Department of Justice responds after being accused of secretly placing refugees in Offaly
The Department of Justice has moved to clarify its position on temporary emergency accommodation for refugees after being accused of making settlements in Offaly without notice in recent weeks.
A number of Offaly county councillors expressed anger over the arrival of asylum seekers to a number of locations around Offaly "without any notice."
Cllr John Leahy raised the issue at the June meeting of Offaly County Council on Monday, June 17, where he said: "Asylum seekers are being parachuted into Offaly, into unused hotels and B&Bs."
He said the issue had been raised with him by people in Banagher in particular, while fellow councillor Frank Moran said there had been a similar influx of 85 asylum seekers near Horseleap on the Offaly-Westmeath border in recent weeks.
Cllr Leahy said he had no issues with the settlement of asylum seekers when "it's done properly" but claimed these arrivals came "without prior notice to the communities involved or Offaly County Council itself."
"What should be happening is these people are dealt with in the country they land in, but what is happening is they are being packed up and sent to Ireland to places like Offaly."
"I've no problem when it is done properly but not when they are firing them into Offaly in this way," the Kilcormac councillor said while accusing the government of turning Offaly into "Mosney Mark II."
He also made a claim that the latest arrivals were not vetted or health screened, although this was disputed by Fine Gael councillor John Clendennen who told the meeting he had sought and received assurances to this ilk.
Cllr Leahy also questioned the strain on health services the arrivals would have with GP services required to treat them. "It's hard enough to get an appointment in rural Offaly as it is," he said. "If a number of GPs refuse to treat them, they are effectively forced in the end," he added.
When contacted on this issue by the Offaly Express, a Department of Justice spokesperson said: "Any premises offered to the Department of Justice and Equality for emergency temporary accommodation was in response to advertisements placed in the national media in January of this year."
"The advertisement sought bed and board in hotels and guesthouses on a 12-24 week basis," the Department confirmed.
"During this period, RIA will continue working to identify additional accommodation centres and work with persons currently in accommodation centres who have status to move on and free up capacity."
"There are a small number of international protection applicants being accommodated in emergency accommodation in Co. Offaly while we await capacity in an established accommodation centre."
"Any person who is in the State or who presents at the frontiers of the State can apply for international protection. While that claim is being examined, we, in line with our legal obligations, offer accommodation and related services including food, clothing and medical care to anyone without means. Applicants are also offered health screening by an onsite HSE medical team in our Balseskin reception centre prior to being allocated accommodation."
The spokesperson continued: "It is important to note that the Direct Provision system is a multi-agency approach in the provision of services. RIA provide applicants with accommodation and related services – which includes all meals and food and utilities."
"The HSE and the Department of Health provide medical care which includes issuing medical cards to residents. PPS numbers are required to obtain a weekly personal allowance which is paid to each person and payments of exceptional needs payments in exceptional circumstances."
"These services are provided by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP). Education matters are handled by the Department of Education and Skills."
"RIA has notified the relevant state providers, the HSE, Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, etc, of which premises are being used as emergency accommodation."
"Once capacity is identified within RIA’s portfolio, the residents will transfer to an accommodation centre," the Department spokesperson concluded.
"It should be noted that the experience of communities all over the country where international protection applicants are provided with accommodation is largely positive. In most cases, the community establishes friendship groups and develop positive relationships with applicants," the Department said.
Cllr Tony McCormack agreed with Cllr Leahy and said there were "rumours in Tullamore that a prominent building in the centre of the town will be used for similar accommodation."
He also said he had no problem when the allocations are "handled and relocated properly."
Cllr John Clendennen took issue with the tone of the contributions of Cllr Leahy and said, "they [asylum seekers] are not arriving in spaceships."
"There was a process nationally for property owners to apply to provide this emergency accommodation," he added. The Kinnitty councillor labelled the Mosney Mark II comments and the "striking of fear into people" as unhelpful.
"I am pro-life," Cllr Clendennen said, "rather than painting this situation as negative, we need to embrace it with the Department and everyone involved to make it work." He did add that, "the security and safety of our own people need to be assured at all times."
In response, Cllr Leahy said, "Cllr Clendennen says he is pro-life, well I'm pro-Irish first." He said Ireland is seen as "a safe haven where people can get welfare." He called on the HSE and Department of Justice to come to the council and explain the situation, suggesting "information has been hidden away."
Cllr Declan Harvey said: "We've gotten on well with Syrians and others settled in Tullamore the proper way. We would just like to know who our neighbours are and who we're dealing with regarding these new people." He said the lack of communication was the issue, as did Cllr Liam Quinn who called for "clarity" form the Department.
Offaly County Council Chief Executive, Anna Marie Delaney, said, "we were not made aware of those settled here in recent weeks and we've been in touch with the Department of Justice. They say supports will be made available to the asylum seekers."
She said 400 refugees have been settled in Offaly under the mainstream programme and said, "this resettlement programme has been working well but we weren't made aware of those in recent weeks."