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DUP councillor Marc Collins faces backlash for Carrickfergus asylum seeker comments


DUP councillor Marc Collins

DUP councillor Marc Collins

DUP councillor Marc Collins

A DUP councillor has faced a backlash over comments about asylum seekers staying at a Carrickfergus hotel.

Marc Collins, who sits on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, said he was “concerned” about the housing of asylum seekers by the Home Office at the Loughshore Hotel.

He said he had contacted the health and communities ministers, the Home Office, the local council and the police about the issue.

Mr Collins said there was “plenty within our own communities who need help first and foremost”.

"I can already see the claims of racism that are going to come my way but that's not what this is about at all,” he said.

"I am all for helping those who need help when they truly need it but there are questions that need to be asked around this situation.”

Hundreds have reacted to his Facebook post both in support of the comments and opposed.

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It is thought 30 asylum seekers are housed at the hotel, owned by the Loughview Leisure Group, for the next three to four months. The hotel is not expected to be open to the public until September 1.

Mr Collins said he was raising the issue along with MLA David Hilditch after receiving queries from “a lot of concerned residents” in recent days.

When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Hilditch declined to comment. 

Mr Collins said: “In our own daily work we come across so many local families and individuals who are in crisis, homeless, relying on food banks, etc. and yet none of this help is ever afforded to them.

“Why can’t our homeless veterans be put up in hotel accomodation [sic] until a home is found for them? Why can’t working class families who are struggling to stay above the breadline be provided with their food and drink free? Why is it we can do this for visitors to our country but we cannot do it to support our own people?

He raised questions around whether those who are being housed should be in quarantine after travelling from a “red list country”, were background checks carried out on them and whether they have any criminal history.

“What happens if a crime is committed while in the town?” he asked.

He said: “I am all for helping those who need help when they truly need it but there are questions that need to be asked around this situation. Let’s get our priorities straight.

"Having legitimate concerns is not the same as being racist so don't judge anyone if they are worried or concerned about what's going on.”

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph a Home Office spokesman referred to a bill making its way through parliament which will make knowingly arriving in the UK without permission a criminal offence.

“The asylum system is being exploited by criminal gangs who facilitate dangerous, unnecessary and illegal small boat crossings,” he said.

“Our Nationality and Borders bill will fix this broken system to deter these dangerous and illegal crossings.

“In the meantime, due to the unprecedented demand, we have had to use temporary accommodation such as hotels to manage demands on the asylum estate,” they said.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson hit out describing the Councillor Collins’ comments as “inaccurate and unhelpful”.

He also said the Home Office needed to get its facts right on immigration and the bill in parliament was “disgraceful”.

“Two years ago the number of people seeking asylum in the United Kingdom was 35, 230 and last year it was 26,903. It’s a drop at 24% of people seeking asylum,” he said.

“The Home Office need to get their facts and figures right. The reality is that comments like those from Mr Collins and others are extremely unhelpful in these circumstances. It’s dog whistle politics, it’s disgraceful.”

Mr Dickson said he had spoken on Thursday with people in Carrickfergus who want to do good things for the asylum seekers as well as with the Home Office provider, who said the group would likely be in the Co Antrim town for “probably about a month”.

“The reality is these are incredibly vulnerable people who have desperate stories to tell of the journeys they took to get here. Some of them may have been trafficked and some came here on their own, it’s unlikely any of them are economic migrants.

“The figure I was told that over 95% of asylum seekers who make it here and bear in mind they’re very different from those crossing the English Channel, are now being granted asylum, which means they’re escaping the most horrific conditions.”

On Twitter Belfast Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl added: “If you are a newcomer to Northern Ireland and have seen some of the racism being shared please know these people by no means represent the majority viewpoint: you are welcome, you are valued and you matter.”

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll tweeted: “Migrants, refugees, asylum seekers are all welcome in Belfast, Carrickfergus and anywhere across the North.”

Marc Collins, the Loughview Leisure Group and the DUP have all been asked for a response.

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