The refusal to welcome 13 vulnerable women to Achill is worse when it's dressed up as concern

We speak of feminism, empowerment, doing our bit...but when it comes to actual tangible aid, there are always those who will run for the hills. 


Lack of communication and lack of services are legitimate concerns that a community under pressure to accept asylum seekers should be a part of.

This was the reason cited by those involved in the protest outside an Achill Island hotel against accommodating 13 women for three months.

 

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The Achill Head hotel was picked by the Department of Justice and Equality as emergency short-term accommodation for a maximum of three months. These women have come to Ireland seeking international protection.

In order to seek such protection, the women would have needed to escape a situation that was unbearable, frightening. Circumstances that were ultimately unlivable.

Last night, following the outcry, and after a meeting with elected representatives in the area,  the Department confirmed that it was postponing the plans to accommodate the women in Achill, Co Mayo.

"The Department has regrettably decided that, at the moment, to ask the women to move there would not be in their best interests, as they may be vulnerable while awaiting decisions on their protection applications."

Lack of consultation

So the protests worked.

The decision not to welcome people who needed help, just for a few short weeks, was made.

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The women will now continue to float unanchored for more time, waiting to find a neighbourhood that is more tolerant, because this community had such concerns about them and their welfare.

Achill is a place of great natural beauty. Spending time there, in a pretty hotel overlooking the water doesn't warrant the concern some have dressed this up as.

Local councillor from the area, Paul McNamara updated his Facebook status to explain why they protested against welcoming the women. "we as community feel forgotten about and let down throughout this process.

The lack of communication and consultation with the local people is appalling. In summary of our meeting, it became apparent that the department officials knew very little information about Achill. They also confirmed to us none of the three officials had ever visited The Achill Head Hotel.

"This information came as a shock. We believe The Department of Justice have failed the community of Achill along with the people seeking asylum."

Outside forces

James McNamara was on the welcoming committee for the women. He says in an interview with the Irish Examiner that he believed those from Achill were being  “being stalked by outside forces with their own agenda.” and that he didn't recognise many of the faces at the protest. "I believe outside influences are adding fuel to the fire. I don’t really know who’s involved.”

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Achill has a long history of welcoming people from all over the world and there is also a very large Achill diaspora. “There’s hardly a family in Achill without an emigrant in their midst" pointed out James McNamara. “It is rather ironic."

Unsuitable

Stopping asylum seekers coming to a community also happened in Oughterard Co Galway recently where, after vigorous protects, a tender for a permanent Direct Provision centre – due to accommodate 200 asylum seekers – was withdrawn.

Again, it is important that every community has a say in what happens in their area, but if we are not careful, nobody will ever be rehoused because every community will find something to complain about.

Nimbyism, or not-in-my-backyard-ism is all about that - a way of opposing something that may be necessary or important for the greater good. Interestingly, the definition lists things like a jail, rubbish dump or drug rehabilitation centre that, is considered unsightly, dangerous, or likely to lead to decreased property values.

Unsightly, dangerous, or 13 women trying to get on with their shattered lives.

This wasn't an either/or situation, it was a chance to do good for those who needed our help most, the most vulnerable.

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Prejudice and ignorance are not always scrunched up hands and ugly words, they often present themselves as delay tactics ("we don't want this here, but we don't mind it there") and under veils of concern for the welfare of others. The shame can't stick if it is disguised as caring, right?

Movements can also get hijacked, distorted and used as part of a bigger picture. There is a sinister agenda that exists in this country and we can't simply be gormless pawns in that process, standing by as hate fans the legitimate fears of smaller communities. That is what Edmund Burke meant when he spoke about the dangers of good men doing nothing.

The truth is that these women needed help. And instead, they got the runaround. The situation might not have been entirely perfect for emergency accommodation but ultimately, it was going to be a great deal better than the circumstances that drove these people out of their own communities, their own neighbourhoods, their own homes.

The can has just been kicked further down the road. Let's not continue to dress this up as something else, something that can make us believe we really do care.

Saying that you wanted to help but only in the way you wanted to, misses the point of charity, selflessness and integrity.

This wasn't an either/or situation, it was a chance to do good for those who needed our help most, the most vulnerable.

Featured image via Unsplash.com 

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This article was amended on November 4, 2019. 


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