No civic welcome for refugees
Sinn Féin Councillor Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin upset the Labour Party chairperson of Clonakilty UDC when he suggested at a recent meeting that the West Cork town host an official welcome ceremony for the refugees who have been dispersed there.
Eighty refugees were loaded onto a bus in Dublin three weeks ago and taken off to Clonakilty. The local authority and the Southern Health Board, however, made no provision for their arrival in terms of legal advice, interpreters, community care, or to provide support and ensure a welcome into the town.
A pitiful £15 a week payment is made to refugees to meet all their needs outside of their full board accommodation, although Irish people are given £30 per week in comparable circumstances.
Local people have done a great deal to compensate for this gross neglect by council and health board. They have established a Friends of Asylum Seekers group to foster understanding of the refugees' situation and to involve the refugees in some of the town's activities, such as the choir and sports activities. They have attempted to dissipate any resentment towards the refugees which could be fostered in the absence of any adequate provision by the service providers to promote acceptance and welcome.
As it is, the Immigration Control Platform, led by Aine Ní Chonnaill, a school teacher in the local convent school, has grasped the opportunity to leaflet the town.
At the council meeting of Tuesday, 1 February, Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin proposed a civic welcome for the refugees, so that the people of the town ``could see their elected representatives united in extending the hand of friendship to the newcomers''.
Chairperson Michael O'Regan took umbrage at this proposal and accused the Sinn Féin man of attempting to back him into a corner publicly and of undermining his authority. Ó Súilleabháin explained that nothing could be further from the truth and reiterated his position that the council should take the lead by setting a good example to the rest of the community. He asked whether the chairman, a Labour Party councillor, was aware of his party's strong policy concerning refugees.
Ó Súilleabháin then proposed a motion, seconded by independent councillor Anthony McDermott, calling on the government to give refugees the right to work and take educational courses, which both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil councillors opposed. The motion was defeated by six votes to two.
Speaking afterwards, the Sinn Féin councillor said: ``The inertia of the service providers, compounded by the attitudes of the consensus parties, shames us all, particularly given the terrible tragedies which the refugees have suffered and the privations they must endure in seeking asylum here in Ireland.''