Dáil debates

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Accommodation Needs for New Arrivals: Statements


4:50 pm

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I will be sharing time with the Ministers, Deputies Darragh O'Brien and Harris.

I will begin by setting out the context in which we are having this debate. Since February 2022, more than 85,000 people have fled to Ireland following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The war was inflicted on a country that did not seek it and has killed thousands of people. It has triggered the largest displacement of people on our continent since the end of the Second World War. At the same time, there is conflict and persecution across the globe. People are forced to flee their homes because of their political beliefs, their religious beliefs and because of who they are. People are fleeing for their lives and they are coming here seeking safety and shelter. Since 1951, the global community has operated under a core tenet of international law learned through the awful experience of the Holocaust: we do not turn away those who seek refuge from persecution and war. That is a fundamental principle which we as a wealthy, safe and liberal democracy and democratic member of the international community must always uphold.

Since the beginning of 2022, which marked both the ending of Covid-19 restrictions and the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we have seen, relative to previous years, a significant increase in the number of people fleeing to Ireland and seeking international protection. There were 15,000 new applicants in 2022 alone. In total, across Ukrainian displaced persons and international protection applicants, we are now providing accommodation to more than 85,000 people. That is equivalent to the population of Galway city. We are doing this at a time of significant accommodation challenges nationwide. As part of our response to the needs of international protection applicants, more than 145 new emergency accommodation centres have been opened since 1 January 2022, of which 49 were brought into use in the first five months of 2023. Since 1 January, my Department has brought on accommodation in a range of repurposed buildings and facilities to address the shortfall in capacity and has worked to address the loss of more than 2,500 hospitality sector beds in the first four months of the year. Almost 6,000 bed spaces have been procured for international protection applicants since the start of the year. All this has been extremely challenging and none of it could have been achieved without the support of local communities.

Throughout Ireland, and away from the news headlines, there is a quiet welcome in towns and villages across the country; a recognition of the basic humanity of those fleeing to Ireland and a belief that they should be welcomed as friends. Through the efforts of volunteers, community workers, public bodies and private sector contributors, many arrivals are being supported with basic needs such as clothing, access to the internet, transport, English classes and information on how to access local services such as childcare, healthcare and education. The Government has stepped up and all Departments, where possible, are providing accommodation in this effort. The Office of Public Works, OPW, is developing rapid-build units. The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is working with universities to provide student accommodation. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and local authorities are supporting us to refurbish units, provide rest centres and stand up community response forums. The Department of Education has ensured that children fleeing Ukraine and those seeking international protection have access to education and the Department of Defence has provided former barracks for accommodation.

Equally, despite the accommodation challenges, the Government has continued to make efforts to improve life for those in the international protection system. We have rolled out a national integration fund worth €1.6 million supporting integration projects in communities. We will be funding integration teams in each local authority to better help international protection applicants engage with existing local services. My Department is providing €1.3 million in support for children and young people’s service committees, CYPSCs, to develop support services for children and young people in direct provision. We have expanded the right to work, provided access to bank accounts for the first time, introduced vulnerability assessments of new applicants and aim to deliver dedicated accommodation for victims of trafficking later this year.

The issue of engagement has been raised by a number of Deputies in this House and in the media in recent days. In the past year, I have held dozens of meetings with Deputies, Senators, councillors and community groups about accommodation centres for both international protection applicants and displaced Ukrainians. I have heard concerns raised and sought to work with local authorities and public representatives to address concerns where possible. We have to be honest about the challenges in engaging on issues like this. When information has gone public prematurely or indeed misinformation about the use of a building has circulated, accommodation providers have faced threats and in some cases arson. The nature of this crisis means that we do not always get to do the level of engagement we would like. The need to get vulnerable people off the streets and into accommodation dictates that moves have to happen faster than a full information campaign can. This is not ideal, but this is a crisis and things are rarely ideal in a crisis. My Department and the Department of the Taoiseach are working to expand capacity to enable us to improve the level of community engagement. The reality is, however, that while the work is ongoing, we will continue to need to accommodate people at short notice. Whatever concerns may exist locally, I do not believe that a blockade of accommodation is appropriate. All it will achieve is to keep vulnerable people on the streets longer. Equally, I think we can all agree that masked men filming and intimidating those going into and out of accommodation centres, whether residents or people working in the centres, are not concerned locals.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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They are far-right activists peddling lies about vulnerable people in order to further their own agenda. This has been an increasing theme in the past six months. We have seen the emergence of an insidious thread of racism, xenophobia and unfounded rumours. Misinformation and outright lies have been spread on social media and in communities. There is vilification of men, in particular, who come here seeking international protection, some of whom have been tortured and exploited, who come here seeking refuge and are denigrated as something other, something to be feared.

International protection means fairly and humanely examining a claim for asylum, sheltering and supporting people while that claim is assessed, and giving people the right to stay here in safety where it is adjudicated that this right is needed. We should not be ashamed of doing that, nor should we shy away from it. This also means that some people will not be successful in their applications and will have to return to their home countries. We should not vilify those people either.

Our deep history of immigration means we have an instinctive understanding of the plight of those seeking to make a better life elsewhere. I have said in this Chamber before and I will say again there is not one Irish person who has not had a family member - a male family member - who has gone abroad seeking a better life as an economic migrant. We view them as our families and proud relatives living elsewhere and we should recognise that other countries do that as well. It cannot be an accepted norm that the provision of basic shelter to any human being relies on the consent of another, whether from Ireland or abroad. I have always believed that respect for human rights and an understanding of the plight of people in need - particularly those forced to flee abroad - is the mark of Irishness. We should be proud of that and we should sustain it when it is under attack.

I want to recognise the strong support from across all parties for the ongoing efforts to accommodate all those who are fleeing here. I have had many constructive engagements with Deputies from all sides of the House, and I am committed to continuing those engagements. My Department will work to expand its communications and engagement efforts, as well as working with the Department of the Taoiseach on the cross-Government communications plan.

It is important to recognise once again, after a week in which we have heard these negative stories, the thousands of Irish people in communities across our country who are warmly embracing people who have fled here, be it from Ukraine or through the international protection process, and they are the true mark of Irishness. When those negative headlines come in our national newspapers and in our national media, it is important that we do not forget the amazing work that is taking place in every community across our country.

5:00 pm

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank my colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, for leading out on this important debate and these important statements in the House. I agree with every word he has uttered and I am grateful for the opportunity to outline the role of my Department and the local government sector, which plays an important role and which I work with on a daily basis in the provision of accommodation and associated supports for our friends from Ukraine, the beneficiaries of temporary protection, and applicants for international protection.

We all acknowledge that there are legal distinctions between beneficiaries of temporary protection and applicants for international protection at European level, but we are here to discuss the accommodation needs for new arrivals to the country, regardless of what category they come through. At every given opportunity, I reiterate my position that we need to help new arrivals to our country. They are people who have come here seeking a better life for themselves and their families and many of them are fleeing conflict and persecution. As the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, stated, we know well as a people, from our history - including recent history - how people have had to flee our shores. They were not always initially given the welcome they should have got but they played an important role in their new countries. New arrivals to this country, particularly over the past 20 years, have made this country and society a better and more inclusive place for us to live in.

As Deputies will be aware, the temporary protection directive was put in place many years ago, following the outbreak of the conflict in the Balkans, and was intended as a mechanism for dealing with the large-scale movement of people displaced by such conflicts. The brutal invasion of Ukraine last year led to the activation of that directive and over the past 14 months it has provided an important framework to the EU and individual governments. For example, the activation of the directive enabled me, as Minister with overall responsibility for planning matters, to introduce new regulations that facilitate the putting in place of reception and accommodation facilities on an emergency basis, temporarily setting aside certain of the usual requirements of the planning system.

These regulations are the foundation of a number of aspects of the humanitarian response, including my Department’s refurbishment programme and the work the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is progressing through the accommodation working group. That group is chaired by Conn Murray, a former chief executive of Limerick City and County Council, and draws together key decision-makers involved in the sourcing and provision of accommodation for those seeking protection in Ireland. I commend that group on its work and I commend the expertise that Conn Murray has brought into that role to look across Government and get all the agencies working together.

The objective of the refurbishment programme is to bring multi-occupancy buildings that are vacant back into use as accommodation. What we are talking about are vacant buildings, both public and private, such as hotels, former religious buildings and unused offices to give but a few examples. As I stand here we have about 59 different projects in various stages of progression, from surveys to reviews, procurement and works under way that will provide just short of 3,000 additional bed spaces. Everyone here will agree that refurbishing and repurposing older buildings to today’s standards is not always straightforward. Work is under way at 16 sites, including surveying, procurement and building works.

Again, everyone here will appreciate that this number is changeable. Owners of private buildings can change their minds, withdrawing buildings for whatever reason. Other buildings are not suitable and this can oftentimes only be found out once the building is under active consideration. One such building regularly cited is the Royal City of Dublin Hospital on Baggot Street. In October 2022, Dublin City Council estimated that it would cost at least €17 million to bring this building up to the appropriate standard. Sometimes when we look at buildings like this we think they would be appropriate for use nearly immediately. However, that is not always the case. We have to be honest with people about that. When the Royal City of Dublin Hospital was investigated further, it became apparent that there were already plans in place for a part of the site. Having said that, there are many buildings across the State that, even if they cannot be brought into use in the short term, we should look at repurposing for the longer term because all of us realise that the reality we live in now, which is mass migration, is one that the developed world, Europe and Ireland will have to live with for many years to come, even post the conflict in Ukraine. We look at climate change and all the conflicts across the world, and people see countries like ours as a safe and secure place where they can rear their families so we have to be more flexible into the future about providing additional accommodation for the long term.

A technical working group is supporting the refurbishment programme and includes membership from my Department, the Departments of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and the Taoiseach, the OPW the Local Government Management Agency and the City and County Management Association, CCMA. The group has been assisting with the emergency situation but is also focused, as I have just mentioned, on longer-term accommodation needs. As part of this, my Department is reviewing the guidelines that were put in place a year ago to guide anyone that sought to put emergency accommodation in place at the beginning of the year. The review of these guidelines is aimed at ensuring that individuals and families will have greater privacy and comfort and that repurposed buildings, particularly those in local authority ownership, can be used as accommodation for a longer period or potentially converted to social housing or other forms of accommodation into the future. In general, we want to support people to live more independently than is possible in rest centres and other forms of emergency accommodation.

If we were to ask anyone who arrives in this country their preference, I believe it would be for more independent living and that is happening through the Offer a Home scheme. The launch of the unoccupied homes call, Offer a Home, took place on 24 November 2022. The media campaign comprised of national and local radio, print media and social media. The oversight group is chaired by my Department and it is overseeing that scheme. The group informs me that there have been 980 properties allocated so far, providing accommodation for just over 3,000 beneficiaries of temporary protection to date. That scheme has been successful but it has not been without its difficulties in its infancy, as the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has said. However, it is in good shape and we continue to ask people that, where there are properties they believe they can offer, to bring those forward. I would like to thank everyone who has made a home available under the scheme. I highly commend the chief executive of Waterford City and County Council, Michael Walsh, for the work that was done to make this scheme a success. New offers are still being received and welcomed by local authorities, which work closely with homeowners to ensure they are suitable and appropriately matched in terms of size, location and proximity to services.

My Department is also supporting the OPW’s rapid-build programme by helping with the identification of sites to cater for an initial 750 homes. I am regularly asked about the use of rapid-build homes in terms of social and affordable housing as well.

I am glad to use this opportunity to inform the House that we have identified 30 sites, with a target of 1,500 additional homes for social housing to be delivered through modern methods of construction. There are those who ask - I think this is quite dangerous - why we would do this for one cohort of people and not for another. Our job is to provide accommodation for all those who seek it. My Department and the local government sector are represented on the Irish refugee protection programme task force to co-ordinate and implement both the logistical and operational aspects associated with the Irish refugee protection programme. Together with the Housing Agency, my Department is represented among the membership of the programme board, which was established to oversee transition to the new International Protection Support Service. As well as that, the CCMA, which is the representative body of chief executives in local authorities, has established a new international protection support service working group to progress the various strands needed to ensure that the necessary supports and resources are in place.

A key measure being established through this is the local integration model for international protection applicants and refugees. The model will focus on supporting the principle of integration from day one, with the overarching aim of empowering applicants to live independently within our community. My Department is also supporting the work of the community response forums. In recognition of the huge task faced in putting structures in place at local level in order to respond to the needs of the Ukrainian beneficiaries of temporary protection, community response forums were set up in March 2023 in every local authority area. These forums built on the experience, structures and local relationships developed during the Community Call response to Covid-19. Unsurprisingly, local authorities have required extra support and resources to maintain their day-to-day work in delivering services on the ground, while simultaneously scaling up to meet the current challenges. We are funding the provision of additional resources in all local authority areas to support this nationwide effort.

