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Hundreds attend anti-racism rally in Fermoy to highlight local support for refugees

Locals were left horrified by the anti-refugee protest which was staged last Wednesday

Ralph RiegelSunday World

More than 200 people attended an anti-racism rally in a Cork town to highlight local support for refugees and asylum seekers.

The rally - organised by Fermoy and Mallow Against Racism (FAMAR) - was staged in direct response to a protest mounted by 70 people outside a refugee accommodation centre in Fermoy last Wednesday,

FAMAR members and locals organised the solidarity rally today to demonstrate that north Cork is a welcoming place where all cultures are respected and refugees are treated with respect and dignity.

Fermoy locals were left horrified by the anti-refugee protest which was staged last Wednesday outside St Joseph's Convent which, after a refurbishment, is now being used for refugee accommodation.

Seventy people protested outside the complex as over 60 refugees arrived at the former convent.

The group included 19 families, 25 children and eight single women.

Families involved are fleeing war and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

There were no single, young men accommodated as part of the group.

Locals were shocked to realise that, as the group including the young children settled into their new emergency accommodation, they could hear the protestors and their megaphone on the street directly outside - some shouting that they should be sent home.

One woman who left the St Joseph's complex during the protest was loudly heckled by protestors.

Fermoy locals pointed out that many of the anti-refugee demonstrators were not from the town.

Some were believed to be involved in similar anti-refugee protests in Dublin and other counties.

It was decided to stage a rally to highlight local support for refugees, asylum seekers and multiculturalism as well as to defend the town's reputation as a welcoming, caring place.

Over 200 people attended the rally outside the Church of Ireland's Christchurch, just above the town park.

It was attended by locals from Fermoy, Mallow, Mitchelstown, Kilworth, Rathcormac, Ballyhooly and Castletownroche - as well as by business owners, charity volunteers and cultural groups to demonstrate the welcoming nature of the area.

Politicians including Cork East TDs Sean Sherlock and Pat Buckley also attended.

FAMAR organiser Kate O'Connell said the rally demonstrated what Irish communities were really about.

"It is time for us all to come together and show what a caring place Fermoy really is and how we welcome people in need. Those people who protested outside St Joseph's do not speak for us," she said.

Sanctuary Runners founder Graham Clifford said people from many different countries and cultures have made Irish towns such as Fermoy their home - and have enriched local communities as a result.

Local woman Maggie Blackley said the anti-refugee protest represented only a tiny minority of Irish people and the majority of locals wanted to disassociate themselves from it.

"This is a gathering of concerned residents to demonstrate that these people do not speak for the majority," she said.

"Fermoy is a wonderful town, it has been very welcoming and we want people to know that. What happened during the week has appalled everyone locally and we want to make it perfectly clear that those people do not speak for the majority here."

"The overwhelming majority of people here are welcoming, caring and feel deeply about showing solidarity with those who are fleeing war and persecution."

Maggie and her husband, Sandy, have hosted two Ukrainian women and their children at their home since the Russian invasion - and said it has been an incredible experience.

A large number of families also attended the solidarity rally including Maggie and Polly Egerton and children Rowan, Ema, Toby and Andrey.

Local musician Mo O'Connor performed his own composition, 'Homeland', which was written about the experience of Mexican migrants in the US.

Fermoy is host to a number of cultural groups and charities which promote integration and understanding including the Fermoy International Choir which has members from over 30 countries as well as the Sanctuary Runners.

A number of Fermoy business owners have said they were appalled by the anti-refugee protests and the negative image it portrayed of the town.

St Joseph's Convent - which has been the focus of a refurbishment campaign - issued a statement saying they welcomed their new guests.

It pointed out that the people arriving were fleeing areas of conflict across the world.

The statement stressed that male guests arriving at St Joseph's were strictly there as part of family units.

It pointed out that the majority of those who have arrived are women and children.

Fermoy has a number of Ukrainian families in the old Grand Hotel as well as a separate church property.

Cork politicians also supported the rally on Saturday in support of a welcoming Ireland.

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