Cllr Noel Coonan
The public in Templemore must be kept up to date on the latest information regarding refugees if rumours are not to be “fuelled,” Cllr Noel Coonan told the January meeting of Thurles municipal district.
Tipperary Co Council social worker Padraig Ryan and Cora Horgan of Youthwork Ireland said Templemore has been identified as being suitable for five families from war-torn Syria.
The HSE, the gardaí, the educational authorities and others, had liaised to conduct an audit of which towns had the capacity to cater for the families.
Before the conflict broke out in Syria in 2011, that country had advanced healthcare and educational systems, and it was a developed country, said Mr Ryan.
The war has led to 400,000 people being killed, and 11 million people displaced, six million internally and five million externally. Neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan have welcomed most of the refugees.
In 2015/16 Thurles took in some families and this has been a “huge success.” “Lessons have been learned,” said Council housing official Sinead Carr. Now the aim is to settle 45 families in Co Tipperary, five of these in Templemore. “We will be engaging with local communities, so that concerns and fears will be allayed.”
Cora Horgan said she welcomed the opportunity to engage with local community leaders. Youthwork Ireland has over 50 years experience working with families and young people around Tipperary and east Limerick. “Here in Thurles, we work with the Syrian community and have been providing after-school, and other supports.”
Tipperary Co Council awarded Youthwork Ireland a contract in late November for the project. Four workers have been employed to help, some of them fluent in Arabic.
These will assist with helping the Syrians settle into life in Templemore, “how to pay bills, GP services, and childcare, education,” said Ms Horgan. “They left Syria to protect and support their children.
“We will work with the community to welcome families. A lot of refugees will have traumatic experiences. They will need English language lessons. We will be calling for support from the Co Council for this project,” said Ms Horgan.
Cllr Noel Coonan, said Cora’s team is “tried and trusted”. Templemore has experience in welcoming people “from all over Europe” but there are concerns and “rumours”, such as that a former drapery site had been purchased. The local authority needs to be “open and up-front from the beginning”.
“There are concerns from families who are already on the housing waiting list,” said Cllr Coonan. Will there be social housing constructed, he asked. Stories are less likely to “get out of hand if you are honest with people in Templemore,” who will extend a warm welcome.
Cllr Seamus Hanafin said that in the 50 years after the Famine in Ireland, the population dropped from 8m to 4m people. Syria’s population had halved in five years. “The level of displacement is unprecedented,” he said. “There is a very strong level of sympathy” for the Syrians, who have taken steps to integrate into Thurles. However, it has been challenging to fully integrate refugees into the workplace.
Ms Carr said she cannot stop rumours being created, but when they do get the facts, they will be “rolling that out.” “Once we know the composition of the families, we will assess their needs. They will be assigned the same way as everyone else.” In terms of housing, the Council is “way above target”. Some 28 houses have been allocated in Templemore since 2018.
“We have the ability to accommodate both (Syrians and locals). It will be managed,” said Ms Carr.
Ms Horgan said refugee men in particular can find it difficult to find employment as they may have been out of work for years due to the conflict. A subcommittee has been set up in conjunction with the ETB, with the emphasis on English language classes.
“We will try to be very open from the very start,” said Ms Horgan. “The way to fuel rumours is to not engage. We need to know the full story from the very beginning,” said Cllr Coonan. “There should be a housing plan for Templemore.”
There are “66 families on the housing waiting list” and “numerous families who could be housed in vacant houses” in Templemore. “I have people coming to me with sick children because their rooms are damp,” added Cllr Coonan.
Experiences in other places “have not been good” with reports of refugees being housed in “cramped conditions” in Roscrea.
Ms Carr said, “there are genuine concerns, but we have identified what towns have the capacity to address these, and we felt Templemore was the one. This is the information we have. We will keep you up to date.”