Chaos in Wicklow Town as Irish asylum policies spiral out of control and onto the streets.
Rival gangs engage in morning street brawl on the streets of Wicklow.
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So, I’ve been working on this story for almost a week and it centres on a Direct Provision centre in Wicklow. Every time I sit down to write it, events seem to overtake me - such is the disarray that seems to exist within its walls. Indeed, today, the chaos spilled out on to the streets of Wicklow town as a fight broke out between two rival gangs living in this DP centre. One Syrian and one Georgian. Two men are currently under arrest and in custody but we will get to all of the serious stuff in due course. Suffice to say, this situation has been brewing for awhile in Wicklow and that is the reason I became interested in it over a week ago.
Artwork by Jakki Moore
Now, I visited the town last Saturday and met with two asylum seekers in a local coffee shop to listen to the story they had to tell. The duo in question are long-term refugees and pre-date the war in Ukraine. Indeed, both have been living in the Wicklow DP for a number of years. They told a tale of rising fears and tension felt by the long-term refugees within the facility. Many of whom have young families with teenagers and young children and who are frightened of having between 150-170 young men now camped out in the ballroom of the hotel and over-running the communal areas.
Is the fear exaggerated you may ask?
Well, on circa October 18th, a new type of asylum seeker began arriving into Wicklow town. And over the course of a few days, roughly 170, young, male and largely Muslim residents have been bussed into Wicklow DP. Afghans, Somalians, Syrians, Algerians, Egyptians and some Turks. This DP centre already has a high number of Georgian refugees and this seems to be at the heart of the trouble that erupted this morning in Wicklow. And judging from what my sources say, this morning’s trouble is the start not the end of this feud.
The majority of the newest arrivals were transported in from the City-West complex in Dublin. According to my information, they’ve taken up residence on bunk-beds in the communal areas of this provision centre. As said above, as of yesterday, 272 asylum seekers are now situated here. At the end of 2021, the capacity figure as quoted to me from IPAS, was 111. An almost 250% increase. In 2021 Ireland accommodated 7,250 people seeking International protection and at the end of October 2022 that figure stands at 16,800.
Yesterday, The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland, Roderic O’Gorman briefed FG and FF on asylum figures and revealed that his department is now having to provide accommodation for between 150 and 200 people arriving each day. What he failed to mention is that increasingly these new arrivals are non Ukrainian.
Response # 2 from International Protection Accommodation Services on current accommodation numbers in Ireland.
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Now, this town and this DP centre are in no way designed to cope with or integrate 272 people, especially when over 170 are young men from a completely alien cultural background with deficits in English language skills. Even, purely, on Health and Safety grounds this facility should be shutdown as it lacks the basic sanitary facilities to serve such a huge increase in numbers. The concerns of the residents that I spoke with on Saturday pointed to a situation rapidly spiraling out of control primarily because so many young men from troubled backgrounds and countries were cramped into so small a space. It’s a recipe for disaster and today, their worst fears began to be realized.
While, Wicklow town is today’s focus, bear in mind too, that our government is busy traversing the country attempting to turn more hotels, retail units and even equestrian centres into quasi- direct provision centres to relieve the strain on a buckling asylum system. Many ordinary people believe that all these efforts are to facilitate Ukrainian refugees and yet this is not the full picture at all. As seen above 16,800 of the 62,000 refugees currently living in Ireland are non-Ukrainian and the international numbers of refugees are increasing like a fast rising tide as we head into the last couple of months of 2022.
This all points to a no-borders immigration policy that is out-of-control both on the Ukrainian front and now on the international front. The roll-out of these new facilities is greatly aided by the seemingly limitless supply of Irish and EU funding available to target property owners, many of whom are struggling, with accommodation deals too juicy to turn down.
Anyway, I spent a good two hours on Saturday with the two Wicklow DP residents in question and I must say they were very easy to deal with and most helpful. Equally, though, they were worried on two fronts. The first was a concern for their own safety but more for the women with young children in the facility who were finding it intimidating to deal with the 170 males dumped into the Ballroom and communal areas of the facility. Many are too afraid to leave their rooms for very long. The second concern was centred on a worry about talking to me and a fear that speaking out and relaying their story might in someway affect their status. In short, they’re afraid of being turfed out on top of their heads with nowhere else to go. So, in an effort to minimize this eventuality and aide their anonymity, I am not going to reveal anything else about the two people like sex, religion or race.
After I left them and digested what they said, I knew it necessitated some fact finding from more official sources and specifically from the International Protection Accommodation Services or IPAS for short. So I popped off some questions to them and waited for a response.
1. Has there been an upsurge in recent asylum applications into Ireland of non Ukrainian refugees and what kind of increase?
Specific overall numbers would be great.
2. I have visited a direct provision centre in Wicklow town and spoken to long term asylum seekers there who have intimated that the numbers in this direct provision centres have almost trebled and currently are housing approximately 150-170 men in the Ballroom and Recreation room in bunk beds.
Are the IPAS aware of this?
