Irish plans to house asylum-seekers blocked by stand-off at village hotel

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The Independent Online

A pretty Irish village with a population of 420 has been thrown into turmoil by the Irish government's plans to house 38 asylum seekers in a disused hotel on its main street.

The response of the villagers in Clogheen, County Tipperary, has been swift, angry and, to some, racist.

An arson attack on the hotel delayed the expected arrival of the refugees last week, and villagers have since mounted a 24-hour picket on the premises.

The residents maintain that the proposed influx, which would increase the population by almost 10 per cent, would destroy the social fabric of the village. Dick Keating, a local farmer and the villagers' spokesman, said the hotel blockade will continue until Dublin abandons its plan.

"We're just ordinary people trying to look after our community," he said. "It's not that we object to these people. It's the sheer number of them. We haven't the infrastructure. It's as simple as that."

The stand-off is being monitored closely by more than 20 other villages and towns involved in similar plans to integrate asylum seekers into a rural setting.

Ireland is one of the last countries in Europe to adapt to multi-culturalism and human rights agencies have accused the government of implementing "hasty and ill thought out policies."

Despite a labour shortage precipitated by the republic's booming economy, asylum seekers are unable to work and live off an allowance of Ir£15 per week. In Clogheen, it is proposed that the refugees will crowd into an 11-bedroom hotel for up to two years. "It's clearly not satisfactory for us or for the people who have to come here," said Mr Keating.

Most asylum seekers in Ireland come from Africa and eastern Europe. The Home Affairs department is now dealing with up to 1,000 refugees a month applying for asylum, up from just 39 in all of 1992.

Mindful that many Irish people endured discrimination abroad in the past, the government is sensitive to charges of indifference towards the refugees. However concerns have been raised over the huge backlog of applications and a wave of racially motivated attacks in the capital.