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Protest ongoing at site earmarked to accommodate IPAs

Gardaí have said a peaceful protest is continuing today at a site in Co Wicklow that is being prepared to accommodate International Protection Applicants.

The Garda Public Order Unit which was present yesterday is no longer on site.

The protesters said they want to keep the situation peaceful, but they feel their concerns about the legality of what is being done, the environmental impact and the availability of resources for migrants are not being listened to.

Gardaí said the Public Order Unit was called in yesterday to enable construction workers access to the site because they were being prevented from doing their work and members of the garda unit are specially trained in peaceful crowd management.

An attempt was made to barricade the lane to River Lodge and one man was arrested on suspicion of throwing a pallet at a garda.

He has been released without charge and a file will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Garda Headquarters said today that the Public Order Unit was not heavy handed and policed yesterday’s situation in soft caps and not in protective equipment or full helmets and shields.

Its members are trained in how to move people who do not want to comply with a direction.

A spokesperson said that gardaí were managing the situation and that while people have the right to protest peacefully, people also have the right to go about their lawful business and not be physically blocked from getting to their workplace.

Gardaí said some of the crowd were moved for their own safety and the operation to enable construction workers and their equipment access to the site was completed.

Footage posted on social media shows protesters complaining about the presence of the gardaí alongside shouting and using strong language which was directed at gardaí and journalists.

Gardaí also said they are following a definite line of inquiry in the investigation into a fire at the site in the early hours of last Saturday morning.

Gardaí say three men arrived in a taxi with petrol and spoke to protesters onsite after lighting a fire and leaving again.

The protesters called the gardaí and the fire was quickly extinguished, causing minimal damage.

The Department of Integration said it is considering the provision of tented accommodation at River Lodge to address the “acute shortfall” in accommodation for International Protection Applicants.

It said the HSE offered the vacant property and its surrounding lands to assist the department in accommodating those seeking international protection and the department “has gratefully accepted this offer”.

A spokesperson for the protest group said they want to ‘keep it calm’ and ‘peaceful’ (File image)

A spokesperson for the protest group in Newtownmountkennedy said there is a question mark over the legality of what the Department of Integration is doing.

Kevin Haig said they do not believe the HSE owns it because it states on the land registry that the property is owned by a trust and should only be used for educational and training purposes.

The protesters which, he said, are “a fairly loose group of 14 or 15” have asked for a stay on the works at the site until this can be established.

Mr Haig also said they are seeking an environmental impact statement and they want to know what supports are to be put in place for the new arrivals.

The village of Newtownmountkennedy, he said, has grown 65% in the last few years and has two grocery shops but no bank, dentist, library or secondary school.

Mr Haig said An Bord Pleanála recently refused other planning permission and ruled in that case against further development in the village until facilities are provided.

He also said the site at River Lodge is not suitable for accommodation because it floods, there are no streetlights and no footpath.

“You can’t just dump people in a field on the edge of a village,” he said, “its morally wrong”.

He said that protesters feel the arrival of the Public Order Unit “inflamed” the situation and that they were frightened by people with their faces covered driving trucks onsite.

However, he said the group did not welcome people from outside the community joining their protest.

“We have tried very hard not to be infiltrated but unfortunately as the media attention grows other people will come down,” he said.

“It doesn’t help our cause to have shouting and screaming and we want to keep it calm, peaceful and non-emotional,” he added.

Mr Haig said: “It is almost inevitable that outsiders will join which we don’t necessarily need.

“We have a good case to argue but we feel we are not being allowed to argue it.”

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