Photo credit: The Irish Labour Party (CC BY-ND 2.0

Mayo Cllr: Michael D Higgins has 95 rooms in the Áras. Did he take in Ukrainians?

A Mayo County Councillor has said that if the government sends more refugees to the town of Claremorris “there will be uproar” – and asked if President Michael D Higgins had taken many Ukrainians into the Áras.

Claremorris-based councillor, Tom Connolly, told the monthly meeting of Mayo County Council this week that Ukrainian refugees were being ‘bulldozed’ into communities.

Mayo News reports that “councillors raised concerns at the number of Ukrainian and other refugees who continue to arrive into the county”.

The meeting heard the belief that Mayo is ‘taking more than its fair share’ of refugees and migrants – and that 3,000 Ukrainians have been placed in the county in 12 months.

Cllr Connolly spoke in opposition to modular homes for migrants and refugees said to be planned for land in Claremorris owned by the OPW, and said that people were not being consulted by the government.

“There is over 300 [refugees] in Claremorris and another 112 when the modular homes are up and running. If there is any more there will be uproar, there is no question about it,” he said.

“We have taken our share and so have other parts of the county,” he told the Council meeting. “I am not opposed to people coming but at least let the public representatives be informed with what’s going on.”

He said that he had “got phone calls from different parts of the country where the same bulldozing is going on.”

And he hit out at the President, who recently condemned those he said were “sowing hate” over the location of refugee centres, saying they “must be opposed”.

“I hear Michael D Higgins saying we should embrace inclusion. Fine, I have no problem with that but he has 95 rooms in Áras an Uachtarain. Did he take in many Ukrainians?” Cllr Connolly said.

The Department of Justice says that a record number of 13,319 people from around the world sought asylum in Ireland during 2022 – in addition to the almost 70,000 Ukrainians who were granted protection here in the same year. 

Fianna Fáil councillor Damien Ryan, also said that councillors in the Ballinrobe area were not being consulted on new arrivals.

“I am not opposed to the Ukrainian position and I completely appreciate we have obligations and it needs to be balanced and fair and equitable. As a percentage of population, Mayo and some of the rural counties are taking the lion’s share of this provision, being forced upon us from a centralised government where 12 of the 15 ministers are from urban bases. We are taking the lion’s share of it and that is totally wrong,” he said according to Mayo News.

“Other [EU] member states are not taking the percentages we are and we are not reneging on our responsibilities or obligations but certainly it is having a huge impact. As we go into the summer months and facilities are no longer available, that will create more hassle and upheaval and turbulence. I want to see more consultation and regular communication with the councillors in their respective areas.”

“That is only manners and proper procedure and we need to be briefed regularly. There needs to be a balance around the county and around the country but as it at the moment Mayo and some of the rural constituencies are accepting the lion’s share and the department needs to look at that,” he said.

Other councillors, including Cllr Michael Burke and Donna Sheridan also said local communities were being ‘kept in the dark.

Mayo News said that Tom Gilligan, Director of Services who is responsible for housing, told the Council members “that he is happy to keep members informed but stressed that council are only following government policy.”

“The reality is this is a very fluid situation and it changes on a hourly basis. I am happy to keep members informed with what is happening and up-to-date in relation to this.

“I am happy to do an additional report with the members as best I can and once I have information I am happy to share that with the members.

“We are dealing with a war situation and a lot of the time when refugees arrive in Dublin or the City West, we could get a phone call in relation to accommodation being needed straight away and it can be that fluid and volatile at the moment,” he replied.

Responding to earlier calls for refugees to be housed in the Arás, President Higgins told the Irish Independent: “This is where the President lives. But the whole thing is run by the Office of Public Works. Sabina and I live in the extension to the house here. These rooms are for formal purposes. I’m sure that the OPW was among the bodies that was consulted. But it isn’t my decision.”

Polls have found that a significant majority of Irish people feel Ireland has taken in too many refugees or disapprove of the government’s handling of the crisis.

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