As the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth indicated, we have taken in more than 84,000 people in just over 12 months. That is 84,000 people who have fled their homes as a result of a brutal war or persecution. That was never going to be easy, and never going to be without its difficulties. However, by any fair estimation, when one looks back 14 months and sees that we have been able to accommodate nearly 100,000 people through various different strands, that has been a good, but not perfect, response. That is why it is important, as the Minister said, that we continue to work together as an Oireachtas in this regard. We must ensure that the noises and the message from a very dangerous fringe on the right wing are not allowed to take hold. It is not one or the other. It is not people who are resident in Ireland or those new arrivals into Ireland; it should be all. That is what we will endeavour to do and continue to do as a Government to look after all that need our assistance, whether they are people who were born in Ireland, not born in Ireland, resident in Ireland or those fleeing persecution or war elsewhere. Only when all parties redouble their efforts, and we will continue do to that, will we ensure that we provide the additional accommodation that is required. This is the new normal. Most Irish people understand that. The vast majority of Irish people and those resident here are welcoming. I thank the communities right across the country, both urban and rural, for their support and the work that they have done on the ground in providing the welcome and support that these people need and require from us.

5:10 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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We are all acutely aware that we are experiencing an unprecedented situation in relation to the accommodation requirements of those seeking protection in Ireland. This has posed significant challenges for our State. We are all aware of that. We have seen some people in local communities ask questions, seek information and express concerns. Of course, it is absolutely essential that the Government, the Oireachtas and all of us continue to engage constructively with those people and offer support to communities through initiatives like the community engagement fund. Indeed, €50 million was given out in recent days to support communities welcoming new arrivals to their area.

We also need to be very honest. We must not in any way conflate what I have just said with another reality, which is that we live in a country where there are a small number of bad actors on the far right who are travelling from community to community, whipping up and preying on people's fears. They are not there to represent the needs of community; they are there with criminal intent on many occasions. They are there to divide, and they are certainly not looking out for the interests of local people in local communities. They want to exploit these concerns for their own ends. They use divisive rhetoric and misleading information, and they target those people who have come to Ireland to seek protection. We have seen some of these people engaging in what is simply abhorrent behaviour, seeking to hijack our flag, a flag that is a flag of welcome, peace and inclusion. They do not own our flag, and they cannot be allowed to use it to spread division across our communities.

I know that all Members of this House join me in condemning these attacks from the far right that we have seen in certain parts of our country. They have no place in society. I assure the House that I have met with the Garda Commissioner to discuss this matter on a regular basis. Indeed, I have been in contact with him on a number of occasions during the past week or so. The policing approach is predicated on keeping people safe, on preventing any antisocial or criminal behaviour, traffic management and other issues that one would expect to see where protest occurs. An Garda Síochána is very mindful of its response to the threat posed by the far right. I assure the House of that. We should not overstate the threat, but we cannot, and we should not, tolerate it in any way, shape or form. We all very aware of the playbook of those on far right. They prey on local concerns, exploit those concerns, gather up the crowds, intimidate those who stand against them and then move on to the next community and repeat what they have done. They spread mistruths about people and they usually attempt to divide communities. Those who drape the tricolour around themselves while blocking the entry and exit of people from their temporary homes and their place of shelter, do not speak for our country. They do not speak for the people's House - the Dáil. We all agree that people have a right to protest peacefully. It is an important democratic right, but nobody has the right to endanger, intimidate or break the law.

The unprecedented displacement of people right across Europe following Russia's brutal war on Ukraine has tested us all. We will continue to work in solidarity with our European neighbours and colleagues in the EU to implement the temporary protection directive. Like other European countries, we have not always found it easy, but we have done what is the morally right thing to do. We have welcomed people to this country. I must say that while we hear of the occasions where things do not go well, I think we can be extraordinarily proud that so many people in this country have opened their hearts and their homes to so many people from Ukraine and in helping with the national effort in relation to international protection as well. In fact, we have accommodated, together as a country, probably at least a population equivalent to that of Galway city. Despite the tremendous efforts of those involved, some people arriving are spending a period without State-provided accommodation. We are all working tirelessly to improve that situation. We all welcome the progress that has been seen in recent days. Given the gravity of the situation, I echo the point that there is truly a whole-of-government approach under way in meeting this challenge. As I have mentioned before, my own Department of Justice has proposed the Thornton Hall property as a potential accommodation site. Through the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, over 1,150 student accommodation beds have been provided to the State's response over the summer period. These are just two examples of two other Departments trying to bring forward solutions to help with what is truly a major national effort.

In considering the current position, it is really important to acknowledge the important role that immigration has played in shaping our society and our culture. Irish migrants have contributed to, and helped shape, the countries to which they travel. Their influence all over the world is a source of great pride to us. In our in our DNA, we know what it is like to have to leave your homeland and go and seek refuge somewhere else. We have come full circle, in many ways. We now benefit as a country - and we hugely benefit - from people coming to Ireland and making Ireland their home. They are contributing to our economic growth, to our economy, society and communities, and they are contributing to our ability to provide public services in areas such as health, construction and education.

I want to make a point, and I make it for no reason other than to push back on the nonsense being spread by the far right. We have a rules-based immigration system in this country. They go around the country - and I have seen it - and put bizarre newspapers in doors, telling lies and mistruths. We have a rules-based system and we operate the rules. Ireland makes sure that people are eligible to seek international protection here. That is our legal obligation. We are also working to make sure that if you do have that right, you should get clarity on it much quicker than you have in the past. Equally, if you do not have a right to be here, you should also be told that quicker and have that clarity as well, so that you can fulfil your legal obligation to remove yourself from the country. That is how the system works. The far right suggests that this is not the case. Since late last year, we have had an accelerated procedure for international protection applicants from safe countries of origin.

This was in response to what we saw was a very significant increase in applications from designated safe countries in recent years. The introduction of this new procedure allows for a person to have his or her case dealt with quickly and efficiently. It means that people who come from a safe country of origin receives their interview date on the day they apply for international protection. They probably receive the interview within two weeks and the decision in less than three months. That is down from approximately 17 months just 12 months ago. This new process has allowed people to now get a "Yay" or Nay" with regard to international protection much quicker and provides clarity to them and their families in a much more advantageous position than previously.

Almost 5,000 first-instance decisions were made by the international protection office, IPO, in 2022, which is a higher number than any annual number of applications over the past five years. From memory, it is a higher number than was ever envisaged in the original report by Dr. Catherine Day before we saw a war in Ukraine. People have been working tirelessly in the IPO for which I thank them. This year, to end April, almost 2,500 first-instance decisions were made by the IPO, increasing even further the rate at which decisions being made. The mistruths being told need to be called out.

We are continuing to increase staff in the IPO offices. We have €18 million to recruit more staff to continue to improve the efficiency of the processes. As of end April, for example, there were 289 staff in the IPO. That is an increase of 93 since December and this will be increased further with a target of having 430 staff in place by early 2024. To absorb current and future growth, new office locations have now also been opened. I am confident that all the above measures, when completed, will ensure significantly improved decision-making times for all applications for international protection.

Where it is found that a person is not eligible for protection, which he or she has a right to seek, that person is advised of the requirement to remove himself or herself from the State. All the evidence available to me suggests that the majority of people do, in fact, leave the country once they get such a request. Those who do not do so will be subject to deportation.

We hear much information around people arriving without the appropriate documentation. I want to be clear that my Department has been engaging with airline carriers to help them reduce the number of passengers boarding flights without the correct documentation. Approximately 175 fines have been issued to airlines so far this year in that regard. Garda liaison officers have travelled to airports where issues have arisen in respect of document checking. These efforts are having an impact with the numbers of those arriving in Ireland without the necessary documentation reducing in recent months. There can always be some circumstances in which somebody fleeing a country does not have the right documentation. Afghanistan does not give out passports, for example. In general, however, we need to make sure people have the appropriate documentation and those checks are now in place.

The far right will say that people are not fingerprinted and that there are no deportations. The far right will say there are not proper processing times and people can just come in without documents and there are no fines when that happens. None of that is true. We do not say this to talk tough on migration. We say this to push back against what the alternative, which is a vacuum filled by deeply divisive and at times dangerous bad actors who seek to divide this country. As outlined, active efforts are under way to stoke fear and mistrust. It is a minority view in a country that overwhelmingly wants to be fair and rules-based but compassionate. That is the approach with which we will continue.

5:20 pm

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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I will begin my comments with the unequivocal statement that violence and intimidation towards asylum seekers is absolutely and totally unacceptable. It cannot and should not be tolerated in any shape or form. The open intimidation we witnessed over the last while against asylum seekers is completely wrong and must be condemned. The attacks by far right ideologically driven people on vulnerable people in Sandwith Street in Dublin is shameful and completely unacceptable. Attacking and destroying the tents and personal belongings of people who are forced to live in tents on the roadside as a consequence of Government's failures represents a new low. It must be dealt with using the full resources of the criminal justice system.

I find it deeply concerning, however, that the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, has claimed that members of the Garda are concerned that they are not being given or receiving adequate training or direction to deal with the spate of far right-led protests and attacks on asylum seekers. Every community in this State is entitled to have confidence in the rule of law. This cannot be said to be the case if the keepers of the law cannot have confidence in themselves to do their jobs, however. Members of the Garda must be given the training and all resources they require to police this current crisis with confidence. The importance of a balanced and strategic law and order response by the gardaí must be counterbalanced by the reality that a security of response in and of its own will not adequately address the current situation. This is primarily a political problem caused by political failure that requires a political solution. Notwithstanding the fact that the difficulty of finding a political solution is compounded by the ongoing failures of the Government, there are gross underlying issues of community neglect which must be addressed.

The Taoiseach stated that the crisis around securing accommodation for people seeking international protection was a matter that would require the whole of government to resolve. It can certainly be said it is the case that the whole of Government has had a hand in creating the current mess. The Government has failed vulnerable people. It has failed local communities and it has failed the gardaí. The only people who would appear to be satisfied with the performance of the Government to date with regard to the handling of the refugee crisis would appear to be the far right-wing groups intent on creating chaos. While these are nothing more than a small group of individuals intent on exploiting every opportunity through violence and intimidation to attempt to polarise society and create political upheaval, they should not be underestimated. Last year, there were 307 anti-refugee protests across the State with similar numbers taking place so far this year. Their malignant presence needs to be addressed in a thoughtful, considered and strategic manner.

The Government has given international commitments to assist in what is a global problem caused by refugees being displaced by war, socioeconomic instability and climate change. Ireland must honour its international commitments to assist in addressing this crisis. To do so, we must have a workable asylum system. The current system is unworkable. It is unfair to asylum seekers. It takes far too long to process many applications for asylum from individuals. Many asylum seekers are left waiting in limbo for years for decisions on their particular cases. That places huge stress on accommodation in the middle of an accommodation crisis, which has meant that the International Protection Accommodation Services, IPAS, has been forced to find accommodation where it can in hotels, old office blocks and sports halls, and the system continues to overflow.

It is also a fact that it is less-well-off communities that have had to accommodate the vast majority of refugees. From the outset, the Government has failed to deliver on its commitments and responsibilities. At best, it has at times been reacting to events rather than delivering solutions upfront. At its worst, it has completely ignored its commitments and responsibilities. It is very evident that the Government has no plan and that it has absolutely learned zero from its many failures.

I wish to state categorically that it is my belief that nobody has the right to discriminate as to who can and cannot reside within a community, although, arguably, the Government has worsened an already difficult situation through a failure to communicate with the communities in which refugees are being placed. A discourse needs to take place with communities, not to give the right to veto but to inform, explain and collaborate with those communities. The Government must commit resources to communities to assist with large numbers of new people arriving in communities, many of which are already hard-pressed and under-resourced. I will take this opportunity to thank the many volunteers, groups and organisations that have worked with and supported asylum seekers in towns and villages the length and breadth of this State. I take my hat off to them and commend them on all their work.

The Government claims that the problem is not finance but accommodation.

While we readily agree there is a problem with accommodation, this should not be allowed to take attention away from the fact the Government has failed local communities through its failure to put in place resources, particularly in less well-off communities. If those resources had been allocated, much of the confrontation we have witnessed within communities would have been avoided.

The reality is that the fabric of life in many rural and urban communities has been steadfastly eroded through mismanagement and underfunding by this Government and previous Governments over many decades. It is no coincidence that the only cohort to benefit consistently from these Government policies has been landlords. We have crises in housing and health, and a cost-of-living crisis. There is a crisis of confidence in this Government among the ordinary people of Ireland. Refugees have arrived in Ireland, many from war zones and others from zones affected by climate change. Too many are traumatised by violence and abuse. To them, Ireland represented a safe haven, a place where they might find freedom from fear, but instead they find themselves in the middle of a situation where they are yet again innocent victims of propagators of hate and fear. There are groups and individuals who seek to hijack the Government mismanagement of the number of refugees seeking accommodation around the country as a vehicle to stake a claim for the hearts and minds of misinformed communities through the stoking of fear, anger, hatred and lies. They can only take root in the absence of governmental involvement in planning, delivery and discourse.

From the outset, the Government has been big on announcements. There have been many announcements and I listened to some of them today. The Government has failed to match its stated intent with any form of cohesive and applicable planning. The whole approach from the outset has been categorised by a failure to act that has been decades in the making. The fact the Government is out of touch with the reality of life for many communities and is tone deaf to the impact of its own negligence has framed its decision-making from the outset. Its remoteness and lack of understanding has meant its actions are bereft of the understanding that there was a need to engage with local communities to explain what was going to happen.

Across the State, there are people who have been devastated by the cost-of-living crisis and the total and utter failure to tackle the housing crisis has left many people reeling from eye-watering rents and mortgage payments that appear to be index linked to the blood pressure of the average homeowner, so quickly are they rising. We are talking about people across this State who are being pushed to the very edge of reason by this Government. It is not just the inaction of individual Ministers. The collective blithe indifference and reluctance to even begin to make the effort to understand what it means to be an ordinary person in Ireland today has increasingly alienated ordinary people. The problem with the Government's approach is there is no plan. There is zero intent to prepare the ground for refugees in areas right across the State. The Government is happy with an out of sight, out of mind solution. It dumped groups of traumatised and suffering individuals into a cauldron of discontent of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil's making, where right-wing agitators were able to bombard people and communities with misinformation and lies.

