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O’Gorman, Minister for Equality,  discriminates against Irelands most vulnerable.

Before being illegally evicted from the grounds of the disused Columb Barracks in Mullingar, which is now being used as a site to accommodate "International Protection Applicants", on 21st of April this year, Skills Xchange were a large voluntary group who had been occupying and operating in sixteen rooms of the disused buildings, spread out over three blocks,  for the past ten years. 

There were over one hundred clients attending the Skills Xchange course alone, including people with mental health problems, intellectual, learning and physical disabilities, mental health problems, addiction issues and other socially excluding difficulties. Over the years, one of the main achievements of the Skills Xchange group was teaching over two hundred adults with literacy difficulties how to read and write.

As well as having over one hundred attendees on the date of its closure, it was also a place where over fifty volunteers came to offer their help. These volunteers provided an invaluable environment for some of the most vulnerable people in Mullingar who had already been badly let down by the failed systems of the Irish government. 

There was little to no consultation from Roderic O’Gormans Department upon the announcement of the plans to fill the grounds of the Barracks with “asylum seekers” except for when the Skills Xchange group were assured by O’Gorman himself along with local TDs such as Robert Troy (FF) and Peter Burke (FG) that the dictated plans would cause no interruption to their activities. 

The clients and volunteers of Skills Xchange, naively and innocently believed this to begin with, and even engaged with Ukranians who moved to Mullingar in late 2022. The group even generously provided them with a meeting hub and a Give and Take shop in one of their spaces at the Columb Barracks. 

Skills Xchange Community group locked out of Columb Barracks.

Despite their charity and community spirit, to their horror, the Skills Xchange group was one of the first groups to be evicted from Columb Barracks. They were never officially advised they were being evicted but when they arrived one day their units had been padlocked and all their confidential files, equipment and goods stolen from their reach. This property which belongs to Skills Xchange has been under lock and key for nearly eight months now and Helen Donnolly, Chairperson of the group has told Irish Nuntii that "this has destroyed the organisation and indeed ourselves. I as Chairperson of this group have suffered unbelievable stress, worry and ill health because of these actions".  

Helen Donnolly also told Irish Nuntii that she has time and time again notified the Department of Integration about the discrimination her group has experienced as a direct result of government policy, stating, “Our clients experience discrimination every day, it is when O'Gormans Department and their allies practice in this way and lock us out of our centre. As community leaders and volunteers we are horrified at the injustice against the locals”. 

Despite O’Gorman assuring the community groups that they would not be affected by his actions in the Columb Barracks, the group has been “evicted, locked out and slandered by those who are financially gaining by these actions”. Helen went on to say that their group was “given no notice and our clients were standing at the gate very distressed when they arrived one morning to discover they had been locked out. Now they are walking the streets of Mullingar with nothing to do. Mr O'Gorman who is supposed to be a minister fighting discrimination has shown us he is a liar and a discriminator against his own most vulnerable people”.


Helen also sadly expressed that “our Barracks was a place of peace; it is now a concentration camp, a place of exclusion and discrimination. I am close to seventy years of age, and have worked hard all my life to sustain and maintain this country.  A big portion of my life I have volunteered  for the good of society.  To be treated in this fashion is a disgrace to good thinking people and to our ancestors who reclaimed Columb Barracks from the Brits”.

The Skills Xchange group has almost completely ceased operations and the supports they were previously providing to the vulnerable people of the community have not been replaced. There has been no assistance from local "representatives" already mentioned and Sorca Clarke from the so called opposition party Sinn Féin, who claims to be an advocate for people with disabilities is nowhere to be seen.

An Garda Síochanna refuses to assist the group with reclaiming their possessions which, as already mentioned, include confidential files. The Gardaí claim “its a civil matter” and so the group facilitators have been left completely isolated. The Lakeland Security men maning the gates of the Barracks, many of whom are not Irish and also live on the grounds of the Barracks now, will not offer any assistance to the group either. This comes as no surprise to the community group leaders considering earlier on in the year, not long after the Ukrainians began occupying one of the buildings, the security not only  failed to investigate but completely ignored reports from the group that they had turned up to work one day to discover their premises had been flooded after water pipes had been clearly tampered with. 

John Donoghue, world champion and member of the Olympic Boxing Club, Columb Barracks, Mullingar.

One of the few groups that remain operating in a fenced off area of the Columb Barracks is the Olympic Boxing Club and just last week one of its members John Donoghue was crowned world champion after taking gold in the light welterweight category at the World Junior Championships in Yerevan. The achievement of this 15-year-old from Mullingar alone shows how vital it is for community clubs such as this to be supported and invested in but sadly it's hard to tell how long the boxing club will last on the grounds of the Barracks or if they will be offered a new premises when they're eventually forced to leave too.

When speaking to one of parents who has children attending the club, Irish Nuntii learned that apart from their success in training world class boxers, another huge importance of their work is in teaching young people how to defend themselves, and the club is worried about their future in this regard.

One parent told Irish Nuntii “for all I know we could be ran out of here in the morning and might have no place to go. We’re also worried about the people on the far side of the fence. Most of them are single men and we know nothing about them. We used to let the children walk in and out of here on their own. We wouldn't do that now”. This man who would prefer not to be named explained that as a member of the traveling community he had experienced discrimination all his life in Ireland but “nothing like the discrimination that's been done to all of the Irish people these days”.  He said he would have been very grateful to be offered one of the modular homes that was recently built on the grounds of the Barracks as he had been living in his van for the last nine months. 

Modular housing at Columb Barracks, Mullingar. No Irish need apply.


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