Carrick migrant row: ‘People fear being called racist – and no wonder’

DUP councillor Marc Collins faced a tsunami of criticism over his remarks last week, in which he voiced concern about the housing of foreign nationals at a Carrick hotel by the Home Office.

Monday, 26th July 2021, 11:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 27th July 2021, 7:46 pm
Marc Collins

At the time the Mid and East Antrim Borough councillor wrote on Facebook that “I am all for helping those that need it, but let’s get our priorities straight” – saying that, for example, the homeless cannot generally avail of free hotel rooms, nor can the poor avail of free food from the state.

He had also stressed that “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”.

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Now, responding to Methodist president Sahr Yambasu’s comments alleging a lack of Christian compassion over the whole issue, the DUP representative for Knockagh told the News Letter: “I think first of all I need to stress again, this is not a ‘should we have asylum seekers’ or ‘we do not want immigrant’ argument, and that is absolutely not my stance.

“I made this point on social media, but of course that wasn’t reported because it doesn’t fit the narrative of me being a ‘racist bigot’ as I have been labelled this week.”

He said Carrickfergus had never experienced a situation where a hotel has been pressed into service as “emergency accommodation” and therefore “it is only natural that people will be sceptical or have questions and concerns”.

Him raising these concerns had been “a complete non-story [which was] blown out of proportion by the media and certain politicians within the local area”.

As to how his constituents have responded, he said: “I have had an incredible number of phone calls, emails, messages and comments of support, as well as people stopping me in the street to thank me for standing up and speaking on behalf of my community.

“People are scared to speak up for fear of being branded a racist, and it’s easy to see why when you see the reaction because I dared speak up on behalf of my constituents.

He added that “better communication” from the authorities about what was going on could have helped defuse the situation at the outset.

Whilst he does “obviously disagree” with Rev Yambasu’s view of the situation, councillor Collins said “as an elected representative I work for my constituents, and it’s my duty to voice their concerns, raise their questions, and get answers on their behalf”

As to the mood among those constituents, he said: “I have had an incredible number of phone calls, e-mails, messages and comments of support, as well as people stopping me in the street to thank me for standing up and speaking on behalf of my community.

“People are scared to speak up for fear of being branded a racist, and it’s easy to see why when you see the reaction because I dared speak up.”

“My position is clear – I support my local community and I support the people who were gracious enough to elect me into this position.

“When my community and my constituents come to me with questions and concerns it is my duty to get them answers.”

COUNCILLOR COLLINS’ ORIGINAL FACEBOOK MESSAGE IN FULL:

This is the uncut text of the Facebook post last week, which drew intense criticism from NI politicians:

July 21, 3.53pm:

Folks, regarding the ongoing situation at the Loughshore Hotel in Carrickfergus, myself and David Hilditch MLA have been dealing with a lot of concerned residents and their queries over the last few days.

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. 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.

People are rightly worried and we have raised questions with the Health Minister, Communities Minister, Home Office, local Council and the Police.

- why was Carrickfergus chosen as the destination?

- who made this decision?

- are the people involved vaccinated against COVID-19?

- should they be in quarantine after travelling from a so called ‘red list country’?

- were thorough background checks completed?

- do any have a criminal history?

- what happens if a crime is committed while in the town?

At the end of the day we have plenty within our own communities who need help first and foremost. In our 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 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?

As I said previously, I am all for helping those that need it, but let’s get our priorities straight first! 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.

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Subscribe to newsletter.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.newsletter.co.uk/subscriptions now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.