LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Both Irish Catholic and Church of Ireland bishops have said it has been “disturbing and sad” to see protesters and Irish police clash over asylum seekers in a section of the country.

Around 200 protesters set up this week outside a former hotel in Roscrea, a market town in County Tipperary with a population of just over 5,400.

Around 160 International Protection applicants are to be housed in the facility for the next year, temporarily shuttering the town’s only hotel.

The protestors want to stop more refugees entering the building.

“Over the past number of days and weeks it has been disturbing and sad to see some of the strong protests against the arrival of people seeking emergency accommodation in Roscrea, which is in the diocese of Killaloe and also other venues and locations of the country,” said a joint statement from Bishop Fintan Monahan of the Catholic Diocese of Killaloe and Bishop Michael Burrows of the Church of Ireland’s Diocese of Killaloe, Limerick and Tuam.

“The situation in Roscrea and in other places have many local complexities, with some genuine concerns both regarding resources for the new residents and for the amenities and services in the areas in question.  However, we would appeal for calm, for a peaceful approach to the issues involved.  Many have expressed concerns at the long-term effect the protests and unrest might have on the young children and families now resident in the facility,” the bishops’ statement says.

“Our joint appeal is for us all to keep on mind the bigger picture and the emergency situation that presents itself.  Many of the people coming to our shores are coming from very distressful situations and are in dire need of refuge and shelter.  They deserve whatever level of help can possibly be offered and provided, even if it involves some sacrifice or inconvenience, going the extra mile, so to speak,” they continue.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said the protests were “anti-freedom.”

“Ireland is a republic, we’re a democracy, we’re a free country and in a free country and democracy people have the right to protest and hold views that other people may find objectionable. However, no one has the right to engage in violence against individuals, damage property or prevent people getting to their home or work,” Varadkar said.

“That’s anti-democratic, that’s anti-freedom and that’s against the spirit and values of our nation. I do understand how some people in Roscrea feel, bear in mind only a small minority were involved in the events [earlier this week] and some weren’t from Roscrea,” he added.

Protestors at the site held up signs saying “Ireland is Full” and “Asylum Money Racket.” They claimed the town has already a number of Ukrainian refugees and does not have the facilities to support any more.

However, the Irish bishops of the region said the people of Roscrea have a great tradition of hospitality, welcome and friendship.

They added they are confident that, despite the great efforts already done, “this might be expanded to meet the challenges ahead.”

“Many of our ancestors were at one time economic migrants, and our children today continue to travel to gain work and life experience. We Irish, more than most, know what it is like to be a stranger in a foreign land. We asked for people to be as open as possible to make sacrifices, despite some inconveniences that might arise in this extraordinary situation we find ourselves in during these troubled times,” the bishops said.

Speaking to the RTÉ’s, Minister for State at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts and Sport Thomas Byrne said the government plans to establish a “community-owned” hotel in Roscrea, saying there’s a great need for the facilities that a hotel offers to the community.

The government also promised extra provision for local areas in relation to health, education and policing.

The Catholic and Church of Ireland bishops called these announcements “positive and encouraging.”

“It is our strong hope also that these developments will be accompanied with an increased level of communication and consultation of local communities involved or affected should any new projects arise,” Monahan and Burrows said.

“One of the core messages of Christianity is love of neighbor, care for the stranger and reaching out to those in need,” they added.

The bishops noted that many Irish people at one time were economic migrants, and even today Ireland’s people continue to travel to gain work and life experience.