The inaction of the Government is only possible through the absence of State initiative within localities. We need dialogue with these communities. We need to see a workable system which treats applicants humanely and fairly. We need a plan to resource communities, not just to make promises and commitments but to follow through and resource communities. We need the will to implement a plan. Above all, we need the Government to start to do its job properly and regain the initiative from the agents of chaos who promise nothing but mayhem for our communities if they are not prevented from doing so.

5:30 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak in this very important discussion. Like my colleague, Deputy Brady, I want to start by saying clearly that protesting outside the place where somebody lives is wrong, whether it is somebody's home, a reception centre or a tent on the street. There is simply no justification under any circumstances for such activities. Blockading people going to where they live or work is also wrong. Like all of the Deputies who have spoken so far, I have been appalled by recent actions. The stopping and blocking of buses, or forcing your way onto buses to count human beings like they were cattle at a mart, is also simply wrong. The message needs to go out very clearly from this Chamber that we do not accept those kinds of activities.

Like many people on this side of the House, I have spent most of my political life protesting and picketing. I will unrelentingly defend people's right to protest. However, if people are unhappy with the policies or actions of any of us in this building, whether on the government or opposition side, then the place to protest is at Government Buildings, the Dáil or other locations. There is no contradiction between criticism of the unacceptable actions of a few in recent months with the defence of the right to protest. The appalling scenes in Sandwith Street, where people's personal belongings were destroyed and their homes set on fire, were a turning point. The overwhelming majority of people in this country, even people who may not agree with some of the sentiments we express here today around migration and asylum, are resolutely against that behaviour.

As people know, I represent Dublin Mid-West and live in Clondalkin village. Like many parts of the State, the number of men, women and children seeking international protection who have joined our community in the past year and a half has been significant. We have gone from having a direct provision centre with a population of approximately 250 people and with very good connections to our local community to having five centres and a community of approximately 2,000 people seeking international protection, which is a significant number. I recognise when I speak to people in my constituency that they are generous and welcoming, and want to work with others to do the right thing, like communities the length and breadth of the

country. I ask the Minister to listen to some of the things that these good people in my constituency, like the good people in his constituency, are telling us about how

the approach of Government needs to be improved. They are genuine comments that people are making which I endorse and want the Minister to listen to. They are saying they need more dialogue. I listened carefully to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman. People are not saying they want a veto. They are not saying they want extensive consultation in advance. They understand this is an emergency. However, they do want a communications plan. They want to be talked to when new centres are opened and thereafter. They want reasonable questions answered with factual and correct information, and they want any concerns they may have adequately addressed. I do not think that is too much to ask for. We all accept this is an emergency. We all accept it is not going to be perfect. However, that process of dialogue and engagement, particularly as and after a new centre is opened, is crucial and benefits both the residents of the centre and the host community. In the vacuum that has been created in many locations, those bad-faith actors that we all agree are playing a negative role thrive.

Resources are the next thing, and many of our communities are already stretched. They are stretched not because of the actions of anybody seeking international protection or fleeing the war in Ukraine but as a result of years of governmental failure. Deputy Brady rightly highlighted the failures in housing, health, education and childcare, etc. Therefore, where there is an increase in the number of people fleeing war and persecution joining our communities while seeking international protection, we need adequate resourcing. We need a plan in place across all Government Departments and local organisations and agencies to deliver it.

My biggest criticism when I reflect on the past 14 months, while acknowledging that things cannot be perfect, is the absence of a coherent, cross-departmental, central and local plan. It is in the absence of that plan that too much space has been given to those bad-faith actors on the far right to do what they have done.

I also wish to highlight clearly another group of people who always get forgotten in this debate. There are 5,000 men, women and children in direct provision centres today and they should not be there. They have a legal right to remain. They have been given refugee status but are trapped in direct provision, which is essentially being used as emergency homeless accommodation.

I visited the Clondalkin Towers direct provision centre in my constituency yesterday meeting with residents. Eighty per cent of the residents there have status. They do not want to be in it. In fact, some of them are receiving letters from the International Protection Accommodation Service telling them if they do not make a greater effort to move out, they will be moved elsewhere outside of Dublin. These are people who every day, like all the other people trying to find alternative accommodation in the housing crisis, are looking for viewings and are looking for rental accommodation but are simply unable to access it. I seek an assurance from the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, that no person with status will be displaced from direct provision because of an inability to find alternative accommodation, uprooting them and their families from the local communities.

I urge the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to listen to what Members on this side of the House are saying. The Minister is hearing much of what we are saying in his constituency. We want to work with the Minister and we want to improve the response but there are many things that have been done that have not been done well, have not been done correctly and could have been done better. What is crucial is a proper plan, proper resourcing and proper dialogue in the interests of host communities, of people fleeing Russia's unjustifiable war in Ukraine and of people coming to our shores seeking international protection. If we work together, we can achieve the best results for all. To date, the response of Government has fallen short and it needs to improve.

5:40 pm

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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Is cuimhin liom nuair a bhí mé ar scoil i dTrá Lí. D'iarr an múinteoir tíreolaíochta ar an rang cé mhéad duine a raibh uncail, aint nó col ceathrair acu sna Stáit Aontaithe. Chuir gach aon duine sa rang a lámh in airde. Tuigim gur Éireannaigh muid agus tuigim an t-idirdhealú agus an imirce. We know what it is like to be an emigrant. We know what it is like to be discriminated against. We know what it is like to be alone and vulnerable in a foreign country.

Most people in Ireland are welcoming when an international protection applicant centre is opened in their area but it is a reality that a small minority are not. We have seen a clear and organised campaign by divisive elements that have been able, or are attempting, to exploit this. Ironically, for some of them who are supposedly Irish patriots, they are awfully keen on welcoming in agitators from abroad, copying their tactics and taking their lead.

As we made clear in the past, no matter where it is, protesting outside people's homes, however temporary those homes, is not acceptable to us. If the protestors want to and are brave enough, they should go to Government Buildings or take their protests somewhere else, and not intimidate further people, including women and children, who have come here fleeing persecution abroad.

The Government has repeatedly failed to devise a long-term plan. In its White Paper nearly two and a half years ago, it proposed a series of six or seven reception centres around the country, provided not, as my party would have liked, by Government so they could be used for other opportunities later but by approved housing bodies. However, not one of those has been delivered. We have heard a lot today from the Government about what has been done but the reality is the central tenets of its plan from two years ago have not been delivered on.

A serious response was needed from the Government. It would have been more appropriate to have had a junior Minister with sole responsibility for this but it was interesting that another Green Party junior Minister, who already has responsibility for two other Departments, was appointed in this area when neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael was prepared to put its neck on the line.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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This is strange.

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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Even before the large increase in protection applicants and the activation of the Ukrainian temporary protection directive, the Government's implementation of the White Paper looked questionable with a focus, yet again, on rented accommodation and turnkey acquisition. Approved housing body, AHB, housing, which would have meant own-door and stable accommodation to aid integration and supports, was not prioritised and was eventually shelved.

We have seen successful integration models around the country, none more so than in Caherciveen in my county, where the level of integration, due no doubt to the hard work of local community activists, has been inspirational.

There may now be a decrease in protection applicants arriving but the decision to end the provision of accommodation to applicants led directly to a dangerous incident on the streets of Dublin. We cannot separate the risks to international protection applicants from the risks to the public and the risks to members of An Garda Síochána. There were a number of developments last week in regard to the protests outside the accommodation centres and we can separate these out. Gardaí cannot be expected to pick up the pieces of a society which is broken by Government inaction.

We have also heard many of the claims that we have not looked after our own but the reason for the increase is because of the 11,000 or 12,000 people who are homeless now. I knew people who were more than ten years in emergency accommodation, people who were in and out of the courts system and who were not able to get their lives back together. There has not been enough action on that and it is no wonder the response has been so poor.

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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It is welcome we are having this debate today. We had three Ministers speak at the start of this debate, which is something we have been calling for in some fashion for a long time. That is a co-ordinated coherent response from Government. We have not heard it enough. On the opening contributions from the Ministers, many of us would agree with what was said and would agree with the sentiments that were voiced. This is what we want to see. We need more regular debates on this issue in the Dáil, in particular. It is an issue of vital importance and one on which we need to show leadership from the top down in Irish politics because we, as the Legislature, have not been doing so. That is something that I want to see more of.

We have been on record as asking for a more coherent response from Government. We want to see a Minister with sole responsibility for this issue. The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, rightly said that he has been available and open to Members of this House for communication and information. No doubt he has, but that is not a good system to try to grab a Minister in a corridor or telephone him to get information. It is something that needs to be improved on.

I understand - it cannot be unsaid - there is a concern, which I imagine the Minister has, in terms of sharing information with some public representatives in this House. There is a small minority of public representatives in this House who I would not trust with certain information in relation to where new arrivals will be accommodated. There have been instances where public representatives have said things at public meetings or have dropped leaflets. That, quite simply, is something we cannot stand for. While the majority of Members on both sides of the House have been acting in concert, in terms of welcoming new arrivals, wanting the system to be better and wanting to be able to share information and better processes for assisting anyone who comes into this country, there are those who have not. Sometimes they couch their language. They think quite carefully but we can all see through it. Those watching certainly see through it and they know it when they see it.

Much has been made of the policing. I listened to the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris, talk about the policing strategy. It was reflected in two of the Ministers' comments today, that the Garda is playing a long game but there has to be intelligence gathering and the building up of a greater picture of what is going on. All of us can understand an element of that but I draw the line when it comes to blockading accommodation centres. There is no long game that has to be played there when you have masked individuals waving tricolours, turning buses around, getting onto buses and doing head counts. It is abominable behaviour. The Garda should have a zero tolerance approach to that and should be ending that as soon as it happens. There is no space for that. It is a shame. No matter where those blockades take place, whether they are in my constituency or other constituencies, they should not happen and there is no way the Garda should be playing a long game in relation to that. I do not accept what the Commissioner said on that.

We are all conscious that much of the accommodation is temporary. It is unsuitable but it is better than being on the streets. That is the emergency we are operating in at present but we have to acknowledge that what we are witnessing is a dramatic expansion of the direct provision system, a system that has failed for many years.

The bringing on stream of suitable accommodation for anyone in Ireland who needs accommodation is something we have spoken about many times and needs to be spoken about again. The alternative to these repurposed warehouses, office buildings or hotels is people sleeping on the streets or in tents.

I agree with one of the previous speakers who said that what we saw last week, with the burning of tents in Sandwith Street, was a turning point. It was one of the most despicable acts I have ever seen. There is no way to describe it other than as a fascist act on Irish soil. I think it has galvanised those many thousands of people throughout the country who want to work in their communities to welcome new arrivals, no matter where they come from, what their skin colour is or what circumstances they arrive under. That is the Ireland we know. They are the people we are working with and working for. The language we use in this House, whether from the Government or elsewhere, needs to be backed up by pushing back on the far right on the streets and where we see it. We cannot allow fascism to take hold or the far right to get into our communities and spread misinformation or harness negative sentiment. We have been successful in the past. This is a test for all of us and a test we must pass.

5:50 pm

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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When we all speak in this debate, we speak for people who are decent. What I have witnessed in my constituency in the context of people coming in, whether under international protection or from Ukraine, is an overwhelming sense of decency and an outpouring of charity and of wanting to help people who have come to our shores seeking protection. I have witnessed that at first hand in my hometown of Mallow, where I live. It is a town where, for many years, we have welcomed people in and people have integrated. We have had our issues and challenges, but the overwhelming sense in a town such as Mallow is that we must help people. I am especially proud of the fact that one of our local primary schools now has at least 31 nationalities. It is in that spirit of generosity that we must continue to do everything we can, at community level, to help people who are coming to our shores.

There is a great example in the town of Fermoy, where people came to an old convent. I will not say where they came from, but they came from a region they had to flee. When I spoke to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and he informed me they were coming, that gave me time to reach out to community leaders who wished to mobilise, and they did. The community mobilised in a way that provided all the practical supports for the people who came, whether it was clothing, food, access to local community and sporting organisations or even participation in Tidy Towns. The people have become part of the fabric of the town of Fermoy and this is because there was a process of communication that allowed the local community to mobilise, because they are decent people.

When the far right came into Fermoy, those people mobilised. We stood against the far right, but we stood in solidarity with the people who had come in because they are decent people. It was decency that won the day, and it is that decency we must display and act out in our communities in that way for, as the expression goes, there but for the grace of God go I. We never know when we might find ourselves as people in a vulnerable position. The nature of Irish people is to be decent and welcoming. The word "consultation" has been used but that word, let us face it, is a byword for seeking to veto anybody coming in. Let us call a spade a spade. If, however, we communicate with people on the ground and if people such as the Minister continue to communicate proactively with public representatives and Deputies such as me, we can seek to mobilise people, with that voluntary effort, to assist those who are coming in. Nevertheless, while that model is a good one, it has not worked consistently. I am not criticising the Minister, but if there is a mechanism to ensure there is consistent communication with people such as me in order that we can talk to people on the ground, we can help mobilise.

