On Thursday evening, dozens of locals bustled in from the wind to a small theatre at the Seán O’Casey Community Centre in East Wall.

Four grey folding chairs were lined up behind a tiny rectangular table on stage. Soon, independent Councillor Nial Ring – who had called the meeting – walked up to the stage and took one of those seats.

He couldn’t stay more than an hour, he said, as that day was his wedding anniversary. “We’re gonna see Barbie at twenty to nine in the Odeon in Coolock.”

Next to Ring sat Nigel Murphy, who acts as spokesperson for the “East Wall Committee”, which was set up after the government moved a group of asylum seekers into an old office block in the neighbourhood.

Murphy moderated the meeting, pacing the room to pass the mic when someone put their hand up. Sometimes he raised his index finger and faintly smiled if someone got agitated and began shouting.

The ESB office block and its residents were the sole topic of conversation at the meeting.

But no one living in that building – which is only a stone’s throw from the community centre – got an invite to Ring’s meeting.

On Friday, Ring said by phone that he hadn’t thought about inviting the asylum seekers. “Maybe they should have been invited, might have been a good idea,” he said.

“It’s actually a very good idea,” he said. It was too late, though.

Two leaflets

Two different leaflets had landed at people’s doors in the days leading up to the event.

One, with Ring’s signature, listed three agenda items for the meeting.

One was anti-social behaviour. Another mentioned safety concerns, “in particular at the playground”. The third was “current and planned usage of buildings/offices in the area”.

The other accused asylum-seeking residents of the old ESB building of criminal behaviour.

“Suspected prostitution in the ESB building along with antisocial behaviour inside and outside,” it says. “Children in the playground told they will be raped,” the leaflet says.

A few hours before the meeting, Ring distanced himself from that flyer during a phone call, with disparaging words for those who were behind it.

And he also said: “I will be chairing it [the meeting]. If anybody tries to take it over, or if anything kicks off, I’ll just say, ‘Look, you know, this meeting is for residents of East Wall who are concerned, not for far-right bigots,’” he said.

He didn’t step in to interrupt or cut off anyone at the meeting.

Outside the Seán O’Casey Community Centre. Credit: Shamim Malekmian


On Saturday afternoon, a group of men and women sat on wooden benches on the grounds of the old ESB office, chatting, laughing and drinking coffee.

A woman wearing a colourful headband and a long skirt strolled inside carrying a Lidl shopping bag.

Cynthia Lebuli stepped outside, all smiles.

Last Wednesday, she had been returning from work when some locals blocked the entrance of the building on East Wall Road, she says. They had a big banner, she says.

She decided to wait out the protest inside a nearby McDonald’s. She wasn’t the only one there.

A family who live on her floor in the ESB building hung back in the corner of the restaurant, waiting, said Lebuli.

“And I’m assuming, okay, they’re here because of the protest as well,” she said, smiling.

Lebuli says she felt terrified of asking protestors to let her through so she can go home.

“I was not looking for that kind of attention because I don’t know what they’re going to do to me,” she said.

Gardaí were around, so the protestors probably wouldn’t do anything to her then and there, said Lebuli. “But they would know my face.”

Besides, she said, she finds protests deeply upsetting.

No other options

At Thursday’s meeting, Ring and some locals had said they were concerned about asylum seekers and their living conditions in the office block, and that’s why they want the building shuttered.

Ring said he was worried about the children in the building. There’s a thing called adverse childhood experience, he said.

That means, Ring said, when a child doesn’t get the safety and security of a loving home, they end up scarred for life.

“We’re not saying we don’t want them, close it down, we’re racist. We’re saying it’s not fit for purpose,” said Ring.

Says Lebuli: “We don’t have any other options.”

She says there are guys in her building who used to sleep rough and appreciate a roof over their heads.

“And other places that are really, really horrible, like Citywest,” she says.

It’s not ideal, but the government’s doing up the place, and brought in new management who are making an effort to improve the quality of the food, said Lebuli.

During a phone call on Friday, Ring said the government should build modular homes for asylum seekers as an alternative. He didn’t say that at the meeting.

Local GP capacity

Locals who said they’re concerned about the living conditions of asylum seekers also said that they saw them using the local GP, and they were worried that it’d strain GP capacities.

One woman said she recognises the faces of asylum seekers. “And they’re going in and out of Dr Murphy’s office. I’ve sat in the waiting room with them,” she said.

Lebuli says she’s been assigned a GP in Malahide by the HSE.

“We did try to find GPs, and then because we didn’t find anything, then the HSE just assigned us whatever GP that was available,” said Lebuli. “So it’s not like we’re all going to this one GP.”

At the meeting, no one, including Ring, was sure about the GP situation, and no one from the ESB building was there to explain it.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality said asylum seekers have the same referral pathways to healthcare and other services as Irish citizens.

Its International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) liaise with the HSE about how to best meet the healthcare needs of asylum seekers, they said.

“And the HSE Social Inclusion Outreach Team attend the centre regularly to provide healthcare assistance and arrange GP appointments for residents,” the spokesperson said.

Lebuli says that she finds it all dehumanising.

“The way they’re saying, ‘Oh, they’re taking our GPs away,’ it sounds like we are this horrible thing, like we’re not humans,” she said.

She doesn’t believe concerns about their living conditions expressed at the meeting are genuine, she said.

“If they were really concerned, they would come into the building and talk to us and ask how they could help us,” she said.

“They would try to make sure that people who live in the building do come to these meetings,” she said.