3. Are you aware of the health and safety regulations that are in breach by the current resident numbers in place?
4. How many other direct provision centres are operating at over capacity?
I would appreciate a phone conversation regarding this matter as I understand it is a sensitive subject.
They initially responded as follows:
Ireland is accommodating over 62,500 people between people seeking international protection (IP) and those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
This includes 45,420 Ukrainian people who have sought accommodation from the State. As of 30th October 2022, there are over 16,800 people accommodated in the IPAS accommodation system as a whole. This compares with 7,250 at the same time last year.
In relation to accommodation, the IPAS accommodation centre in Wicklow town is currently providing accommodation to 272 IP applicants.
IPAS and its contracted providers are fully aware of responsibilities in this regard. Permanent IPAS accommodation centres are subject to three unannounced inspections per year. Inspections cover a wide range of issues including fire safety, appropriate signage and information for residents, the condition of communal areas and sleeping quarters, the quality of food provided and adherence to hygiene and other health and safety requirements.
The IPAS accommodation centre in Wicklow town is subject to these inspections and in addition to this, the centre was successful under the most recent Request For Tender (RFT) process for the procurement of IPAS accommodation centres.
All properties selected under this process are required to implement the National Standards.
IPAS centres are operating at full capacity across the accommodation system due to the record numbers of people arriving to Ireland seeking international protection. Officials continue to seek accommodation solutions to the increasing numbers of IP arrivals.
Response # 1 from International Protection Accommodation Services on current accommodation numbers in Ireland.
The answers were illuminating but as I think you can tell they skate around my Health and Safety questions. They know that the Provision Centre is operating at 250% over capacity and in my opinion are not only ignoring it but actively participating in it by continuing to send them refugees.
Of course, as I was compiling all this information this morning all hell broke lose when tensions rose between the aforementioned group of Syrians and group of Georgians and a fight broke out and spilled onto the streets of Wicklow town. Other than the two people I interviewed on Saturday I have another source in the Wicklow direct provision centre. He again is a long-term resident of the facility and relayed the information regarding the two groups involved in the fighting. I spoke to him earlier today and he echoed exactly what my two interviewees related. The long term residents are terrified of the new type of asylum seekers that arrived into Wicklow in mid October at this DP centre that at one time was known locally as the Grand Hotel.
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I am not certain whether Wicklow town locals are aware of what is going on in their town & provision centre or whether they know that it is operating at over 250% 2021 capacity. The mix of nationalities of the recent arrivals are from a variety countries. Afghanistan, Algeria, Syria, Somalia, Egypt and Georgia. My source inside the facility revealed that this huge influx of new arrivals in mid-October have been recently aligning themselves into small gangs along nationality lines for the past couple of weeks and given these men have nothing to do and are in such concentrated and cramped quarters this is unsurprising to me. Stress and agitation have been rising significantly over the past couple of weeks. In fact, my source revealed, as a long term resident, and on friendly relations with staff generally, that he reported the escalating tensions to the management and was told to mind his own business. After today’s street fight I contacted the Garda Press Office for comment and they’ve confirmed that two men were arrested and are currently detained ( at the time of writing) in Wicklow Garda Station. The full response is below.
“ Gardaí responded to an incident that occurred at a facility in Wicklow town that occurred at approximately 11:30am this morning, Thursday 10th November 2022. There were no weapons or injuries reported. Two males, both in their 20s, were arrested at the scene and are currently detained at Wicklow Garda Station. Investigations are ongoing “
It is a rather tame statement from the Garda given the video evidence that has emerged of some of the fighting that took place. Parts of the fighting were captured on video and a number of men can be seen in violent exchanges as bewildered members of the public look on.
I reached out to local independent County Councillor Tom Fortune for comment about this morning’s incident and he had the following to say:
“ The question I have is “ Were all of these people vetted before they were brought into the country. Who is doing the vetting? ”
It is a very pertinent question to ask and indeed it is one I am awaiting an answer on from the relevant section of the Department of Justice that handles the press for the International Protection Office who are the ultimate arbiters of all asylum applications in Ireland. I have received an out-of-office reply to my queries but will update this article with their response when I receive one.
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I used to enjoy taking my dog out up the Murrough, River or Prom' in Wicklow Town but too many times i've come across gangs of migrant men which is very intimidating for a lone female so i end up turning around and go home. No one should feel scared walking around their home town night or day.
Excellent article. Informative, fair and above all accurate. As a Wicklow resident I can concur with your findings. There has been an air of worry in the town over the past month due to this large group of young men housed together with nothing to do. Our immigration policies for Ukranian people have been hijacked by various nationalities as a means of getting into Ireland unvetted and unchallenged. And the problem is they are here now and here to stay. Wicklow Town is not a safe place at the moment. Gangs of young foreign men roaming the town, excessive drinking and fighting, intimidation of local people including teenage children going about their daily business. This is a matter for the government to address and urgently because the events on Wentworth Place and across from the Grand Hotel the other day are an indication of what's to come. You've been warned