I am immensely proud of the people of Fermoy. My mother came from Fermoy and I have a strong connection to the town. The decency they showed when people came from war-torn countries was astounding. I refer to people such as Kate O'Connell and Paul Kavanagh to name but two who mobilised people and the community effort. They wanted to reach out, give of their time to help people, recognise their vulnerabilities and integrate them in a way that would make them part of the fabric of the community that is Fermoy. That simple model of decency will always win the day.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I am sharing time with Deputy Higgins.

This is an important debate. I agree with much of what has been said, on all sides of the House. It strikes a chord with me and the people I have been talking to. Nobody would have believed in February 2022 that 85,000 new people would now be living in Ireland. It is the equivalent of the total population of counties Cavan or Offaly or, as was said by a Minister, of Galway city. That is a huge task. To be fair to the Minister and the Government, I think what happened in Clare is the exception to what is happening rather than the rule. I fully agree with Deputy Sherlock in the context of my constituency. The commitment of the communities and the voluntary bodies is fantastic, and that is the case in most places in the country. I agree that working together across this House for the good of all the people is the only way forward on this.

The mistakes made in Clare are clear. There was inadequate consultation and there was no obvious community gain. I recall seeing footage on television that showed the homes that were to be given to the people. There was lighting and facilities in the building but there was nothing outside it or in the surrounding area. The €50 million community recognition fund, not least for helping Ukrainian refugees, was announced last week and has been very welcome. The Government has done and is doing a lot, and some of the communities in County Louth who have got that funding are happy and welcome it very much, so well done to the Minister. What he probably needs is an available, active fund such that if he meets with communities who may have difficulties, he will have an immediate source of funding for footpaths and lighting. I do not know the geography of the County Clare village but I do know the community raised those points. If there were an immediate community gain, it would make a lot of sense.

I agree absolutely with the views expressed regarding those who block roads or wear masks and prevent people from going to work. That is utterly unacceptable. While I fully recognise the wisdom and the integrity of the views of the Garda Síochána, I am not happy and would like to see more action. Counting people on a bus who are refugees is exceptionally ignorant and unacceptable to me. It strikes at the heart of the respect that should be shown for people who are in this country. The argument made by those who do this sort of counting is that Ireland has an open door, but the facts suggest otherwise. In 2022, 141,000 non-EU citizens were refused entry to the European Union as a whole, with the highest numbers relating to Poland at 23,000, Hungry at 15,000, Croatia at 11,000 and Ireland, the fourth-highest refusal, at 9,240. It is not true to say, therefore, that Ireland has an open door, that we do not have a due or fair process or that it is not firm or fair.

It seems to me that if we are the fourth highest in Europe in refusing people entry, we have a due and a fair process. I am not sure if I heard correctly on the television but I think we need a European-wide policy for anybody who comes into this country in terms of what happens to them, the resources they are given and the facilities provided to them. It should be a universal policy across the European Union that this is what we do.

I point one thing out to those who object. I take on board what the Sinn Féin Deputy from Kerry said about the emigrants from Kerry. My own relatives came from Kerry and when I looked at the records in the 1940s to find people who fought in the War of Independence in the local highway battalion of which they were members in the 1920s, practically 99% of them had addresses in America. America has been a great country for Irish people and we have to be a great country for people who have a right to live here and to work provided they meet the requirements of the access processes. We have a shortage of workers. We need a lot of people in our building industry. Therefore, there are many skills we cannot provide locally. I do not have an issue with us finding work for those people.

One thing I would say about the Irish who went to America in the 18th and particularly in the 19th century was that they had a different religion to the people who lived in America at the time. The Irish were Catholics and the vast majority of people in America were Protestants. They spoke Irish and they were accepted as well. We have people coming into the country who have a different religion from the majority and who do not speak our language. We should look at the lessons the Irish got in America and accept people into society in that context.

There is a lot consensus in this debate. There is an awful lot more ways in which we can work together. Anybody who has good suggestions and the positive messages from this House today, notwithstanding the political points people are making, show that the heart and soul of the Irish people is welcoming and open to all of these new citizens. This will happen by working together and by increasing the Minister's involvement and his connection with his Deputies. I know when there was an issue in County Louth, he rang all of us. I do not know what happened in County Clare but I have no doubt that will definitely not happen again. That might be a positive thing as well. I welcome the debate and I look forward to the comments of Members.

6:00 pm

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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There is no doubt that accommodating huge numbers of Ukrainians and international protection applicants is a massive undertaking for local communities. That is why I am so pleased the Government has recognised that undertaking through the community recognition fund. Our national response, challenging as it has been, would be nothing without the co-operation and the support of local communities, groups, families and businesses. In my own constituency, and in particular in the areas I represent in Clondalkin and Saggart, we have been playing a really significant role in the national response to both the war in Ukraine and in supporting international protection applicants coming here to seek refuge in Dublin and in Dublin Mid-West in particular. I have been working closely with the Minister to make sure my clubs and community initiatives were recognised for their support to these new communities. We received a well-deserved €3.3 million just last week under the new community integration recognition fund for projects in Clondalkin, Saggart and Rathcoole. Some €1.25 million was allocated to the small villages of Saggart, Rathcoole and Citywest, and €2.1 million was allocated to Clondalkin. That money will go towards clubs like Round Towers GAA, Knockmitten United FC, Rathcoole Football Club, and St. Mary's GAA club. It will go towards projects like Clondalkin's Global Garden and local Wi-Fi initiatives, towards new community resources, including upgrades to parks in Citywest and Rathcoole, a long-awaited new, age friendly centre in Clondalkin, and the Saggart Schoolhouse Community Centre. It will be well invested into the roots of my community, whose members are supporting the new community.

I am involved in the organising committee for Corkagh Park's Darkness Into Light event. As anyone who has ever been involved in a charity event knows, it can only happen because of the support of volunteers. This year, more than half of our volunteers - 50 people - joined us from the Citywest reception centre through the national volunteering database, I-VOL. These were 50 international protection applicants; so-called single men. Their assistance on the day was absolutely invaluable and it was the perfect example of community integration. At a time when we are hearing so much negativity, it is really important to call out the positive news stories too. This was absolutely one of them. We have an international, legal and moral obligation to support these people but they do not have any obligation to support us back and yet so many of them do. So many of them are giving their skills, talents and time to us, whether that is through volunteering opportunities like Corkagh Park's Darkness Into Light event, helping Tidy Towns committees in Saggart or Clondalkin, or getting involved as they did in the Christmas fair in Saggart Village residents' association this winter.

Accommodation is a massive challenge but many people arriving to our shores will help us with our other challenges. Like the young Syrian woman who arrived into Ireland 18 months ago and only this month received an award from the Royal Hibernian Academy, RHA, as an emerging artist, many will bring creativity and talents to our shore. Many will help so many of our industries that are crying out for workers such as the retail and hospitality industries and, of course, the construction industry. I recently met with representatives of St. Andrew's Resource Centre based in Pearse Street and they run an incredible education and training hub. They have a huge range of short courses of which people coming into Ireland can avail to help train or reskill to work in those industries crying out for workers. The centre does a specific five-day services and cleaning skills course, a 15-day construction skills course, and a 15-day retrofitting skills course, and it provides free training opportunities for unemployed people, for people on low-incomes, but also to asylum seekers. These kinds of courses really need to be advertised among international protection applicants once they are here long enough to be able to work. I know many of them are doing that.

We have heard an awful lot of information today. Information is key to ensuring there is not a vacuum, to counteracting disinformation and to community engagement. The information provided here today by three different Ministers needs to be provided to communities where new accommodation centres are being established.

I thank everyone involved in our front-line response. In particular, I thank all of the south Dublin volunteers who have maintained such a positive, energetic presence in Citywest these past few years.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Any and all forms of bigotry, racism, xenophobia, intimidation, abuse, physical or psychological attack are to be, and have been, roundly condemned. I take to my feet to condemn all of those actions without equivocation and to condemn the small minority of people who believe that it is not only acceptable but is in some way politically profitable for them to engage in this type of behaviour. It says something about political life in Ireland that the vast majority of those of us who put ourselves forward for leadership and election make no bones and state those realities very plainly. These are the values of the Irish people. All three Ministers who presented this evening have quite correctly condemned the so-called far right and its actions, and I support the Ministers 100% in that. Barricades are wrong. Blockades and picketing of accommodation of anyone, but particularly vulnerable people, is wrong, wrong and wrong again.

I have to put to the Minister, however, that what I did not see from any of the speeches was any acknowledgement of the clear things they have got wrong. I heard no acknowledgement of the real human need for communication, consultation, dialogue and information; not vetoes, but the need to demonstrate respect for and to trust communities.

In my experience, the vast majority of communities will, when given information and particularly in an emergency, rally hard to welcome, support, understand and help find solutions. I am alarmed that as basic a requirement as this has not yet, it seems, fully landed with the Government. The Government needs to talk to people. The Minister and I had this conversation six or seven months ago when there was a problem in East Wall. It is a diverse neighbourhood, as I told the Minister at the time, and one that has always welcomed newcomers, no matter their colour or creed. Still we seem to come back to the same thing again. We need to accept as political people that you have to talk to people and give them notice. A full welcome requires good notice, trust and respect.

We also have to resource our communities. I welcome the €50 million community recognition fund but it was announced five days ago. We are months and months into this. Who thought for a second that you could simply grow populations in neighbourhoods, villages and towns and not front-load community support and investment? That was wrong and needs to be acknowledged. I welcome that funding and give the Minister notice that more will be required, undoubtedly.

There has been a lack of recognition of the pressure on access to services. In some of the areas I represent, we have the lowest proportions of general practitioners in the State. People cannot see a doctor for love nor money. The newcomers must have access to medical care. We all want that, but how does that work when the system is already under so much pressure? How does Government not see that and deal with it?

I want to bring a reality check to this discussion. I think we are all of one mind and will call out any form of racism. It is not acceptable. Frankly, it is repulsive. However, we also need to understand that finger-pointing or ignoring communities that have been left behind and are also under pressure is not part of the mix of an Irish welcome. We need to listen, to hear, to meet, to share information and to give assurances; when the assurances are given, the Government needs to be as good as its word. In the Public Gallery are people from East Wall, members of the residents association. They have been looking to meet with the Minister, as he knows, for quite some time. I hope he will commit to meeting with them to discuss all these matters and find common cause and common solutions. That, very definitely, can be done.

6:10 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We move to Deputy Cairns, sharing with Deputy Gannon.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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We have a legal, moral and cultural obligation to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers safely. Ireland has requirements under international law to have systems to receive refugees and allow individuals to apply for asylum. We also have moral responsibilities to help people escape violence or individuals being persecuted because of their faith or sexuality. As a nation with a long history of emigration, it would be beyond hypocritical if we did not try to help immigrants to integrate.

It is important to outline those principles because they are being intentionally muddied and rejected by some people. There are small groups of agitators only interested in spreading misinformation and that is causing hate and fear. It is important to note in the week of anniversaries of marriage equality and repeal that these groups also oppose LGBT+ rights and want to remove a woman’s right to choose. Unfortunately, these vile messages have become easier to spread since Covid with too many people relying on unverified sources and rumours for their news. In response, we as public representatives have the choice to stoke up fears or help alleviate concerns and work towards solutions. Today we should be focused on the best ways to address challenges in accommodating refugees and asylum seekers and ensuring people understand the facts.

After President Putin’s unilateral attack, the Irish public showed sustained support for the Ukrainian people. Communities across the country mobilised to offer assistance and many households took families in. Most quickly became involved in the local communities through sports teams, Tidy Towns and community groups. Children have integrated into our schools and in many areas, like mine, they have saved rural schools from closure. The Government response, particularly in the early months, was significant. There was a strong sense of immediacy and co-operation. However, as the situation has continued, the Minister and his Department have been left with sole responsibility. The Taoiseach is eager to say there is a whole-of-government response but there is no evidence of that.

While I acknowledge the distinct pressure the Minister faces, that cannot justify asylum seekers being left to fend for themselves on the streets. Given no alternatives, people have had to pitch tents outside the International Protection Accommodation Services. In a truly disgusting scene, a small group attacked the camp less than two weeks ago. The Government has failed in its duty to protect these people. Although this point was never in doubt, it has been underlined by the recent High Court ruling concerning the failure to provide international protection applicants with material reception conditions, and that is unlawful. An Afghan asylum seeker had to take the case after being told accommodation would be provided once it was available and being sent onto our streets with nothing but a €28 Dunnes voucher. How is that ever justifiable? Presumably this was Department policy. We are all aware of the extreme oppression of the Afghani people and what they have experienced at the hands of the Taliban, yet an individual fleeing that regime is given a voucher and told “Good luck”. Mr. Justice Meenan was clear in his ruling that, even though the Minister is making efforts to secure accommodation, this does not absolve him of his obligations under the regulations. Clearly, giving the applicant a €28 voucher for a supermarket and then the addresses of charities does not come close to what is required. Will the Minister clarify what is currently happening to individuals applying for asylum? If a woman escaping severe suppression by the Taliban or a gay man fleeing one of the 64 countries with laws criminalising homosexuality applies for asylum today, what are they being told and offered?