On Thursday, a Black woman – the only Black woman in the room – said from the back that the protests make her feel unsafe. That’s new for her, she said.

“Suddenly being a person of colour might make me an enemy in the community where I always felt welcomed,” she said.

She said she feels unsafe walking her dog now. “I just thought it was maybe worth saying as, like, another voice, while we’re talking.”

Murphy, the moderator, said he understands that. “I felt a bit embarrassed about that kind of stuff that were done, but that wasn’t directed towards you or anyone else.”

Mural in East Wall near Seán O’Casey Community Centre. Credit: Shamim Malekmian

Towards the end, as some men began shouting about “mass immigration” and “unvetted” and “undocumented” people, the Black woman got up and quickly stepped out of the room, looking shaken.

On Friday, Ring said he noticed that. “That girl made a very, very good point, and now she felt intimidated because of what she would have perceived as a change in attitude and mistrust.”

He didn’t mention that at the meeting.

Nobody talked about the reasons why asylum seekers may travel without passports, either.

Those in need of political asylum, for example, may be barred from leaving their country and have their passports seized by authoritarian regimes, so they turn to unofficial routes for travel.

Those who had helped them travel may sometimes leave when they reach their destination, taking the passports they had arranged for them.

People may also turn to irregular routes if they face visa barriers and difficulties getting visit visas.


Accusations that the newer residents make the area unsafe floated around during the meeting on Thursday.

On Saturday, Lebuli read the first flyer that went out before the event. As she read, she put one hand to her chest, gasping.

It features accusations of drunk driving, predatory and anti-social behaviour, and prostitution.

The accusation of prostitution in their building hurts her the most because it stigmatises women of colour, like herself, Lebuli said.

Besides working part-time, she’s also a software-development student, she said. Some nights she stays up late in her room to practise coding.

“And there are a lot of women in our building who study nursing,” she said.

A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said that it’s acutely aware of the sheer volume of misinformation, disinformation and fake news circulating about asylum seekers. 

“It is not just the responsibility of An Garda Síochána to challenge this misinformation circulating in society but also the responsibility of mainstream civic society and media,” they said. 

They don’t provide detailed crime stats for local areas like East Wall, the spokesperson said. Official crime stats are published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which can be examined at garda station level, the spokesperson said. 

But they said they haven’t recorded any significant increase in crimes or public order issues directly caused by asylum-seekers in this or any other area they are accommodated, they said. 

“An Garda Síochána continues to reiterate to the public that if they have concerns or have information on any specific crime or incident that they should contact their local community Gardaí or Store Street Garda station on (01) 6668000,” the spokesperson said. 

If there were someone violent or dangerous living in the ESB building, the people living there with them would be the most at-risk, Lebuli said. “We would feel unsafe too.”

If there were someone like that though, their crimes would be due to individual factors – not their ethnicity, skin colour or place of birth, she said.

On Saturday, a few men huddled on the grounds of the old ESB building, talking and smoking.

Lebuli says the rooms don’t have windows they can open, and it can get stuffy, so people step outside for a smoke or to sit and chat a little.

Alcohol isn’t allowed in the building, she said, and there are security guards on the ground making sure the rule is enforced.

“Just to have some fresh air and talk to friends. When you stand in the backyard of a place which is supposed to be our home and talk to anybody, why would you be bothered by that?” she asked.

As a woman, she said she doesn’t feel unsafe living in the building, she said.


Janet Horner, a local Green Party Councillor, said she had a concern that when some people say asylum seekers make them feel unsafe, they mean the mere presence of men of colour on the streets makes them feel unsafe.

“When asked for actual examples of it, sometimes it’s coming down to men standing on the street,” she said during a phone call on Friday.

Everyone’s allowed to stand around, Horner said. “Whatever colour of skin they have.”

Gary Gannon, the local Social Democrats TD, said twice that he doesn’t want to take a shot at Ring, the independent councillor, but that asylum seekers should have been invited to a meeting that discussed their future.

“I’m a firm believer in nothing about us without us,” said Gannon during a phone call on Friday.

Both Horner and Gannon said they got invites for the meeting but decided not to attend because it was unclear what purpose it served.

Ring didn’t say if he plans to hold more meetings like Thursday’s. He’s drawing up the minutes of Thursday’s meeting for now, and he was mostly there to listen, he said.

“Sometimes you have to listen rather than be doing all the talking,” he said.

At the meeting, he said he will write to Green Party Minister of Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman and other TDs about the things he had learned on the night.

As the meeting ended, he said he better rush not to miss his wedding-anniversary trip to the cinema to see Barbie. Otherwise “I might end up moving there myself if she throws me out,” he joked.

On Saturday, Lebuli said it felt unfair to be discussed and accused without getting a chance to be heard, she said.

“It’s hard for us to prove ourselves because they’re making sure that we’re not in the meetings,” she said.

UPDATE: This article was updated at 5.30pm on 9 August 2023 to include responses sent by An Garda Síochána after deadline.

Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at shamim@dublininquirer.com

Join the Conversation


  1. Great article. Should be handed to everyone who organises or turns up at future meetings like this, for them to read…

  2. I appreciate Councillor Nial Ring’s bravery in organizing a potentially controversial meeting and your journalist’s reporting. However, I found fault with the other local representatives who were aware of the meeting but chose to avoid attending or listening to residents’ concerns.

  3. I am almost 78 years old and I believe that the rise of the far right in Ireland is the most frightening thing to happen in the history of our country. I was born soon after the Holocaust.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *