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In East Wall, you hold a protest. In Sandymount, you go to the High Court

‘It’s imperative that the authorities engage with communities that will be asked to receive thousands of newcomers’

In East Wall, you hold a protest. In Sandymount, you go to the High Court.

Protests against moving asylum seekers into a converted office building in Dublin’s northeast inner city were amply covered in news reports during the week. Politicians from all parties and media commentators warned that a small number of far-right activists were seeking to exploit local fears to promote a noxious political agenda. Nobody seemed too keen to discuss exactly what those local fears were, though they were sure that they could be handily exploited by the tiny but vocal political fringe.

Two miles or so away, the residents of Sandymount were not out freezing their rear-ends off at a protest. Instead, they threatened legal action against Dublin City Council unless it moved to reduce noise levels on Strand Road, which runs along the waterfront towards the city and the East Link Bridge. It would be churlish not to wish the Sandymount residents well; monitoring shows the noise levels on the road, before it was recently dug up for works by Irish Water, were higher than the council’s own guidelines permit.

The council’s legal department might not keel over with shock if they receive the High Court writ; a separate group of local residents is engaged in a long-running legal battle over a proposed cycle lane along the coast. The residents won the first round in the High Court, but the council is appealing.

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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was among those politicians who understood the need to gain local acceptance of the plan to move refugees and asylum seekers into the locality. Few people in Government, publicly or privately, think it’s okay to bus people in without any notice, especially into communities like this one, which has faced enormous challenges of crime, poverty, anti-social behaviour, drugs and alienation.

Actually, the area has made enormous strides under the Northeast Inner City Implementation Board’s plans and programmes in the last decade — a process that has at every stage included consultation with and the involvement of the local community. The Northeast Inner City Implementation Board successes have been achieved because it was able to cut through or work around the normal processes of Government and official decision-making. Last week, however, we saw business as usual: no consultation, no notice, like it or lump it.

Varadkar is right when he says that nobody can have a veto on who moves in beside them. From time to time, the common good requires individual inconvenience. But to impose that inconvenience is one of the most overbearing of the State’s powers, and it should be used sparingly, judiciously and proportionately. Communities should be brought on board, not dictated to from on high — precisely because the State can impose its will and put the centre where it wants, it should take the utmost care to do so wisely.

The Government has been advised to use emergency powers to build six reception centres for asylum seekers next year. I wonder will any of them be on Nutley Lane [Dublin 4]?

That’s not how it happens everywhere, though, is it? Up the road from Sandymount in another part of Dublin 4, the State planned to establish a centre for asylum seekers 20 years ago. That one never went ahead.

“A doctor, a dentist, a barrister and two engineers are among a group of residents who have taken a High Court challenge to proposals to locate a reception centre for asylum seekers in an upmarket area of Dublin,” begins the newspaper report of the inevitable court case. “The judicial review proceedings have been taken by a group of 12 local residents with addresses at Nutley Lane, Nutley Avenue and Elm Park, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.”

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Broc House on Nutley Lane, which links the Stillorgan Road to the Merrion Road, via Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), Elm Park Golf Club and St Vincent’s hospital, was formerly owned by the Franciscan Fathers, but was purchased for more than €9 million by the State for use as a reception centre for asylum seekers in 2000. The local residents actually lost the judicial view a few years later (“I seem to recall we all had to contribute to the legal costs,” one told me) but in another way they didn’t lose: the State decided not to proceed with the plan and offloaded the site to a property developer for €9 million worth of affordable homes.

Were the affordable homes situated on Nutley Lane? They were not, m’lud. Indeed, they were at Phibblestown Wood, in Ongar, Dublin 15. Broc House is now Broc House Suites, holiday apartments offering a “luxurious stay in the leafy suburbs”.

If this were just another story about how some people in Ireland get heard by decision-makers and others just don’t, that would be one thing. That’s a story you’ve probably heard before. But this one is different: in the coming years, more people will arrive in Ireland seeking international protection. The Government has been advised to use emergency powers to build six reception centres for asylum seekers next year. Will any of them be on Nutley Lane? (Maybe RTÉ could offer a chunk of its campus?) I think not.

Wherever they are, it’s imperative that the authorities engage with the communities that will be asked to receive thousands of newcomers. They will have, as the people in East Wall have, genuine concerns about the strain on local public services, especially if they are situated in areas where those services are already under strain.

These are not questions which are impossible to answer. But the answers need to be found. If they are, then the far-right agitators that so concerned everyone this week will get short shrift.