There are larger issues with the asylum system. I am regularly contacted by constituents concerned that in addressing the Ukrainian crisis, the promised reforms of direct provision have been sidelined. I have to agree with them. We all understood there would be delays when we found out how many people would be coming into the country that we could not have anticipated, but recommendations in the Catherine Day report have not been implemented. The State’s response for Ukrainians has shown it is possible to allow those fleeing violence the opportunity to take up work and be issued PPSNs, while those in direct provision wait months for a temporary residence certificate and have highly restrictive working permissions. The Minister faces considerable challenges but, just as people in direct provision are left in limbo for years, it is increasingly looking like the reforms of the system are also being left in limbo.

When people come into communities, because of the lack of Government communication in an area, something else fills that void. It is misinformation and it scares other people. It leaves many Opposition Deputies attending meetings where we try to alleviate fears, reassure people there is a plan and do all the things the Government should be doing. I do not think it is too late to bring in a plan that does not allow that space to be created where people can say nobody told us and nobody did anything. Just help us. It would be easier for everybody.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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As we are asked to speak about the accommodation needs of new arrivals, I think it appropriate to begin by quoting from the first article of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Article 1 has ten words. It merely states: “Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.” The Minister will be aware that in April of this year, in a case taken by a person who came to these shores in search of sanctuary and protection and through vindication of the courts it was established that he received none of it, the State was in breach of those ten words. I raise that finding not from ignorance of the scale of the challenge facing the State or of the Minister’s intent to meet it, but to remind ourselves that at the coalface of these discussions are real people who cannot be expected to place the dignity of their existence on hold indefinitely while the State operates in a perennial state of crisis.

It is time to step away from the politics and language of crisis, which is used only to justify or excuse failures, and accept that in this age of conflict, severe inequality and ongoing intensification of climate change, people will continue to come here for the very reason that their lives and those of their families depend upon it. As we accept this, it is time to start designing the long-term architecture of decency for these people in order that we are no longer asking individuals to sleep in tents in the streets or forcing dereliction, poverty and destitution on them. They are struggling to the point that we have to open Government buildings so that they can have access to bathrooms. We need a plan.

The Minister rightly spoke about the Irish history of emigration. I would add to that the subject of Ireland's history of institutionalisation, which should make us all very wary and careful as we move forward. I fully accept the scale of the issue the Minister is confronting. I have acknowledged on several occasions that he needs more support from across his Cabinet. Yet, we also need to be very careful. We must remember the injustices of our history. We cannot be immune to seeing them being replicated in different places. I urge the Minister to come up with a long-term plan and to ensure that there is State intervention. No longer should we see the monetisation of oppression. The State needs to step in and provide accommodation that is suitable for people's needs. We do not want to see another situation next year where people will be in tents coming into the winter. We accept that hotels will come under strain as the tourism season kicks in. We need a plan.

There seems to be an erosion of the findings of the Catherine Day report, although I recognise that the world was a different place when it was written. There will always be a need for decency in the accommodation we afford to people who come here legally in search of sanctuary. I do not think we should take that report off the table. We should recommit ourselves to meeting what is involved in it. I trust that the Minister cares about that just as much as we do, but we should be working alongside each other to meet that.

There is a two-tier system that we cannot step away from and that is grotesquely unfair. For the Ukrainians who have entered the EU under the temporary directive, it is very different from applying under international protection rules. The directive recognises that people are fleeing conflict and persecution and does not require them to prove it. Anyone who is entering Ireland under the directive is immediately provided with a personal public service number and has access to welfare, education, healthcare and work as a result. That is incredibly appropriate, it is right and it should happen. Everyone who has come to Ireland in search of sanctuary feels that all humans are equally susceptible to the effects of war, violence and torture. People have been fleeing here from countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria, and they should be treated no differently. They also need to be able to come here and feel they are respected in the same way as others. We should not have a two-tier system when it comes to people who have experienced trauma and who came here on those terms.

We live in extraordinary times. In that context, it is important to treat people with respect. There is a corrosive and insidious so-called far right that is being backed up by wealthy establishments far away. It is telling others that to treat people with respect and decency and talk to them as though they are intelligent is in some way to be elitist. That is the space in which we are operating. That is why we have continuously asked for a plan for a communications strategy. I agree that people in communities deserve to be informed. They deserve these resources. There are very few people to whom I have spoken in my constituency or elsewhere who want for a veto. If they did, I would be the first person to tell them that they are not getting one. Yet, people deserve to be informed. We are seven months on from what we saw in my constituency in East Wall. It should be the case that only two weeks ago that a tender went out for that sort of communications strategy. Both the Minister and the Minister of State mentioned that the far right has a playbook-----

6:20 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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What is the State's playbook? I ask this because in the absence of one, we are behind and we need to step forward. We need to meet these challenges. There is an assault on decency in this country. We need to recommit ourselves to confronting it every step of the way. That will require a coherent plan of action going forward, because this will be with us for the long term.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to put on the record my thanks to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and, more latterly, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, for their courtesy every step of the way when I have engaged with them in respect of this issue.

I am sure when the Green Party sought responsibility for this area, its objective was to eliminate direct provision and not to extend it. Yet, that was at a time before the war in Ukraine, as well as the wars, famine and persecution the world over. Now, we are being left with a situation where we are dealing with vast numbers of people who are coming to our countries and who are seeking asylum.

I have often said, and I firmly believe, that the lottery of birth determines so many of our outcomes. It determines our outcomes even in terms of being born into a functioning family or into one that is not affected by poverty. It clearly determines what country you are born in. For all the challenges we face here in our country, we are extremely fortunate. We are extremely fortunate to live in a prosperous, developed country with a functioning democracy. I must acknowledge that, for the most part, neither the Government nor the Opposition has used this crisis as an opportunity to exploit fear. There is a minority that is doing so, but, for the most part, the Government and the Opposition are not.

When we compare our lot with that of the people who are fleeing war, famine or perhaps persecution for their sexuality or their religious beliefs, we are very fortunate. Our President acknowledged and commemorated the Famine only last weekend. That was a time when one million people left our shores because of what they were facing. They went in their droves to Canada and the US. As a State, we grappled with so many challenges in the decades from the 1920s onward, when many of our people left these shores and went to the UK, South America and America for an opportunity to have a better chance in life. Leaving aside the State's legal obligations, we have many moral obligations and a moral duty to assist people who, for no other reason but the lottery of their birth, find themselves in the situations they are in.

Any fair-minded person would have to acknowledge that 73,000 Ukrainians have come into this country and that, up until the 14 May last, 20,450 people were seeking international protection,. That is a serious number of people who are coming in and who we have to respond to. I must compliment and thank the Irish citizens who, for the most part, have been extremely welcoming of people who have come to our shores. They have opened their houses. There are still situations where pledges have not been accepted and implemented. That should not be the case.

On Sunday, I was in Moate to run in a 5 km road race. I met Ukrainian people who came here in January. The young girl to whom I spoke came second in her category. The adults who were there were so thankful for the welcome they got in County Westmeath, which has been replicated in so many other places. The one thing they asked me when they found out I was a politician is where they can go to get work. They asked me to help them to get work because they want to contribute back to society and the country.

Twelve months on, we need to reassess our response and acknowledge that while it has been hugely challenging, we have made great strides and major progress. However, there are areas in which we have operated below par. We need to look at that now and see how we can bring those areas forward. One of those areas is communication. The absence of effective communication leaves a vacuum for misinformation. It leaves an opportunity for people who have an agenda to exploit legitimate fears and concerns. We have to be very careful to ensure that the people who have legitimate fears are engaged with, that they are adequately informed and reassured and that their concerns are addressed. If we do not, we run the risk of forcing those people into the extreme right to be exploited further. We need to improve our communication.

Another area of concern is that relating to the processing of international protection applications.

Only 5,000 of the 20,450 applicants here have been granted leave to remain status. The process needs to be more transparent, faster and more streamlined and we need to make better use of technology. Interviews can be held remotely over Zoom and Skype. Most of us are conducting much of our business that way now. We also need better use of technology in regard to translation for people coming from other countries. The facility for multiple appeals also needs to be looked at because applications must be brought to their natural conclusion in a timely fashion.

Another area I have raised before is the non-implementation of the Dublin Convention and the number of people who move through safe countries to come to Ireland. That is a duplication of a process. It makes the problem of processing applications even more difficult. It is an area on which we need to put more attention and more focus.

People arrive without passports. Nobody can embark a plane without a passport. I suggested both to the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Transport that they should engage with the airline industry. When a person presents to board a flight he or she must present a boarding pass and a passport. The passport can be scanned in order that people’s documentation will be on record and will help when they come to seek processing of international protection. As I said, to maintain confidence in the system, the system needs to be fair, transparent and all applications should be brought to their rightful conclusion.

I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, because the recognition of Ukrainian driving licences is important. It affords people who want to work and to contribute to our society, the opportunity to do so in a sector that badly needs workers. We know that many people seeking international protection are economic asylum seekers. We should look at reviewing the work permit process to afford the people who are coming here an opportunity to work, particularly in sectors of the economy where there is a need for people to work. I meet ambassadors who bring forward solutions whereby if work permits were given to people coming in, they would want to work and contribute, particularly in the construction sector.

In regard to the roll-out of modular builds and pods, I do not know what the Office of Public Works, OPW, has been doing for the past 12 months but I believe 750 modular units are not enough and the time it has taken to get these off the ground is simply embarrassing. Billy Kelleher visited Ukraine and showed how, in the space of a number of months, in a war-stricken country, they could produce a modular unit to accommodate 300 people. I do not know why we cannot do it faster. I not know why there was a planning exemption for modular units for temporary asylum seekers. The statutory instrument is not under the Minister’s remit but is under the planning and housing remit. However, there is no exemption for planning for modular units for international protection asylum seekers. What is the differentiating factor between them? It is in the case of the latter that we are severely challenged to find space. That is something that should be looked at. I believe some existing providers may be able to house more people seeking international protection if the planning exemption is extended.

The tourism and hospitality sector was the backbone in driving our recovery after the last recession. I am concerned about our over-dependence on that sector of the economy. It is not a sector that can be switched on and off like a light. That is why I believe we need to revisit the State buildings that are available. A recent report showed housing within the Department of Defence is being totally under-utilised. I have given an example in my own constituency of Columb Barracks in Mullingar. I have been through the buildings. With some modification they would be able to accommodate more people. Instead of utilising them and investing in these buildings which would be there in the long-term for the benefit of our community, we are putting modular units into Columb Barracks. We should use those buildings more effectively. Only a few months ago the OPW, which I mentioned moments ago in regard to modular homes, had an old Garda barracks on the open market to sell, along with two houses. At a time when the Minister has asked his colleagues across Departments to bring forward suitable buildings, we are selling buildings in certain instances. There are State buildings which with the right investment can be brought up to a standard. We need to do that more effectively than we are doing at the moment.

I have two final points. Will the Minister double-check that in cases where people have contracts to offer services to the State, those contracts are not being under-utilised? By that I mean to ensure that no hotelier or private occupier is getting paid for rooms that are not being used. I have a concern that there could be such instances. That needs to be addressed. Finally I take this opportunity to acknowledge the decision by the Government to introduce the community recognition fund. Some very good projects were funded through that fund. It will help to build better integration between our long-term members and new members of the community. That is something we should all strive to achieve.

6:30 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I send my support and solidarity to everyone who has been forced to sleep on the streets in this State because of this Government's continued mishandling of the crisis in accommodation. We believe this is wrong. We know it is a direct result of poor Government policies. These failed policies are now attempting to pit the most vulnerable in our society against each other. There is no excuse for leaving those who are fleeing war to sleep on the street. The Government cannot continue to leave vulnerable people in this situation. These failures are creating divisions. Many among the community in my own constituency have been let down by successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments. They have seen cuts to youth services, hospitals closed, schools underfunded, poverty creeping up and Garda numbers decimated. They have been subjected to austerity and cutbacks for years. They have been overlooked time and again. These communities feel disempowered and neglected. People are left waiting for years on social housing lists while they pass boarded-up council homes, vacant houses and derelict properties. People in their twenties and thirties are living in their parents' box bedrooms while the Taoiseach suggests that they borrow from the bank of mom and dad. That just goes to show how out of touch he is. The anger and frustration in these communities is made so much worse because they feel so disempowered.

There are those who want to channel this anger for their own selfish, racist ideals and create a narrative of “us versus them”. It is a classic trick. They do not want people to work together. They want division. It is not helped when the Government, Ministers and others talk about so-called spongers and welfare cheats.

That does not go down well. It is not those on social welfare, in need of social housing or seeking international protection who should bear the burden of the State's failed policies. Rather, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, austerity, the bail-out of the banks, cuts to lone parent payments and countless political decisions have allowed the most vulnerable to carry the heaviest weight.

There are 166,000 vacant homes in the State. The penalty the Government is introducing for leaving homes empty in the middle of a housing crisis is 0.3% of the value of the home. That is not a penalty. There are thousands of boarded-up houses and this is the Government's answer. It is an insult to ordinary people. No wonder people are angry. That anger should be pointed at the Government, however. It is allowing people to turn that anger from the speculators, vulture funds, slum landlords and land hoarders. It is allowing the anger to be placed on the wrong people and at the wrong doors. It is refusing to accept responsibility for the crisis in housing that has left us here. It is allowing those with racist agendas to lay the blame at the door of vulnerable people. When a building is changed from commercial to residential use or from dereliction to refurbishment, communities are entitled to engage with the process through consultation. That is a key principle of the planing system. I have repeatedly asked for an update on the plans for Gerald Griffin Street in my constituency. There are those who wish to stir up anger and are spreading rumours that are causing fear in the community. As an elected representative, it is difficult to combat that without information. We need that communication between the Department, those living in the areas in question and those who represent them. We want to combat misinformation but we can only do so if we have the correct information and work together. For far too long, vulnerable people have been pitted against each other. It is time for the Government to stand up, do the right thing and lead from the front.

