An Offaly councillor has raised concerns
An Offaly county councillor has expressed concern that a "central and strategic" building in the centre of Tullamore is being lined up as emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.
Cllr Tony McCormack told the Offaly Express this week: "I have no problem with looking after asylum seekers or refugees but I have a problem when it's in strategic properties in an area of town that is being developed."
His concern was raised following the September meeting of Offaly County Council where fellow councillor John Leahy voiced concerns about the process of providing emergency accommodation for asylum seekers in Banagher in recent months.
Speaking about Tullamore, Cllr McCormack said: "We have the new arts centre being built in the town and I would like to see part of the town developed with more restaurants, bars, coffee shops and retail units."
"In my opinion, this is developers taking advantage of very lax planning laws for emergency accommodation," he added.
"I also have a serious issue with the living conditions in many of these centres across the country. There is also the issue of making sure that the proper infrastructure is in place; schools, GPs, healthcare, language classes, integration classes, and so on," he continued.
"We need a consultation process with the local communities or we'll have a situation similar to what's happening at the moment in Galway. As I say, how could you turn these people away after what they've been through? We welcome them with open arms but we need the accommodation to be suitable and in suitable areas," Cllr McCormack concluded.
Speaking at a council meeting on Monday, Cllr John Leahy echoed these concerns. He too said he had no issue with asylum seekers being accommodated in Offaly but asked for proper communication in such instances. He said this did not happen during the summer when a group of asylum seekers were placed in Banagher.
He asked the management of OCC to write to the Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton, to ask what engagement was made with the community in Banagher prior to their arrival. That request for OCC to write to Minister Stanton was supported by Cllr Tony McCormack.
Responding to the arrival of asylum seekers in Banagher earlier this year, 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.
OCC management will write to Minister David Stanton at the request of Cllrs Leahy and McCormack.