Achill Head Hotel, where the asylum seekers were to be housed

Tuam archbishop laments lack of Government consultation on asylum seeker housing

The Archbishop of Tuam has lamented the lack of Government consultation over a now-postponed plan to house asylum seekers on Achill Island.

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“My only knowledge of the issue is that which has been reported. Neither I, nor the local church, have been advised of any plans by the Department of Justice”, Archbishop Michael Neary lamented in a statement Saturday.

Neary’s comments came after the Irish Government was forced to postpone plans to house thirteen women for three months in the Achill Head Hotel.

That was due to ongoing protests at the site, which the Government believes are being motivated by an “insidious alt-right engagement”, in the words of Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

Achill people themselves, however, have blamed the protests on a lack of Government consultation and a concern the direct provision centres “will be our Magdalene Laundries of the future”, as Achill Welcome Committee member James McNamara said.

The Achill protests follow similar actions over asylum seeker housing plans in Oughterard, Galway and Ballinamore.

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“In relation to Achill, it is important that effective advance planning be undertaken by the State including a full and transparent consultation with local people”, Neary said in his statement.

“Such preparations should go some way to allay fears and misunderstandings while, at the same time, enabling this important human-centred initiative to work sustainably for the whole community”, the archbishop continued.

“It is well known, nationally and internationally, that Achill people are a welcoming people and, in the past, Achill has accepted people from communities from around the world”.

The archbishop celebrated that Ireland “is now moving from an era of austerity and recession to a more prosperous period in our economic cycle”.

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But he added that with that prosperity comes an even greater obligation to welcome foreigners.

“As Christians we are morally obliged to welcome the stranger and, in the context of our improved circumstances, we have a responsibility to share with those who are less fortunate than ourselves”, Neary said.

“We should also be particularly alert to those who are experiencing serious upheaval and a crisis of hope in their lives”.

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For the record

Archbishop Neary had a strong warning against those who are seeking to exploit for their own good the protests over asylum seekers.

“We also have a moral obligation to serve the common good by preventing the exploitation of sensitive situations concerning vulnerable people by those who trade in hatred and fear”, he said.

“Most Irish families know only too well that feeling of fear and trepidation that accompanies emigration.

“Let our faith, and our own lived-experience, be a model of generosity to others”, Neary urged.

On Saturday, too, former Irish president Mary McAleese lamented the protests in Achill, Ballinamore and Oughterard.

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At a conference in Dublin, she deplored the plight of asylum seekers, who “suddenly… have nowhere, and nothing”.

“Now they rely on the kindness of strangers”, McAleese insisted.

“My God tells me I have to be the stranger who is kind. That simple . . . it bothers me greatly finding that [in] a country that I’m so proud of, that sometimes people are not experiencing the kindness that I know is the ethic of our country and our people”, the former president warned.

“We relied on it [kindness] ourselves so often when we went as emigrants to other countries, poor, our two hands the one length, looking for opportunity”, McAleese recalled.

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