asylum seekers would be moving into a local factory.

Speaking on RTÉ radio and Newstalk, Mr Ellis said that if there was no engagement then there would be a risk of the issue “turning into a shouting match”.

Mr Varadkar, when asked about reports that there are tensions within Cabinet about certain Departments not pulling their weight responded. “All Ministers are pulling their weight and all Ministers across government can do more,” he said.

“Everyone is working very hard here.”

Asked if the Government would respond to right-wing groups travelling to attend protests around the country, the Taoiseach responded: “It is difficult because this is a democracy. Under a democracy people have a right to peaceful protest and there’s a right to free speech.

“There are actions that we can take. Certainly the Garda does have a role in policing, managing protests. The Garda Commissioner has given us an assurance that they have operational integrity right.”

Earlier on Thursday, Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley warned it would be difficult to resolve the protest outside Magowna House.

Mr Dooley acknowledged that Magowna House was not ideal for the purpose of accommodating international protection applicants given its remote location but said it would be worse if the people had to sleep on the streets of Ennis, Galway or Limerick.

Efforts by some with a more extreme ideology to join the protest had been resisted by the local residents, he said. “They were asked to leave – politely and not so politely. The local community will push them back and rightly so.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times