The parish priest of Oughterard in Galway has called for calm among a Galway community protesting the potential opening of a direct provision centre in their town.
Local protests began last week after concerns that a hotel just outside the town was being converted into a direct provision centre.
Fr Michael Connolly PP told The Irish Catholic that there was a lot of “fear” in the community. He said: “My job here now is to really help people, there’s a lot of emotion at the moment, so the first thing is you want to get people more calm, rational and speaking in a more reflective and respectful tone.
“The first thing is I acknowledge now the strong emotions being stirred on certain matters, regards to a lack of consultation, local resources, but I think the biggest thing is the direct provision centre itself: forcing people to sit in a psychological damaging environment for years on end.”
A crowd of about 1,000 protestors gathered outside the parish church’s grounds over the weekend while Fr Connolly was not there, who said he had given no authorisation for the gathering in that location.
He said: “I wasn’t present in the parish. It came across in a poor light. I’m here now and I want to know exactly what’s going on with people.”
This comes as Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan asked residents to “step back” and allow for the selection of new direct provision centres for asylum seekers.
However, he added that no decision has been made whether the hotel would be used for this purpose, and that the State ensures education and healthcare provision for residents when decisions are made where to locate direct provision centres.
Calling for “calm, respectful, reasonable language”, Fr Connolly added: “From the very beginning of our Church, from the beginning of our society in Ireland, we’ve been welcoming the poor and the stranger… we are a welcoming people.
“As a parish priest I’m here in a supporting role, an encouraging role, so I can help all local inhabitants even those that are not practicing or who are non-baptised.”