6:40 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The hate, fear and division the far right is peddling and trying to direct against vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees is utterly despicable, all the more so when one thinks that, for generations, hundreds of thousands of Irish people who emigrated, often illegally in the case of the United States, suffered the same kind of racist and horrendous victimisation. No dogs, no blacks, no Irishmen. Tabloid newspapers in Britain, owned by the right wing and the far right, created horrible stereotypes of the Irish being violent and drunken and terrorists or sexual deviants. That is the same sort of filth that is now being heaped by the far right onto desperate and vulnerable people who have come here looking for a better life and, in many cases, fleeing persecution, war and suffering. The filth of those on the far right has to be rejected. I encourage anybody inclined towards listening to their racist bile and the poison and misinformation they are trying to circulate to just consider our history. It is a shameful betrayal of the suffering that Irish people, along with people of colour, suffered for many generations.

The Government has set asylum seekers and refugees up for much of this targeting as a result of the way it has treated them. Putting hundreds of people out in tents, with no roof over their heads, is marking them out for the sort of victimisation that the far right has piled on them. Creating a distinction between Ukrainian refugees and asylum applicants sends a racist dog whistle that there is a difference between the two cohorts. The Government needs to acknowledge that. It should not be the case. Just like Irish people who went abroad, often illegally, contributed to the United States, Britain and so on, people coming here will, given the opportunity, work and contribute and enrich our society and make it better. Signals are often sent that these people are, somehow, something to worry about or a burden. That plays into the hands of the far right and must be acknowledged.

While rejecting the filth and racism of the far right and saying that we welcome the new arrivals, we must also recognise the frequent deprivation and lack of resources, particularly in more deprived working-class communities, that are the responsibility of the Government. Without giving an inch to the far right or any notions of vetoes or anything else, there is a need to recognise those failures and put in the resources, supports and funding that can help communities to provide the services, supports and facilities that will allow integration to happen successfully. I made the point to the Minister recently that the community recognition fund is a good idea but it is already maxed out. Those moneys should be allocated in advance. There should be proactive work by the Government to identify community groups, sports organisations and arts and cultural organisations and support them to actively deal with the integration efforts. The fund should be replenished immediately.

All roads lead to housing and accommodation in the context of these difficulties. There would not be so much difficulty or so much space given to the far right and the racists if we did not have such a severe housing crisis. For years, we have been saying on the housing and accommodation crises that much more aggressive and proactive action is needed on vacant properties. It is beginning to happen now but it is still a long way from being done. There needs to be much more investment and robust action, as well as a willingness to stand up to speculators and people sitting on empty properties to get those properties back into use so that we have housing for everybody, whether that is homeless people or asylum applicants fleeing persecution and war.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Refugees are welcome. They are welcome in Tallaght, where I live, in the constituency of Dublin South-West, which I represent, and in Ireland. They are some of the more than 100 million displaced people throughout the world who are fleeing war, persecution and repression. Just as Irish people fleeing some of those things went abroad, along with some so-called economic migrants, we should be welcoming these people. I want to see a world without forced migration. I want the number of people forced to migrate to go down every year rather than going up. To be honest, that points to an eco-socialist challenge to the capitalist system. It points to challenging the imperialism that is fuelling conflict across the world, be it Russian or US imperialism, backing various dictators that are repressing their populations, destroying the planet and potentially creating hundreds of millions of climate refugees in the coming years.

It is wrong to blockade people who have fled war and are vulnerable from accessing their accommodation. The housing crisis is not down to refugees or asylum seekers. Those who spread the lie that asylum seekers are responsible for the housing crisis are helping the Government and the corporate landlords and developers it represents to avoid responsibility.

I have seen Members on the Government benches engage in that. They say it is very difficult to address the housing crisis because of the Ukrainians and so on. Let us be clear that we had a housing crisis before the invasion of Ukraine started. We have had a housing crisis for years and years. If all the asylum seekers and refugees left tomorrow, we would still have housing crisis. Why? It is because this Government has ruled not in the interests of ordinary people regardless of what colour their skin is or where they come from, but in the interests of corporate landlords and private developers. It has allowed rents to soar to unbelievable and unaffordable levels. It has consciously encouraged house prices to rise to unaffordable levels. It has refused to invest in building social and affordable housing. It has refused to deal with the scandal of vacant properties and developers sitting on 80,000 planning permissions. Those who blame refugees undermine what we need to do, which is to build a united movement against the Government, against Fianna Fáil, against Fine Gael, and against those who are benefiting from the housing crisis.

I want to make a point about the far right. Whenever one says anything about the far right, people will say. "There is no far right; they are just ordinary people." Of course the vast majority of people in this country are not far right. Even the vast majority of people who have concerns about asylum seekers coming into their communities are not far right. That is absolutely true. It is also very obvious that there is a far right. Contrary to what the Garda Commissioner said, while it is still very small, it is, unfortunately, a growing far right that has a very significant hand in some of the protests and some of what has been taking place. This week a pensioner in his 70s was hospitalised at a protest in Corofin. A couple of weeks ago, the tents of asylum seekers were burned down in Sandwith Street in Dublin.

Wherever one goes, in very many of these blockades one sees the hand of the far right behind them. We must speak honestly about what is taking place. The far right likes to betray itself as some sort of anti-establishment voice, but is that the truth? The far right activists are opposed to the reinstatement of the eviction ban. They are opposed to the right to housing. They spend more of their time not attacking the Government but attacking the Opposition, attacking Sinn Féin, and attacking People Before Profit. Who are these people? They are the likes of the National Party and Justin Barrett, who recently quoted Hitler on telegram. Can anyone tell me that quoting Hitler is not far right? They are the likes of Hermann Kelly, a former press officer for Nigel Farage, who was formerly the acting editor of The Irish Catholic. They are the likes of Philip Dwyer, who was kicked out of the National Party, and his new party Ireland First. They want to bring us back to a society dominated by the Catholic Church, with no rights for trade unions, no rights for LGBTQ people, and where ordinary people are repressed. They also have a lot of connections to the British far right, which is ironic considering they are waving the Tricolour.

6:50 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Bringing down the Catholic Church.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Like you always do.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak. I will start by thanking the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and his colleagues for the work they are doing on our behalf. If one looks at any European country and the challenges they face, it is the political issue of our time. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has handled it extremely sensitively in a very difficult environment. The figures speak for themselves. The Minister has managed to provide emergency accommodation for 62,000 Ukrainians and 20,000 people under international protection. This has been created largely from scratch. This is not eating into the housing output we are developing. Nonetheless, it is three times the scale of our annual housing output. The Minister has managed to come up with emergency accommodation for the vast majority of those people.

No system could absorb those sorts of numbers without creating considerable disturbance to the conventional way in which decisions are made. The Minister has tried to be conciliatory at all times. Of course, as the Minister said earlier, we must be realistic about what is possible in terms of consultation. When one faces the alternative of people being on the streets in tents and being exposed and very vulnerable, the scope for consultation about responding to those immediate and vital needs is very curtailed. What the Minister sought to do was the right thing, trying not to consult on the basis that one could somehow make this go away and that people could go elsewhere, but to consult on the basis of how can we, as a community, together create the capacity to manage this. The approach the Minister has taken is the right approach. I am aware it is very time intensive on the Minister and on his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, but it is very important.

Many local authorities are taking a very active hand in creating a community in each of our local authorities where there are people and groups who are committed to the task of managing this and responding to the needs this imposes on communities in a way that keeps communities together. I commend the decision to have the €50 million fund. I recognise, as Deputy Boyd Barrett said, that this is now expended. The scale of that fund needs to be at a considerably greater level. Some €50 million is less than €1,000 per person being accommodated. To assist in seeing communities grow the capability to manage this situation, we need to build that. We need to invest time and effort in building those kinds of community groups who are the glue that keep our communities together. These include sports organisations, voluntary organisations, active retirement groups and the many organisations that constitute our communities. We need to have systematic reach out to those groups to build that network. We could be more ambitious in trying to build that capability within our communities.

As the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, pointed out, there is no sign that this is going to abate. When one looks at the displacement levels as a result of climate change, it shows daily how disruptive it will be to populations and how traditional living is being up-ended for many of those communities. We will see this as a continuing challenge for us.

I agree with those who said there are many menacing forces aligned against the Government and against governments that are trying to manage this process. There are states seeking to weaponise migration, very consciously with the objective of creating difficulties and undermining the solidarity Europe has been able to show in the case of Ukraine and undermining regimes that are founded on democratic values. Sadly, we have seen the fracturing of some of those democratic values in countries even within the European Union.

We live in a social media world where the order of the day is clickbait, alternative facts and distortion. It is all too widespread, unfortunately. It is the handling of challenges like this that make communities like ours with democratic values very vulnerable to the bad actors seeking to distort facts and create dissension within communities. It is particularly galling to see political forces invoke our national flag and suggest taking in migrants is some way an attack on our national identity. I find that just extraordinary. We are a people whose national identity is built around our experience of displacement. Millions of people were displaced particularly during the Great Famine and in the years afterwards, and this continued for a very long period. It is part of what we are, recognising the wrench, the desperation and the fear in people who are forced to find refuge. It is something we understand.

As a country that faced the ravages of emigration, it is very important we keep that to the fore as we seek to respond to this issue. What is in our national identity is rising to the challenge of managing this in a sensitive and proper way. At the weekend, the President reminded us, and it was timely he was photographed with those very stunning images in sculpture, of those who had to leave our country. It is a reminder to us that, hard as this challenge is to manage, it is very important we show that we can and do manage it sensitively.

It is equally vitally important, and the Minister, Deputy Harris, dealt with this in his contribution, that our system of international protection is seen to work. Last year, there were 15,000 applications for international protection. We only managed to process one in three of those. There is a need to continually grow the capacity of the system so people recognise that we will give refuge to people who need it but there is a system for those who do not meet the criteria. It is right the Minister is imposing fines on airlines where documentation is not being presented in a proper way, is streamlining applications coming from countries that are safe, and is having a system, ultimately, of enforcement and deportation. We need a system that is seen to work because we do not have an indefinite capacity to absorb groups. If we are to have a system that is robust and up to the highest standards, we must have a system that manages those applications in a proper, fair and just way. It is important people have confidence in that just as they have confidence in the work of Ministers to find accommodation for those who so desperately need it.

At this time, we also need to think beyond this emergency phase. That in itself will be difficult because we have, to date, had a very clear distinction between emergency accommodation and long-term housing, which are on very different tracks. However, we are moving to a phase where we recognise that quite a significant proportion of Ukrainians will remain here. They are working and will seek to make their future here. We need to start to think about the longer term way in which we will address this issue. We are absolutely stretched with the emergency planning that is going on now, but we need to have a system that works. We all see the fantastic contribution the new Irish are making to our communities, whether it be in the sports or cultural field, where we have seen so many people of diverse backgrounds, who are the new Irish, shining. In the fields of entrepreneurship, cultural diversity, critical skills and caring, many of our people have learnt to see what a valuable contribution this diversity is bringing to our country. We need to start to look at that longer term challenge as we manage these short-term difficult circumstances.

I commend the Minister of State on the work he is doing, which is difficult but is definitely of immense importance and value to our community.

7:00 pm

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I will say a few words of thanks to those local groups working very hard on the ground to counter misinformation and disinformation. Groups, such as Fingal Communities Against Racism, FCAR, which operate in my constituency, do huge amounts of work in welcoming people to our community and dispelling myths spread by members of the far right who are many and, believe me, FCAR is busy trying to counter their nonsense. People in these local groups are very quick to offer support. In the case of FCAR, it was also quick to call out the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage for his dog whistling about the impact immigrants were having on the housing crisis. It was right to do that. We should never ever miss an opportunity to call out dog whistling no matter where it comes from.

My family is no different from any other family. We know what it is like to see loved ones forced to leave and we know the pain of emigration. In Ireland, many of us know the pain of separation and the worry and distress caused to family members who remain at home. We have all seen those signs - we saw them in our history books and we see them on the look-back programmes on television - stating, "No blacks, no dogs, no Irish". It was not that long ago. My father remembers those signs when he was forced to go to England for work in the 1960s. We are better than that. We are capable of learning from our past and our experience of racism. We should try to be better than those who treated us badly.

The Government repeatedly tells us we have never had it so good but it does not feel like that for many people. It wants us to believe it is a prudent manager of the economy but we are more than an economy. We are a society. We have a housing crisis caused in no small part by Government policy. New food banks are opening on a regular basis at a time of plenty. There are waiting lists in our health service that would make your eyes water at a time when finances are in surplus, and a cost-of-living crisis that leaves a widow forced to spend the money saved for her husband's headstone on her electricity bill. I say this because, for many people, it very much feels like "Upstairs Downstairs", when it comes to this Government.

