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Rosita Boland: Ireland is not as welcoming as we like to believe

We Irish like to portray ourselves as among the most welcoming people in the world. The thing about this notion though is that who we choose to welcome really depends on who they are

Céad míle fáilte. A hundred thousand welcomes. A thousand million welcomes. Lookit, how many welcomes do you want? We’ve got a whole lot of them.

Somewhere along the line, we Irish ran away with the notion that we were somehow more welcoming to newcomers than citizens of other countries were. “Welcome” is even part of the name of our National Tourism Development Authority: Fáilte Ireland. The fact is, like any generic term, it might be true some of the time, but it is most definitely not true all the time.

Last week, the ongoing New to the Parish series in this newspaper featured Sabine Barry, a German woman, who moved to Ireland in 2007. She concluded her interview with this statement: “Here, you’re welcomed with open arms really everywhere and that’s what I like about Irish people.”

I’m glad Sabine Barry has had such a positive experience of her time in Ireland. But it’s simply not the case for everyone that, as she said, “you’re welcomed with open arms really everywhere.”


Last month, I reported on a local protest at Inch in Co Clare. Inch is a townland 7km from the county town of Ennis; the town I grew up in. Some 50 of the residents of Inch were protesting around the clock at the arrival of 34 male International Protection Applicants, who were being housed in three bungalows on the grounds of the former Magowna House Hotel. These men were from countries that included Algeria, Nigeria, Somalia, the Congo, Syria and Afghanistan. A further similar number were due to follow.

You could describe that protest at Inch in many ways, but the one thing you certainly could not say about it was that it was welcoming

I am sure not everyone who lives in Inch agreed with the protest, because people are all different. These people were possibly mortified by the reasons why national attention was being paid to their townland. I felt mortified by proxy myself. I may have left Clare years ago, but it’s where I come from, and it’s a county I love: it’ll always feel like home.

My fellow Clare people I talked to at the makeshift barriers at both end of the roads to Magowna House Hotel at Inch had no céad míle fáilte for me either, when they heard I was a journalist. I was asked to produce identification for a start, and to give my reasons for being there before I was permitted to walk down what is in fact a public road, and thus legally open to all.

You could describe that protest at Inch in many ways, but the one thing you certainly could not say about it was that it was welcoming.

As it happens, this was not the first time I had witnessed first-hand such a protest. Back in 2019, I went to Achill Island, six weeks into the “Achill Community Group Silent Vigil”, as the local people involved had named it. Some 150 members of Achill’s community had been protesting on a round-the-clock rota basis for the entire previous six weeks.

The people they had no welcome for hadn’t even arrived yet, at the Achill Head Hotel: what those locals were protesting against was the proposed arrival of 38 asylum seekers for an initial period of three months. The first cohort of 13 were to be women, and the remainder were families. The “Silent Vigil” group were not blocking a road; instead they were situated directly beside the Achill Head Hotel.

I asked those protesters how would they react if and when buses turned up with the asylum seekers who were meant to arrive? There was silence. Then one person said, “Well, I don’t know could it happen if we were still here.”

Scenic Co Mayo, like Co Clare, is an area heavily reliant on tourism. The hotel in which the asylum seekers were to be accommodated had closed at the end of the summer season. One person involved in the “Silent Vigil” told me that the tourists who had come to the Achill Head Hotel had “money to spend. They go out into the island and explore the island and enjoy all that’s to offer on the island”.

For whatever reason, to my knowledge, there were no round-the-clock protests over the arrival of Ukrainians into our communities

That person was implying there was a crucial difference between people who had paid for their nights in the hotel – tourists – and those who were to stay there as asylum seekers. Whatever they were objecting to, there was a very strong motivation for 150 people to camp out round-the-clock in the chill winter months: it was December when I was there. What was clear was that they were not waiting there to welcome the women and families who were supposed to arrive – and who, in the end, never actually did.

Could it be that we save most of our céad míle fáiltes for tourists, who stay a short time and who unquestionably spend money, rather than for asylum seekers, who may need our help?

It is true that since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Ireland has welcomed many Ukrainian people. For whatever reason, to my knowledge, there were no round-the-clock protests over the arrival of Ukrainians into our communities, some of them as small and remote as Inch and Achill.

Why is this?