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How Ballinamore has fared 4 years after asylum protests

It is more than four years since people in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, mounted protests in opposition to plans to move asylum seekers into the town.

In October 2019, placards with the slogans “Community Not Compounds”, “System Failure” and “Proportionate Provision” were carried by locals on pickets outside the apartment complex earmarked to be a Direct Provision centre for more than 100 asylum seekers.

There was also an attempted arson attack and a person, on the night of 19 October 2019, was seen on CCTV pouring petrol outside the entrance to the Tesco store underneath the apartments, though it did not cause any major damage.

With similarities to Roscrea in Co Tipperary and other towns recently, there were public meetings and unhappiness with the lack of communication with government.

Residents were adamant at the time that their main concern was the lack of services, and the ability of the town to handle such an increase in numbers.

In light of the recent protests outside accommodation earmarked for asylum seekers, RTÉ’s Morning Ireland went back to the town to see how it has fared.

Máirín Martin, chairperson of the Ballinamore Area Community Council, was part of the delegation who met David Stanton, who was minister for integration at the time.

Máirín Martin believes the arrival of asylum seekers has been positive for Ballinamore

She told RTÉ: “Our concerns were no doctor, short numbers in the school, the creche wasn’t able to take anymore.

“The playground is very small. And just general facilities in the town, public transport as well.

“And our concerns were as much for the incoming refugees as they were for our community. I mean, we had a population of about 800 at the time and people were very concerned that if they wanted to go to the doctor, they wouldn’t be able to get to the doctor.”

While asylum seekers did end up having to go to a GP in a different town, something which is still happening, there was no change to the GP service for others in Ballinamore.

For Máirín, the arrival of the asylum seekers has been positive, but the government still should have done more.

She said: “We’ve become much more multicultural, which is a good thing, and language wise I know some of the asylum seekers have come to the Irish classes and I’m ashamed to say they’re better at Irish than I am.

“I still think, though, that the government could have done more with facilities.

“Take the children’s playground, for example. It’s a tiny little playground. The community council put in for a grant application for a multiple use games area.

“We put in an excellent application, and we didn’t get one penny. They’re leaving it up to the communities, really, to fill the gaps.

“They could do much, much more in providing facilities for areas where asylum seekers have settled.”

The Morales family left Guatemala and are very happy with life in Ballinamore

Among the asylum seekers to arrive in the town was Carmen Morales, with her husband Rene and three children: Rene, now aged 15; Cesar aged 11 and Marta aged ten.

They left Guatemala after Carmen and Rene were put in prison for three months which, the mother says, was due to their political beliefs.

She said: “They started school and a very short time they felt part of this beautiful community, and since the first week they were part of the GAA and soccer club.

“It’s hard to start from scratch, but it’s not impossible. I remember when we came here just with five suitcases and now we are very happy because yesterday my husband started a new position in Supermac’s. Now he is a manager.”

Carmen has been unable to use the local GP in the town and, like others at the Direct Provision centre, has had to use public transport to go to other towns to see the doctor.

But apart from that inconvenience, life has been good for them here. They have received their asylum status and have applied for the Housing Assistance Payment in a bid to go out and rent.

Like others who have got asylum, they are still living in the Direct Provision apartments.

They hope to be able to rent in the town, which she says is their “home”, but there are not many properties to rent.

Carmen’s husband Rene is a manager in Supermac’s

Her two youngest kids are very happy at the local primary school Scoil Chlann Naofa and she said they now have “Leitrim accents”.

The principal of Scoil Chlann Naofa is Caitriona McManus. The school has grown from being a six-teacher school in October 2019 to a nine teacher one now.

That growth, she said, is also down to the school growing in size due to families moving back to the areas thanks to working-from-home opportunities, as well as the addition of Ukrainian children.

The school is tight for space and an application has been made to the Department of Education for an extension.

Ms McManus said: “I think the children are getting to experience great diversity at a much younger age.

“With over 20 nationalities in the school now, I suppose I feel we’re preparing the children better for the world out there because they’re experiencing greater diversity and they’re getting to know children from all over the world.

“We probably shared some of those concerns back in 2019, but as a staff when we sat down together, we just had children, our children.

“It doesn’t matter where the children come from, children generally have the same needs.

“I can understand why people are apprehensive, but our experience has certainly taught us that a lot of those concerns were unfounded at the time because the children that have come to this school have been fantastic.

“They’re eager to be here. They’re eager to learn and they want to take part. They want to be one of us. You know, they want to join in.

“They want to have fun, just like every other child in the school.”


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