When the ugly face of racism rears its head, we should stand strong in support of those who are vulnerable but should not be blind to the lived reality for people in many communities, where they have been so starved of resources they will tell you they believe this Government could not pick their area out on a map. Areas that have suffered from deprivation and neglect by successive Governments are among those most severely impacted by the housing and accommodation crisis. The housing crisis is the reason thousands of people are trapped in the hell of direct provision when they could and should be able to move on. Direct provision was a temporary solution that has endured for decades. When the Government proposes another temporary solution, I am sure the Minister of State will forgive people for being somewhat sceptical. As we know, direct provision was a temporary solution. This is the Government that pledged to end it but all the while, under its watch, the numbers have increased.

We need better communication but communication is not a veto. Communication is about letting communities know so that preparations can be made. It is also about ensuring that there is not an information vacuum because that vacuum will be filled by those who want to sow division. They will tell people in marginalised areas that the Government does not care and that it has information it will not share. In that regard, my most recent experience has not been a good one. I found myself on a list for circulation for information, with other people, when the only criteria for inclusion was that they lived in my town. Other Deputies were excluded from that list. That is not good practice and I sincerely hope it will not happen again. In the main, communities are not looking for a veto. They are looking for information. In the absence of that information, the vacuum is filled by people who seek to sow division and hate, and to cause problems. That is all they will do. If we do not have factual information with which to counter their nonsense, that is a very bad day.

I will briefly say a word about An Garda Síochána. We talk a lot in the House about the need to resource the Garda. We all agree with that. However, members of the Garda are saying they need guidance and leadership. That should be provided to them. Nobody wants to see a similar situation arise to that we have seen over the past number of weeks. Everyone should do everything in their power to resolve that and ensure it does not happen again. That requires information and guidance for the people who will be on the front line.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak. It is important that, as Irish people, we take stock. We have an incredible challenge in front of us in this country. We have seen many thousands of people come from Ukraine, we have asylum seekers and, of course, our own people who cannot find housing.

We have the perfect storm. I will address the issue of asylum seekers and Ukrainians first. I commend the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, for the work they have been doing in the past 18 months. A tsunami of pressure has been coming at them with the numbers of people coming in. Issues have arisen. Some providers of accommodation were not paid on time, but I hope all that has been rectified at this stage.

The biggest problem we have is a small thing really. It is the idea of secrets or a lack of information which allows the wrong type of information to grow and multiply unchallenged. I saw it in my constituency. A few months ago there was a rumour that people were going into a hotel in Loughrea and into a convent in Tuam. The rumour was out there. I received a lot of phonecalls from genuine people who wanted to know what was happening, to see if they could help and to prepare for the arrival. Many months later, I still have not received any information other than it is not asylum seekers. That is about it. That is all I was told. It is important that public representatives are given information and are part of the solution, rather than them being kept out of the equation. In reality, if a building is being done up, the people inside who are doing it up know what it is for. That allows the word to spread and then all kinds of permutations are put in. The people who want the opportunity will take it to spread every kind of story and to scaremonger. That is why we must look again at how we communicate and how we engage with local stakeholders at an early stage to ensure we have a transition.

I remember a few years ago we had an issue in one of our towns. Asylum seekers were coming in. I brought together the hotel operator and the business people in the town and we sat down. The asylum seekers arrived. When the contract was up in the hotel, the local people were ringing me to ask if I could get it extended because the people had blended into the community. There was never a word about them being there. Now Ukrainians are there and they are also part of the community. It is how we deal with the secretive approach. When I say secretive, I mean information is not given out. We do not want to know what people are thinking but when a decision is made we need to know how the process will work from there.

Leaving that aside, the biggest problem we have is accommodation. When people come into the country, as an Irish person, I think we should treat them with dignity. We should not have them sleeping in tents on the side of the road. We should not expose them to being attacked by individuals who do not want them there. I have always said this. People talk about modular homes as if they will be the panacea to solve all our problems. They have no notion of doing so. Coming from a construction background, I know what I am talking about. The sooner we stop looking at modular homes or off-site construction as a panacea to solve our problems the better.

We need to go back and look at the housing emergency. We have rules, regulation, assessments, feasibility studies and approvals. Housing has become a consultant's paradise and no progress is being made. We have turned what was a simple process of building houses into a quagmire. I came across a term the other day. I think it was an tAthair Micheál McGréil who said about bureaucracy in Ireland, that it has gone mad. He did not mean gone mad in the head. It stands for maximum administrative delay. That is what we have created. In all our systems we have created the maximum administrative delay. It is not anyone's fault. We have knee-jerk reactions to trying to solve something that went wrong in a process in the past. We nail it to the mast so it cannot move again. We must shake that off. We have an emergency. We must create flexibility and a scene where we are actually building houses and not looking at them on paper.

7:10 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Sometimes I think we are having two debates about asylum seekers. There seems to be a debate in the political and media bubble and one happening outside in the real world. There is a disconnect between the two debates and what is happening around the issue of asylum seekers. Most Irish people want to help those who are fleeing violence, famine and war. Most want to be Good Samaritans and to help people in their times of need. However, it also must be said that we need common sense as we approach this major issue. Many asylum seekers have settled well and been welcomed well. That is wonderful news. However, the Government has created enormous difficulties in this process in recent years. We are well into a year of a high increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the country and still little or no consultation is happening with communities. That is incredible. Even people who want to help with finding locations for people seeking asylum are being ignored or not being allowed into the process of consultation at all. That is a mistake.

To date, there have been little or no community dividends. We must accept that many asylum seekers are being located in regional or working class areas. They are not being located in leafy suburbs. That is also a difficulty. Many of these working class areas are suffering significantly from the lack of investment in housing, health, education and transport. If larger populations are going to be put into those working class areas, we must ensure a community dividend is put in place so that resources can be provided for locals and newcomers.

The biggest issue I have with the Government's approach to this is the complete dysfunction in the asylum application process. Some 14,000 people are currently waiting for an asylum process decision to be made. The median processing time is approximately a year and a half, but thousands of people are waiting two and three years for their first decision to be made. One person is waiting 14 years for the first decision to be made on an asylum application - that is incredible - and that is before an appeal is even mentioned. The job of the asylum application process is to differentiate between those who are real asylum seekers who we need to help and those who are economic migrants. That is the purpose of the system. However, if a decision is yet to be made about 14,000 applicants, that means the State is providing accommodation for economic migrants among those numbers. Given the pressure we are under that does not make sense.

It has also been reported that last year 5,000 people came to Ireland seeking asylum without documentation or using false documentation. That is also incredibly wrong and the Government is not cracking down and making the process stricter to ensure that does not happen in the future. We need to get to grips with that element of the asylum process. The end of the process is mind boggling. Between 2018 and last year 4,631 deportation orders were issued to people who had failed the asylum application process. As of last year, 3,887 of the people who had received deportation orders had not left the country. The Government had no understanding of where they were. The Government is presiding over a voluntary deportation order system at the moment. That is also incredible given the pressure we are under. The idea that those who are successful in their application for asylum and those who are not would have exactly the same outcome in the end, i.e. that they can stay in the country, is incredibly wrong. We are spending millions of euro on that differentiation process and it is not actually differentiating an outcome for people in the long run.

Today I received a reply to a parliamentary question from the Minister on the location of accommodation for asylum seekers. The answer stated that 146 hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfast accommodation are being used by the Government to accommodate asylum seekers. In total, only 33 other locations are being used. That means that 80% of locations that are being used to house asylum seekers are in the hospitality sector. That is putting enormous pressure on a sector which provides livelihoods for tens of thousands of people, especially in regional Ireland. There are many downstream tourism businesses that are dependent on throughput of tourists in those hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfast accommodation for their living to be made. They depend on that to pay their rents and mortgages and to put food on the table for their children.

One of the reasons for this massive dependency on the hospitality sector is that the Government's incompetence, that is visible in housing, healthcare and education, is completely visible in this sector too. The Government promised this time last year that 500 modular homes would be in place by October and not one of them is in place at the moment. Some 85% of the pledged homes for Ukrainian refugees were never activated by the State. Of the 500 buildings the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, identified last April, today only a dozen of those are in use. Of the more than 30 buildings the Government bought for asylum seeker accommodation, we understand that only three are in use. There are major difficulties in this, therefore.

I mention the situations where asylum seekers and Ukrainians are settling well in a community and integrating with the help of the local community. In many cases they are then uprooted by the Government and told to move to another location where the integration process has to be done again, which is illogical.

We have responsibilities internationally which we need to fulfil but we have domestic responsibilities too. The Government needs to have compassion in dealing with this area but we also need to have common sense, and that is sorely missing.

7:20 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to contribute to this debate. It is an issue that has come to national prominence in recent months and it is only right and proper we discuss these matters in the Houses. I commend the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, other Ministers and the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, on the significant role they have played in this process. I also pay tribute to the countless public servants who are working under undoubtedly stressful conditions to try to identify accommodation across the State for those seeking international protection and for our Ukrainian friends. I appreciate how difficult it is and, having previously worked in the property market a couple of decades ago, I understand it is very difficult under the present circumstances, particularly with upwards of 100,000 people coming to our shores in the past year or so.

I also reassert my belief that we have a responsibility to provide adequate housing for international protection applicants and we must do all we can to facilitate that goal. I echo the comments made by the Taoiseach last week that, whatever an individual's view on immigration, no one person or community has the right to block access for housing for international protection applicants. To do so is intimidatory and wrong. We all saw the scenes in County Clare on television and we saw refugees walking away with their possessions in bags. We saw the burnt out tents on Sandwith Street Upper and we saw the marches in East Wall. I cannot be the only Member of this House who was ashamed to see those images.

Our history of emigration is well documented and often spoken about, so much so that it is almost clichéd at this stage. However, the scars of our history remain fresh and ingrained in our collective memory. Given the progress we have made as a country in recent decades, it can be easy to forget where we have come from. My parents left these shores in 1966 to go to the UK and my brothers left these shores to go to the UK and the US respectively. They have not returned yet but I hope they will. My uncles left in the 1940s and the 1950s to Scotland and South Africa, and these stories are not unique. It is not all that long ago that Irish people leaving Ireland in search of a better life were met with hostility or discrimination upon arrival in a new land. They left to flee hunger, violence, instability and poverty and they built their lives, in many cases far from their homeland, family and friends. They undertook arduous journeys, often at great personal risk, in the hope of a better life where they would be safe. We look upon these generations with sympathy and compassion, knowing the pain these events imposed upon our society. We know what it is like to be scattered to foreign countries.

We signed the UN refugee convention on 29 November 1956 and thereafter we signed its protocol in 1967. We therefore have a legal and moral basis to support those seeking international protection. It is in that context that the vast majority of Irish people maintain good faith towards our responsibility to be a safe harbour for those fleeing war, famine, climate change and instability in their countries. Despite this, there are those in this country who would seek to manipulate the genuine concerns some communities have regarding the accommodation of international protection applicants into a wider political agenda.

I spent a few minutes of my biweekly canvass yesterday in Swords talking to a man, and to be honest I do not think I will get his vote. I spent about six or seven minutes chatting to him and he addressed the issue of migrants with passion, although regrettably he did not refer to them as migrants. He said they are taking our jobs and that we are spending all this money on them and all the rest of it. He had a lack of knowledge and true information because all I heard from this individual were mistruths, misinformation, disinformation and stuff I have seen online on various apps, websites, Facebook and places like that. That is what we have to deal with. We are dealing with a large group of people who are being fed information which is broadly inaccurate and which ignores our legal and moral responsibilities towards supporting individuals who find themselves leaving their countries for whatever reason. If they have a legitimate reason to be here, then we have a legitimate, legal and moral reason to support them. The goal of individuals like that is simple. It is to stoke up tension and sow division in the heart of our communities, all for their gain. They must be countered through community engagement, information and resourcing.

Protest is a core tenet of our democracy and of any democracy. It has served us well and it will continue to do so, but there is a line that should not be crossed. Protesting outside a facility which houses children, for example, is not acceptable. Protesting outside a facility that houses women who have fled countries where they are being persecuted just because of their sex is not correct either. Those protests are not designed to welcome people or make them feel safe, and on that basis they should not be tolerated. Protests outside the homes of public representatives are equally unacceptable. I do not often agree with some Members of the Opposition but I could not possibly pass up the opportunity to condemn that sort of behaviour. Those individuals are welcome to come here, to Leinster House. This is the seat of our democracy and that is legitimate protest but preying on the weak and vulnerable, conducting head counts on buses and chanting at people getting off buses is just thuggish behaviour. It is weak-minded and it should not be tolerated.

Since the beginning of the year there have been approximately 125 anti-immigration protests in Dublin alone, which equates to almost seven per week. In some of those protests injuries have been incurred, and this presents a spectre of increased tension and violence. Gardaí are increasingly dedicating their time and resources to these protests and I commend them on their work to date and on the engagement with the Minister on the matter. We must ensure gardaí are adequately prepared for these situations to limit the risks they may face while engaging with protests in this scenario, but I must draw a line between ensuring the peace is kept and allowing certain behaviours to go unchallenged.

I want to give an example of this.

If Deputies Pringle, Kerrane, McGrath and Collins and I were to take a seat on the M50, perhaps on the bridge in Strawberry Beds, and block traffic because of some gripe that we had with the State, we would be arrested. I absolutely know we would be. Therefore, I have to ask why gardaí are permitting individuals to block a public road. I am yet to hear a satisfactory answer to that question, which I have asked over recent days. In recent weeks, we have seen a number of high-profile incidents on Sandwith Street, not far from here, and in Inch in County Clare where people have set up blockades to accommodation for asylum seekers. We cannot allow these kinds of incidents to occur, nor do I believe that the underlying roots of these situations can be ignored or that they will simply fade away. No one has the right to block streets, access to buildings or access to places of work, as occurred in Santry over the past couple of weeks, or indeed any other individuals in these ways, regardless of the setting, whatever the perceived justification that is given. We are a country of laws and we must adhere to them. The sinister actors involved in these incidents do not speak for the wider community. While they may feel they can take matters into their own hands, we must send them a message that they cannot.

