Offaly councillors have clashed over the issue of immigration and asylum at their December meeting, with housing emerging as a key difficulty for some representatives. 

The Offaly Express reports that the exchanges arose over the adoption of Offaly’s new migrant integration strategy for 2020 to 2024.

Cllr John Leahy (IND) thanked staff for work on the strategy, but then alleged that migrants were being prioritised over locals in relation to social housing.

“We’re discriminating against Offaly citizens on the social housing list. We’re seeing migrants not long on the list, or in some instances for a few hours, getting houses ahead of people on the list seven or eight years,” he said.

“I cannot stand idly by when this is happening and I can’t answer people who ask me why this is going on. To have an intercultural society, it needs to be fair and it should comply with existing rules of housing lists,” the independent councillor added.

However, Chief Executive of the council, Anna Marie Delaney, said the programme for housing refugees was separate to the local housing list. “This is a separate system and I certainly would not consider the process discrimination and that needs to be clear,” she asserted.

Cllr Declan Harvey (FF) said that the matter was of concern to local people, who were raising the issue.

“I have to kind of agree with Cllr Leahy. People down town are asking me how some of these people are getting housed before them or people they know on the list,” he said.

The issue of the allocation of emergency asylum centres in the county then came under discussion at the meeting.

Fianna Fáil Cllr, Frank Moran read a motion calling on the Minister for Justice to engage with the local community on the issue.

“I call on Offaly County Council to invite Minister Charlie Flanagan or an official from his Department to come before this council to tell us as public representatives if any sites in Offaly are being considered for direct provision,” he told the meeting.

Cllr Moran claimed a decision for such a centre was made on the Offaly/Westmeath border last year “with little or no consultation or community engagement.”

“I am not against direct provision but stakeholders should be consulted before such contracts are agreed. The lack of communication, which is all we want, is an absolute disgrace,” he said.

Cllr John Leahy said he fully supported Cllr Moran’s motion, adding that the Department of Justice had “not engaged or communicated with us despite previous attempts and requests to this one today.”

Minister Flanagan has come under repeated criticism for failing to consult local communities before imposing direction provision centres in the area to facilitate asylum seekers and migrants.