The decision of the government to purchase the Devereux Hotel in Rosslare for the purpose of establishing a refugee reception centre has met with fierce opposition. The people of the area are quite right to be angry with the government. A popular local hotel is to close, depriving the community of a much-needed resource and putting a number of people out of work.
However, the anger of the local community at the actions of the government must not be allowed to become a cover for attacking a vulnerable group of people - asylum seekers, who have had no say in the making of the decision. The number of asylum seekers coming to Ireland is still tiny by international standards. These are people who are coming to our shores seeking our help, having fled oppression and extreme poverty elsewhere.
The government has taken a penny-pinching and racist attitude towards asylum seekers. Forgetting Ireland's emigrant past, they have chosen to join the "Fortress Europe" policies of other EU governments with enthusiasm. They have set out to make life as difficult as possible for asylum seekers coming here, refusing them the right to work, preparing to deport as many of them as possible and using them as scapegoats to deflect the blame for the many failings of their economic policies.
The example quoted by some local people of the closing of the Tenacre Nursing Home is typical. The elderly people for whom this was home - and the many others on the waiting list for places in state-run nursing homes - deserve a much better deal from the "Celtic Tiger". However, blaming the asylum seekers for this makes no sense. The facts of the matter are that even if not one asylum seeker came to Rosslare - or even to Ireland - the government does not have the political will to adequately fund our health service, ensuring that the elderly or those on waiting lists for surgery get the service to which they are entitled.
People are right to demand of the government that they adequately fund the health service, that they provide sufficient funding to house the growing number of people who are homeless or on local authority waiting lists and that community resources be protected. However, it is important that people's anger is pointed in the right direction and that government policy is blamed, and not the vulnerable asylum seekers.
Furthermore, it is important that people do not allow this issue to be used as cover by those who would pursue a racist agenda. References made by some at recent public meetings to AIDS, TB, crime, begging etc. have no basis in fact, and serve only to perpetuate racist myths. They are reminiscent of comments made about Irish people in British cities just a short number of decades ago when signs such as "No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish" were commonplace in B&B windows.
People's anger against the government is justified, but we appeal to the people of Rosslare to dissociate themselves from comments which are clearly racist and anti-immigrant.