Justice minister Simon Harris slams Mullingar asylum protest as ‘effort to intimidate’
Protestors prevented a bus carrying asylum seekers from entering the gates at Columb Barracks in Mullingar just after 1pm on Friday.
Interim Minister for Justice Simon Harris has said that anti-asylum seekers’ attempts to physically block international protection applicants from entering accommodation in Co Westmeath on Friday was “an effort to intimidate”.
Protestors prevented a bus carrying asylum seekers from entering the gates at Columb Barracks in Mullingar just after 1pm on Friday. An earlier bus had been able to enter without any problems.
A number of garda units attended the scene at Columb Barracks later that evening at around 9pm, which led to a garda being assaulted and a man in his 20s being arrested for public order offences.
The crowd dispersed from the area after 1.30am but have since returned, RTÉ reports.
Minister Simon Harris said today that these protestors don’t “speak for the masses” and “don’t have a right to suggest that they are speaking on behalf of this country”.
“When you see the largest humanitarian crisis that any of us, regardless of age, have never lived through, a war back on the continent of Europe, of course that causes real challenges in terms of how we will respond,” he said.
“But people in this country want us to respond compassionately and they also want to know that there’s a balanced, robust rules-based system in place, and we’re doing both.
“So yes, people have a right to democratically protest but they certainly don’t have a right to suggest that they are speaking on behalf of this country.”
Minister Harris added that he is “extraordinarily grateful to the gardaí for the job that they do in policing what can often be difficult situations”.
“I have huge confidence in their ability to properly assess a situation and decide how best to police it, taking all factors into account.
“I have said time and time again, I believe very strongly, there’s a right to protest in a democratic society. Some of what we see isn’t protest though. Some of what we see is an effort to intimidate. I thought the scenes in Mullingar were very much in that space.”
The barracks, which closed in 2012, are intended to be used as temporary accommodation for some 120 asylum seekers, with 15 tents being erected inside the grounds.
A number of protests – including Friday’s - have taken place by various groups opposed to the plan since it was announced in February by the Department of Integration.
The 25-acre site, in the centre of the town, is now used by up to 30 community groups.
In a statement on Friday, the Department of Integration said it was aware of an ongoing incident at Columb Barracks, and is liaising with An Garda Síochána.
"Over the past year, communities across Ireland have demonstrated great solidarity and welcome to those who have come here seeking refuge," the statement said.
"The Department strongly condemns any attempt to promote division and hostility."
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