Integration in Ireland's most diverse towns: Longford

Despite being hard-hit by the recession, Longford still has one of the highest migrant populations in the country

Integration in Ireland's most diverse towns: Longford

Longford Town (Google Maps)

In a four part series, George Hook is examining integration efforts in the most diverse towns in Ireland, as recorded by the 2011 census.

Those include Ballyhaunis in Mayo, Longford Town, Oranmore in Galway, and Balbriggan in Dublin.

Following yesterday's discussion about Ballyhaunis, today George turned to Longford, where of a population of 9,356, around 26% are migrants.

Like Ballyhaunis, Longford also hosts a Direct Provision centre, home to 75 asylum seekers according to the most recent statistics.

Gerry Warnock, cathaoirleach of Longford County Council

"Integration and the process of integration as adopted by the various government departments is not working," says Warncock, who chairs Longford's county council.

This, he believes, is due to over reliance on Direct Provision, and a lack of adequate research in the placement of accommodation centres for asylum seekers.

He says the local authority was not aware of its establishment until it was announced, despite it being the "best place to know the social and economic dynamic of the town."

Longford suffered a great deal after collapse of construction industry, says Warnock, and was designated as being a disadvantaged town.

So why then, was it selected, he asks, when affluent Dublin areas would have been quite capable of integrating communities?

Sheila Reilly, editor of Longford Leader

Reilly, who edits the local newspaper, says schools have coped "admirably" despite a lack of support.

Though affordable housing and job opportunities attracted people here, it is now one of the "most disadvantaged towns in the country," she believes.

 

"It's not just about assimilation," she says, "it is about integration. You want them to be able to retain their own culture and the things that matter to them, but you also want them to be able to integrate into the community so they're part of what goes on here."

The situation is particularly difficult for those living in Direct Provision, who can do little with their €19 weekly stipend.

Some locals complain about them loitering around town, according to Reilly, but this is because they have nothing to do and cannot work, though there have been examples of asylum seekers being exploited through black market labour.

 

"There should be a set period of time to determine their status," she says. "The idea of leaving them for years in the Direct Provision system is crazy."

Peter Masterson, schools completion officer

 

There have been teething problems, but generally things are working well, says schools completion officer Masterson, citing "that welcoming thing that's in [Irish] genes."

He believes migrants who arrived during the Celtic Tiger boom have not left "because they became integrated into the wider community.

Children are the key to integration, Masterson says, as they can quickly adapt to learning a new language and engage with locals in schools.

 

Nicolette Spelic, German-born shop owner

Spelic, originally from Germany, moved to Longford in 2014, but has lived in Ireland for nine years.

Though she used to work for PayPal, she has recently opened her own shop in the town, and is assisting others with starting new businesses.

She says that ideally integration would move at a slower place than is currently happening in Germany, so locals can feel comfortable and new arrivals can become an integrated part of a community.

 

The series on Ireland's most diverse towns will continue throughout the week.