60 turn out to protest at Limerick City school earmarked for Ukrainian refugees

Lorraine Hanley, Molly and Reilly Magurie, and Stephanie Moynihan attending today's protest at the former secondary school in Limerick City. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

AROUND 60 people turned out today (Sunday February 4) to protest outside the gates of the former Salesian Secondary School in Limerick City, a site planned to temporarily house up to 251 refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Some of those protesting were parents of children in the Salesian Primary School, which shares grounds with the former secondary school.

Those gathered said they are concerned about the welfare of the children attending the school, despite assurances from Limerick City and County Council and the government, as the former Fernbank school will be used to house Ukrainian war refugees.

One hour into the protest, which began at 12pm, some of the 60-strong number were starting to wrap up their protest as others said they were planning on staying “indefinitely”.

‘We’ve seen child abductions, attempted child abductions, rapes, beheadings’: Limerick woman Sharon Brown told the Limerick Post about her concerns. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

Unfolding a camping chair, Sharon Brown, who said she is one of the organisers of the protest, told the Limerick Post she is “in for the long haul”.

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“All around the country we’ve seen child abductions, attempted child abductions, rapes, beheadings. Crime is off the charts,” Ms Brown claimed.

“There’s at least 400 vacant properties in Limerick they could have used, why did they choose a school?

“I’m a grandmother. My two children went to this school. There are 250 unvetted people going in there, they’re mainly men. The children have to come first.”

Asked why there is still concern around the status of the migrants, given previous assurances from government that those coming into Ireland are screened on arrival and local assurances that those bound for the school are Ukrainian men, woman, and children fleeing the war at home, Ms Brown said: “We don’t believe it. They say that, but it’s never Ukrainians when they come. If you look at all the other protests around the country, they are not families.”

“We have a housing crisis already, we have 14,000 Irish people homeless at the moment and 3,000 of them are children. It’s very unfair that the Irish are being pushed aside to welcome in the third world.”

‘Efforts to spread disinformation’

John Lannon, CEO of migrant information and support organisation Doras, told the Limerick Post that “efforts to spread disinformation about the Fernbank accommodation centre are designed to frighten people unnecessarily and to divide the community”.

“It is heartening to see that the vast majority of people recognise that protests at the centre are inappropriate and indeed unsafe.

“Limerick has a proud history of welcoming people seeking protection, whether they are from Ukraine or elsewhere. They are now part of our communities, workplaces, and schools. It is good to see that spirit of welcome continuing.”

Doras prepared an information leaflet, which has been distributed through residents’ associations in the area, explaining that the former school building will be used as an “arrival centre” for women, children, and men from Ukraine who have been “interviewed by the Department of Justice and will have provided appropriate documentation” before their arrival in Limerick.

The leaflet says that protests at the school are “inappropriate and unsafe”, and advises people invited to join protests to “please be aware that protests of this nature elsewhere in the country have become violent and resulted in arson. Stay safe. Stay away.”

Around 60 people turned out to protest Ukrainian refugees being placed in the former school building. Photo Brendan Gleeson.

Meanwhile, a local residents’ association has said it wants to welcome the Ukrainian refugees and has moved to disassociate itself with today’s protest.

In a statement to the media, the association said: “The members of Clanmaurice Residents Association as a group would like it to be known that they are happy to welcome the families coming to live in the old Salesians secondary school in Fernbank Limerick.”

“We understand that while the building itself might not be ideal, the idea is to offer refuge to families and people in their hour of need.

“We wish to distance ourselves from certain groups that are protesting and potentially endangering our local residents and children in the nearby school.

“They do not reflect the majority of people living and working in the local area. The Clanmaurice Residents Association are open to offering support where possible and welcoming the new arrivals to our city in the coming weeks.”

‘I have PTSD myself, I know what it’s like’

Dublin man Philip Dwyer, who travelled to Limerick to attend today’s demonstration, and who describes himself as a ‘citizen journalist’, said he has been covering such protests “to highlight the migration scam that the government are inflicting on the people”.

“These wars that are being created around the world have nothing to do with the Irish people and they are abusing the kindness of Irish people.”

Mr Dwyer says he does not believe local authorities or government that the former school will be used to house Ukrainian refugees.

A number of signs were erected by protesters. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

Asked whether, if it does prove to be Ukrainian migrants taking up residence in the school, his concerns would be allayed, he said: “I would like to think they (local residents) would have objections. Our kindness has been abused far too much. We have no responsibility to look after Ukrainians, or anyone else for that matter around the world, we have no obligation, legal or moral.”

Martin Dylan, whose six-year-old son attends the neighbouring Salesian Primary School, said “at a meeting with the council, we asked why they choose this building over the 400 derelict properties that we have, and we were told that they can’t get fire regulation safety certificate for any other building – which I know is a lie because I’m an electrician.”

Asked what parents fear might happen in regards migrants being housed in the former school, he said that “these are people coming from a war zone, supposedly, they can be suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I have PTSD myself, I know what it’s like … anyone can snap any minute at a time. You black out, you don’t know what you’re after doing. It’s the childrens’ safety.”

‘These fascists are not welcome in our community’

In a statement ahead of the protest, Cian Prendiville, People Before Profit candidate for Ireland South, said: “I’ve heard from locals, parents, and teachers who are very scared of the outside far-right thugs who have been hanging around schools on Limerick’s northside in recent days, taking photos and trying to instigate ‘protests’.”

“Elsewhere these ‘protests’ have led to violence and arson.  Protests here are completely inappropriate and unsafe. I’d encourage people to stay safe and stay away from any such protests and hate-mongers.

“I grew up in this community, I went to school across the road. It has always been a very welcoming community, home to people from across the world. We will again show a warm Limerick welcome to those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
“I have also been told allegations of break-ins at the site and threats of firebombing the planned Fernbank accommodation centre. This is not acceptable. These fascists are not wanted and not welcome in our community.”
By 5pm, despite claims of being settled in for the “long haul”, all protesters had dispersed.