The protesters went ahead with their action despite an appeal from locals concerned about the possible effects on children among the refugees. Fermoy and Mallow against Racism declared the protest did not represent the people of Fermoy, which is a successful, ethnically diverse town. They accused the organisers of trying to whip up fear.
Anti-refugee activist Derek Blighe led the group of 60-70 protesters, giving speeches and at times chanting anti-refugee slogans such as “get them out”, and “shame” at one woman who happened to leave St Joseph’s during the demonstration. Gardaí in at least three Garda cars observed the protest which passed off without violence.
Mr Blighe uses social media to expand his movement, called Ireland First. “We are going to form a committee, with the ultimate goal of getting these people out and having them deported. We’re already stretched to the limit here. There literally is nowhere to stay,” he said.
The Echo has learned that the group of refugees in Fermoy consists of all family units, mothers with children, eight single women, and 54 refugees in all. Five were from Ukraine, with the remainder from a range of countries from around the globe. There were no single men among the group bussed in at the behest of the Department of Children, under a programme called the Temporary Emergency Accommodation for International Protection Applicants as part of Ireland’s international obligations.
Some 77 people can be accommodated in St Joseph’s in 19 bedrooms, with the potential of further capacity in the coming weeks, stated a briefing note from the Department to local Councillors.
“Additional capacity will be brought on in phases over a number of weeks to year-end, bringing the full capacity to 150 people. The residents will consist of families, couples and single females. This will not be a centre for single males,” the statement adds.
A group of concerned local Fermoy people contacted The Echo, and said it was calling for calm.
“We understand people's fear concerns and the need for answers at this uncertain time but we are appealing to people not to protest outside the centre where women and children have just arrived. This is in the interest of the children who are going through enough upheaval and trauma at the moment. We ask that you look for other ways to raise your concerns and have your questions answered."
Kate O’Connell, of Fermoy and Mallow against Racism, said the protest does not represent the people of Fermoy. Within Fermoy already, a number of houses have taken Ukrainian refugees into their homes, she said. “We think the fear is being whipped up by people who claim to care about the housing crisis, but offer no solutions. Fermoy is an ethnically diverse town. Our town is successful and our diversity is in our strength.”