Protests are ongoing in Oughterard over what locals fear will be the creation of a direct provision centre for refugees at the disused Connemara Gateway Hotel. 

Pickets remain in place, with protesters vowing to keep the site blocked indefinitely, or until any centre on the site is categorically ruled out.

While no plan for the centre has been confirmed, locals have expressed anger at what they feel is a lack of consultation surrounding the scheme. 

Concerns have been raised over whether the town is sufficiently resourced to accept an influx of asylum seekers, with many pointing to a lack of adequate schooling, transport infrastructure or Garda presence. 

And while the protests are taking place under a banner claiming to resist the conditions in direct provision centres, online discussions of the protest have drawn praise and support from far-right and alt-right pressure groups.

Speaking to the Journal, Minister Seán Kyne said: ‘The Direct Provision system has been in operation for 20 years and successive governments have failed to find satisfactory alternatives. There is a process in place but this has led to great anxiety and concern for the local community in Oughterard. 

‘The community deserves clarity and more information and I have tried to achieve this by meeting with local residents and business-owners, by visiting the protest at the Gateway Hotel, and by organising meetings between Minister of State David Stanton and Department officials with a delegation from Oughterard as well as other local Oireachtas members. 

‘The nature of any tendering process contains an element of confidentiality, but this should not be a barrier to consultation and engagement with local communities.’

In an open letter to the parish, local parish priest Fr Michael Connelly called for a ‘calm, reasonable, and respectful’ discussion of the issue, before going on to criticise protesters for making use of church grounds: ‘Firstly, I am aware of the strong emotions some inhabitants of Oughterard are having presently with regard to the possibility of a new direct provision centre being constructed on the outskirts of the town. 

‘There are many understandable reasons for this response; a lack of consultation, concern about the capability of local resources to respond to the new demands it will bring, and of course the direct provision system itself. […]

‘The State must fulfill its obligations to the international community and to suffering humanity. I will have no comments to make on the possible construction of a direct provision centre here in Oughterard. I only ask that planning proposals would be developed in consultation with local representatives, so the community can welcome any potential asylum seekers. 

‘Secondly, as Christians, we take our lead from Christ. He welcomed the stranger and was a migrant himself in Egypt as a helpless child. From the beginning of our church and our beginnings as a Christian society in Ireland almost 1600 years ago, providing hospitality to the poor and the stranger has been central to our lived reality. We are a welcoming people by nature; none more so that here in Oughterard. People from many nations are already part of local community life and they are a source of richness amongst us. 

‘This being the case, calm, respectful and reasonable language must be used by all. […] 

‘Finally, the use of Church grounds for a protest march of the type witnessed on the 14th September was unacceptable. 

‘I acknowledge the strong feeling of some people at the lack of consultation and information. 

‘I also acknowledge our responsibility to respond to a worldwide problem which has far from peaked.’