Northern Ireland news

DUP councillor slammed for 'vile' comments about asylum seekers

Mid and East Antrim councillor Marc Collins

A DUP councillor's "vile" comments about asylum seekers in Carrickfergus have "no basis in reality", an Alliance MLA has said.

The DUP has been urged to censure Mid and East Antrim councillor Marc Collins after he complained about a small group of around 30 asylum seekers being housed at the Loughshore Hotel in the Co Antrim seaside town.

Former independent Belfast city councillor Jolene Bunting, who had links with far-right group Britain First, was also condemned online for filming asylum seekers outside the hotel and quizzing several about why they were there.

The asylum seekers are expected to stay at the hotel for several months. The hotel is not due to open for public bookings until September.

Mr Collins, who helped build an Eleventh Night bonfire in the Glenfield estate in Carrickfergus earlier this month, insisted that his concerns had nothing to do with race.

"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.

The Loughshore Hotel in Carrickfergus where around 30 asylum seekers have been housed. Picture by Mal McCann

He queried why the asylum seekers were being temporarily housed in Carrickfergus and if they had received Covid vaccinations.

"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," he said.

"Why can't our homeless veterans be put up in hotel accommodation 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?"

Mid and East Antrim Council will meet in private on Monday to discuss the situation.

It is understood an official from the Home Office will give councillors information about the decision to house asylum seekers at the hotel.

Alliance East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson called on the DUP to condemn Mr Collins's comments.

"The vile comments from the local DUP are especially disappointing, particularly coming in the week DUP MPs backed the shameful Nationality and Borders Bill in Parliament,” said Mr Dickson.

"The inaccurate and unhelpful statement from Councillor Collins has no basis in reality and instead just fosters an atmosphere of suspicion, an atmosphere which could lead to serious security issues, not just for the asylum seekers but their families remaining back in their countries of origin."

SDLP councillor Eugene Reid said Mr Collins's comments were "short-sighted and disgraceful".

"They will feed into the ugly commentary currently taking place about the arrival of asylum seekers into Mid and East Antrim and provoke tensions," he said.

"Perhaps I should not be surprised given previous comments from his party colleagues on these matters, but if he had any sense he would apologise and issue a retraction for his inflammatory remarks."

Mr Reid added: "The Home Office under the Tory government at Westminster has become hostile to those who have come here in need of sanctuary and shelter.

"It is important to establish exactly what the Home Office’s long-term plans are in this situation.

"Regardless, these individuals should be treated with kindness, empathy and compassion.

"That shouldn’t be too much to ask for people fleeing from conflict and human rights abuses and I will be advocating that position at the meeting."

The DUP and the Home Office have been contacted for comment.

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