Choir Straits

37 Romanian singers seek asylum here

THE STAR, Saturday, October 30, 1999

Every year in Rosses Point at the end of October the pubs and bars come alive with the sound of music. It’s the annual Sligo Choral Festival and choirs from around the world stay in the village. But in the winter of 1999 one choir didn’t quite make it to Sligo. It did, however, make it onto the front pages of the national newspapers.

A Romanian "choir" who duped a top festival into inviting them to Ireland were last night applying for asylum so they could stay here.
The 37 singers had been due to perform at the Hawks Well theatre last Wednesday, as part of the Sligo International Choral Festival.
But the Doral Choir never turned up and organiser Father JJ Gannon felt let down.
Then yesterday it emerged that 27 of the singers had applied for refugee status – and the rest will follow suit.
The mystery of the missing Romanian choir ended last night with the news that the band on the run was really a group of asylum-seeking refugees.

A 37-strong choral group from Romania was due to open the Sligo International Choral Festival on Wednesday. But when they failed to turn up at the event, red faced organisers wondered where the choir had disappeared to. Now it’s believed that the Doral Choir was a fictitious group set up as part of an elaborate plan for disgruntled Romanians to seek refugee status here.
And contrary to earlier suggestions, they are not after all, the Lord Lucans of the music world.

Six days after arriving in Ireland, 25 members of the group have now applied for refugee status, with the other 12 expected to apply on Monday. The mystery began on Sunday when 37 Romanians entered Dublin Airport alleging membership of the bogus musical society. They then disappeared much to the concern of the festival organisers. Sligo International Choral Festival chief Fr JJ Gannon said he was annoyed they had let down the festival. We are disappointed that they haven’t shown, said Fr Gannon yesterday afternoon. There has never been a problem with an international choir not showing for the event before. If there’s anything to take from all this, the event is getting wide-spread publicity, something we had trouble getting in the past.

When the news emerged late last night that the Doral Choir had taken the Festival Committee for an embarrassing ride, the hapless priest couldn’t be contacted by The Star.

The 37 Romanians arrived in Dublin from Bucharest at 10.45pm on Sunday night. They told customs officers that they were members of the Doral Choir and explained that they were heading to Sligo for the annual festival. After customs contacted Fr Gannon to confirm that he was expecting a group from Romania, the band of merry men and women were allowed through arrivals. Someone from the group then got in touch with Fr Gannon to say they’d be in Sligo on Tuesday morning. The man who rang the priest said he was the choir’s conductor Mihai Marin, and he said they had arrived on the only flight they could get from Bucharest. He then said that because they were early for the Festival, they would sample the delights of Dublin for two days, before making their way West. The two men agreed that the choir would catch a train to Sligo on Tuesday morning. But when a welcoming committee met the train minus the Doral Choral Group, alarm bells started ringing amongst the organisers.

It now appears that the conversation on Sunday night was merely to put the committee’s minds at rest, so the group could split up and spend time getting applications for asylum status ready for immigration officials.

The apparent non-existent Doral Choir were due to play numerous venues around Sligo, including the opening night at the Hawks Well Theatre on Wednesday.