The village of Keel, on Achill island, has a population of just over 500 people. From later this week, that population will increase, overnight, to almost 600, as the Department of Justice confirmed yesterday that 70 migrants are to be housed in temporary accommodation on the island.
This represents an immediate population increase of nearly 20%, or the equivalent of adding 200,000 people to Dublin without warning, planning, or consultation.
The island has no post office, the nearest is 17km away. It has no supermarket, and only one shop.
As a resident of Achill island I’m not sure keel Achill is best place for govt to put 70 migrants. Lovely place to live but not sure this tourist spot has infrastructure & services these people will need. Nearest post office is 17km on away. One tiny shop no supermarket #mayo
— Paula Gallagher (@PaulaCoMayo) October 23, 2019
Residents have been protesting since early this morning, saying that the absence of any consultation process, or engagement with residents, is evidence by itself that the village is entirely unsuitable as a place of residence for migrants.
A resident, speaking to Gript on condition of anonymity, said:
“This is direct imposition, as well as direct provision. It is having the character of your community totally changed overnight without a word of warning. Achill people are welcoming people, we’re used to tourism here, and people coming from all over the world. But even in the peak of tourist season, there’s a limit to how many people you can support.
People are concerned, there’s no other way to put it. You can’t live here without a car – it’s not like Dublin. If you want to do anything, have any standard of living at all, or a job, or support yourself, you need a car and mobility. Dumping 70 poor people here with nothing to do and no ability to go anywhere? It’s cruel, that’s what it is.
And of course you have people worried that when you have 70 people here with nowhere to go and nothing to do, you’ll end up with trouble. That’s not a reflection on the refugees, it’s not their fault. Anyone would end up the same way”.
Achill is only the latest in a string of small rural communities to find out, usually at very short notice, that they are to play host to refugees in direct provision centres. In recent weeks, towns such as Oughterard and Borrisokane have been at the centre of similar controversies.
Meanwhile a popular movement of local people in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, has been campaigning against the “intimidation” of locals in the town by people living in direct provision.
UPDATE: It took approximately 12 hours for the Government to go in to full retreat:
Reported plans to open a Direct Provision centre on Achill Island this morning (Thursday) have been halted in the wake of a public meeting on the island last night.
The meeting heard local objections to reported plans by the Department of Justice to house 40 migrants at the Achill Head Hotel in the village of Pollagh from today.
What happened here, of course, was that the locals found out about the plans before the refugees arrived on the island. Had the Government managed to situate them before the news became public, it would have been almost impossible to reverse the decision.
The lesson that is learned from this should be that consultation with local communities is needed well in advance of these decisions. But it’s a safe prediction that the lesson that will be learned is that even more secrecy is required.
This will lead to small towns being even more vigilant, and suspicious, than they are already.