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Organiser Elaine Kingston Durbin speaking at an information meeting, in the Town Park at Shannon, where concerns were expressed, and names were taken, so that a committee might be formed, about the new Shannon Refugee Hub at unit 153 Shannon Free Zone. Photograph by John Kelly.

‘We don’t oppose refugees, we oppose the Government’s mismanagement of this’

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FOLLOWING last Saturday’s meeting in the Town Park 22 people came forward for the formation of a committee to represent concerns in the community about the development of Unit 153 in the Shannon Busines Park as a centre for emergency accommodation.

“We’re going to have a meeting, look at what people want. I think we’ll want to look at meeting with public representatives, look at getting answers with regard to the plans, what services and amenities will be put in place for the community with the backdrop of a proposal to use a significant sized building,” said Elaine Kingston Durbin, one of the organisers of Saturday’s meeting.

She said there is a belief that several hundred refugees will be housed there, but it’s still unconfirmed. “This is a 137,000 square foot building, it’s not small. If they were going to bring in a smaller amount of people they would bring in a smaller building.

“Based on other buildings around the country, that building could fit 500 to 1,000 people, based on its size. But all of this is guestimates, because nobody is giving an answer, at all.”
She said that facilities in Shannon are already under significant pressure.

“There’s one playground in the town. One GP is retiring next year, most of the others are full, they’re not taking on either medical card or private patients.

“The people coming in have needs, they are vulnerable people. What support packages will be put in place, what about translators, mental health supports? What’s going to happen with that? Otherwise it’ll be the community that absorbs it, a community that’s already struggling.”

She said that efforts are being made to label those who have raised concerns about the use of the building as far right and racist, and she feels that is a way of shutting down any discussion.

“It’s tiresome now and I’m getting angry. It’s this constant thing coming through, even though we have said very clearly that we are a small community group that does not alighn itself with political parties.

“We are not in any way associated with the far right in any way, shape or form. We do not condone any of the behaviours they have displayed. But how many times can you say the same thing? How many times can you say it and how many ways can you say it? This isn’t who we are, but people are so hell bent on trying to discredit you, because if they discredit you, you’ll go away, that’s what they hope.”

“They’re trying to turn it into ‘We want refugees, ye don’t want refugees”. That’s absolutely not where this is going. We don’t oppose refugees, we oppose the Government’s mismanagement of this, the lack of communication, the lack of clarity, and the fact is the community is already stretched to capacity and they are looking at putting more people in without the additional resources that are already needed. I don’t know how many ways you can say that.”

People in Shannon are voicing sincerely held concerns, she feels. “They’re saying ‘what does this mean for our town, I’m already struggling for childcare or to get a GP’.

“I don’t know why those concerns should be diminished by somebody hellbent on calling people far right or racist.”

Last year local bus services were very inadequate for a long period of time, as they struggled with the increased demands that followed the arrival of hundreds of refugees in the town.

Eventually Bus Éireann introduced double decker buses, but Ms Kingston Durbin said such failures are inevitable unless a proper plan is introduced. “All anyone wants is things to be better for everybody. If you start pitting people against each other you are losing out on very valid points and justified arguments for wanting better for everybody,” she added.

After last Saturday’s meeting posts online said that some far right activists from other parts of the country had been in attendance, but Ms Kingston Durbin said she had no idea that was the case.

“I didn’t know who they were. If they could have been identified why didn’t the people who could identify them bring that to the attention of the organisers? Why didn’t they bring it to the attention of the Guards? Why did they post into the group afterwards when there was nothing we could do?”

She said some of the online personal criticism has been unfair and misplaced, and she is not letting it stand.

“I did put myself out there, I put my head above the parapet a bit. You know when you do this you can be called racist, but equally I know what I stand for and I won’t allow anyone to discredit my character to fulfil their own agenda.”

Ultimately she feels much of the division is being created by a disdainful Government approach, which has ignored local representatives and the community. “They are not helping the situation by not communicating with local communities and there’s no transparency.”

Owen Ryan
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Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.