There are many issues to be addressed within these communities, and they are settings in which concerns can be raised. In all of these events, we often do not hear the voice of the individual seeking shelter. Protests outside accommodation centres, attacks on tents, buildings and other such incidents can be seen and can be deeply traumatic for people seeking international protection, many of whom have fled political instability, violence, prejudice and extremism. These individuals have the right to safety and the right to build a life in which they can contribute to our society. I am encouraged by the progress we are making with regard to the number of international protection applications. I understand from the Taoiseach's comments earlier today in the House that there are approximately 250 international protection applicants who are yet to receive accommodation, down from approximately 500 in recent weeks and more than 1,000 in recent months. This is welcome progress, but it must be built upon. We cannot allow a situation to develop where people fleeing their own countries find themselves sleeping on the streets.

I also welcome the decision to re-evaluate the use of empty buildings, and particularly office buildings, with regard to this issue and the wider accommodation needs faced by the country. It not ideal and it is not perfect but at least it is a roof over the heads of those individuals on a temporary basis. I also believe that the use of modular buildings can play an important role in addressing the demand for accommodation and it is something we should pursue. However, as a Member of this House for the past 12 years, I have been hearing about modular accommodation since 2015 and I have not seen any delivered yet. I recognise the introduction of a €50 million community recognition fund, which rewards communities that have taken international protection applicants. My constituency in Fingal, which is that of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Brien, has benefited from in excess of €1 million in funding through this scheme, which will contribute widely to these projects.

I understand that many communities have raised legitimate concerns about information and supports available for communities that have been chosen to house refugees. I accept such concerns. It is only right the Department informs communities and its public representatives once properties are secure and made habitable for either international protection applicants or Ukrainians. It is only natural that people want to know and want to be consulted, but it must be said that the provision of such information in advance as some sort of sign-off process by the public just is not possible nor should it happen. That is what has been said to me over recent weeks. I do not believe that there should be any conditionality applied to housing refugees other than that the property is suitable. We have a legal and moral obligation to assist.

Immigration has brought diversity of culture, music, food, ideas and so much more to our shores. In recent years, we have seen new arrivals in Ireland start new businesses, young people excel in education and support other people within the community and so much more. I have had the privilege of representing the youngest, fastest growing community in Europe for the past 19 years. When I was mayor in 2007, I distinctly remember the pride I felt when I learned that there were 105 nationalities represented in the wider Fingal county at the time. I am not sure of the figure today, but it is probably quite similar. Because of them and because of the number of people that have come to our shores over the past 30 or 40 years and longer, we are a richer nation. I look forward to the positive impacts they will bring to this country in the future.

7:30 pm

Photo of Claire KerraneClaire Kerrane (Roscommon-Galway, Sinn Fein)
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I am glad to get the opportunity to speak on this debate. I listened to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, earlier on. He spoke about the accommodation providers facing threats. We have all seen the protests and everything that has gone on to date. Most of it, if not all, is absolutely unacceptable, particularly the protests we have seen in Dublin. However, we must also look at the other side of that, namely, the communities that have welcomed refugees and what they have seen from Government in support of that. I refer to the communities that opened their arms to refugees who came in and how Government has supported or, in most cases, not supported those communities. That is the other side of it. For them, this is even more frustrating. I have used the example of the town of Ballaghaderreen many times. Sadly, it is the most economically and socially deprived town in County Roscommon. There is a lot of poverty and deprivation in the town, which is a small rural town of a population of around 1,800. They have seen an increase substantially, from 2017 onwards, to about 400 refugees and international protection families and individuals and they have got zero support from Government. I cannot for the life of me understand how there cannot be a cross-departmental approach for the small number of overall towns that have taken in refugees, including from the Department of Education. In the case of Ballaghaderreen, the school is bursting at the seams, with more than 200 pupils, and it cannot take in any more. Some of the classes in the school are being held in corridors. The funding has been granted for new school, but they are in limbo because they are waiting for the Department to come back to them on what design to choose. Let us look at that and move it forward. Let us look at health in the town and get the HSE look at the fact that the GPs are running waiting lists. What can be done there? That is not happening.

There are towns like Ballaghaderreen that are giving goodwill for nothing in return. That, to me, is the most disappointing part of all. At the end of the day, the frustration and tension that is there now in towns such as Ballaghaderreen, where is a massive stretch on services and resources, is totally avoidable. It is totally and completely avoidable if the Government works cross-departmentally to physically put in resources and services in towns like Ballaghaderreen that are taking in additional populations and getting no supports at all. That, to me, is the most disappointing part of all of this. Huge pressure is being put on rural communities in particular. The Government is not living up to and giving the same commitment these communities are giving in providing those resources and those services that are so desperately needed. When that is not happening, a vacuum is created. People are getting annoyed and frustrated, and then we find ourselves where we are now. That is a huge part of it. I think this is very much being left to one Department. We are not seeing a cross-departmental approach from Government. That is letting down a lot of rural communities.

Deputy Kenny was to share time with me. I presume there is no extra time?

Photo of Claire KerraneClaire Kerrane (Roscommon-Galway, Sinn Fein)
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Okay. I want to make the point again that where rural communities are opening their arms and refugees have come in, the Government needs to support those communities. I have spoken to the Minister of State about the town of Ballaghaderreen, which is a prime example. From 2017, the Syrian refugees began arriving, and from that point to this, additional resources and services have not been put into the town. That is not fair. It is part of the reason we are here today and why so many rural communities are now up in arms and frustration levels are growing. It is because they are not getting the resources. Looking at what we have seen in Clare, if resources followed the increase in population in those communities, the argument that we are not getting additional resources or services could not be used. Let us take that argument away and ensure the resources and services follow the influx of population into these rural communities.

I ask again that the Government looks at a cross-departmental approach. I ask that it looks at the rural towns and others that have taken in refugees and families seeking international protection with a view to seeing what can be done, Department by Department, to support that increase in population, including in education to health and other Departments that have a role to play. Let us look at doing it that way. We must provide the additional resources. We cannot say the money is not there to do it. Let us provide the resources and services to give this a chance to work out in the way it can.

All this frustration and tension can be avoided in an awful lot of cases if we support the communities. It is a fair request, but it is not happening. The Government needs to do more on that cross-departmental approach.

7:40 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Ar an gcéad dul síos, I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, for his engagement with me any time I contact him. I welcome the community fund, which some communities in my county were successful in getting. I thank the communities for their engagement.

The truth is, however, that the lack of effective Government action is the root cause of Ireland's housing crisis and, indeed, this crisis for asylum seekers. The crisis has left refugees in desperate situations. It has left approximately 12,000 Irish people homeless and approximately 250,000 Irish individuals, including men, women and children, in precarious housing situations all over the country. Many struggle to pay for rent and heating and they have many other kinds of issues. It is a huge crisis. There is no-one to blame for this catastrophic mess but the Government. It is high time that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party offered a sincere apology for allowing this situation to unfold.

Even as we speak, evictions are carrying on, as they have been all the time even through Covid-19, for various reasons. Mortgage holders are struggling to repay their loans as repossessions loom. The number of asylum seekers is rapidly rising and as I said, the country faces a shortage of at least 250,000 homes.

It is important to note that anyone who dares to question the lack of direction or express legitimate concerns is conveniently labelled as right wing, which undermines the seriousness of the crisis. This crisis is of the utmost importance. It not only affects those leaving their homes and seeking refuge but impacts the social cohesion of our own people in our own society with integration. The Government's failure to communicate, the lack of a viable immigration and housing strategy and a complete lack of transparency are the common denominators in this situation.

Let us begin by examining the Government's decision to welcome tens of thousands of vulnerable people to this country and promise them a better life despite knowing our country lacks the capacity to provide the basic accommodation for these individuals and families. The Government is letting these people down and it has not done anything to help them or address their legitimate concerns.

I condemn any far-right actions, or so-called far right - it is easy to label everything else. There is no room for violence at protests or anywhere else. We must genuinely look after these people.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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The time for straight talking on this issue is long overdue. The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, is an absolute disgrace. The Minister's arrogance and patronising stance towards communities is being remarked upon by Members of his own Government in briefings to the press almost every week that passes.

Only this week, The Sunday Timesrelayed the story of how officials in the International Protection Office were aghast at his ridiculous decision to send out a tweet in eight different languages, effectively making Ireland the destination of choice for international protection applicants both real and fake. Has the Minister experience in the tourism industry or with travel agencies? Is he becoming a travel agent for Ireland? Senior coalition figures are saying that the level of arrogance and hubris is astonishing and that the Minister has "let the anti-immigration genie out of the bottle."

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, John Drennan conveyed comments such as these from the Minister's so-called colleagues. One said:

'He says he won't be going to meet the people. Then he says, 'I will only meet some of the people'. And then it evolves into, 'I will only meet those people who are acceptable to me'.

The article goes on to say that:

One FF TD said: 'O'Gorman has created a backlash in rural Ireland. The rural economy has been closed down [and devastated] by a coterie of Dublin ministers.'

The article continues:

The view was echoed by Fine Gael TD Michael Ring, [with whom I agree in this case] who said: 'Jobs are being lost to tourism that we have been building for 40 years. We are throwing tourism suppliers to the wolves.'

The Minister's response to communities has been to make decisions deeply affecting them and to ignore them or accuse them of being some kind of pawns of the far right. It is unacceptable.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I believe Ireland has been a decent and welcoming country for many years and has given kindly to the people across the world, no better than any place in the world. Personally, I believe we have opened the gates here too far and have taken the hinges off the gates and doors in this country. We have situations where people are sleeping rough. We have been saying for the last number of months in this Dáil that maybe we should have controlled the numbers coming into our country in order that we can look after those who do come into this country properly and that has not been the case.

I thank the Minister of State and his private secretary for their help over the last few days with the situation we had in Church Cross in Skibbereen. I will quite willingly and openly speak about that. The people of Church Cross, Aughadown and Kilcoe are the finest and most decent people one could ever meet in all one's life. However, a small nursing home closed down there after being bought by a developer into which refugees were being placed. They did not know whether it was five, ten, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 or 40 people and they sought information. In fairness, any time I texted the Minister of State, he responded. He might not have been able to give me the exact details, but he tried his best and I accept that. I always commend anybody who does that. It is very unfair on the community, however. They said they will be labelled racists or this and that. They had concerns and needed to have them addressed. There was not even a footpath outside of that building never mind a shop or any other facility. They wanted to know what was happening. The only information I could get on Friday night was from the developer himself. Obviously, people will say he has a vested interest. In fairness, however, I got much information from the Minister of State's private secretary yesterday evening before our second meeting and we were able to bring a bit of understanding to the whole matter. Obviously, people need further clarity. I commend the people there for having this meeting and opening up the engagement with the Minister of State. Surely be to God, however, the public representatives must know what is going on. If I do not know what is going on, how many more people will be in the same situation? Matters will get worse and worse if these things are not nipped in the bud.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I have nothing at all against refugees or asylum seekers. How could I have anything against people I do not even know? We all feel for people who are fleeing war and conflict in other countries. However, it is clear this Government has an open-door policy, but it has not accommodation sorted out and services like doctors, teachers, schools and all those things in place. The Government landed over 4,000 extra people into Killarney without having one extra doctor. That is not fair on the people who have lived all their lives in Killarney and the surrounding areas, but it is also not fair on the refugees and asylum seekers. I need not pass Killarney to realise that the Government is not up to it.

We saw what happened in the hotel on Park Road. Refugee women and children were going to school, and they had integrated. Then, the Government decided they must be taken out of that facility, and it put in 400 asylums seekers from 14 different countries. On New Years' night, they stabbed each other and they fought and there were court cases. People were terrified. There were ambulances and Garda cars around the place like they had never seen before. That is not acceptable. Until such time as the Government has accommodation in place and proper services, please, it has to call a halt. It has to look after the number of people who are here and stop at that. Until the Government has things sorted out, we cannot have people on the streets. It is making a show of us.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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Communication is vital if the Minister wants people to come here from Ukraine seeking asylum. The first time fear was sparked was in Bruff when people were told 100 Ukrainian people, whom they were told were women and children, were coming and then 300 arrived. There were 100 asylum seekers who were male coming in there, inside an area where there were women and children. That sparked concerns. I was recently in Feenagh where a park was opened during the week. The community welcomed three Ukrainian families into their area. This was done by working with the community. The Minister or State should have seen it. It was absolutely fantastic to see the community welcoming them in. Those families felt welcomed and safe. Equally, this was done in Cappamore where there was communication with the communities. They were welcomed in, the women and children, and they were accepted and help was available to them. The same thing happened in Kilmallock and around County Limerick where there was communication. The problem is that nobody coming into this country as an asylum seeker should feel afraid. Equally, the Irish people should not be afraid either from the lack of communication by the Government. All they want to know is who is coming in and what they can do to help, and they will help.

The problem is that the Government drops them straight into communities when there are no services for them. People do not know what they have. The key is communication to, and investment in, the communities, not the other way around. It is like closing the gate in the field when the cattle are outside in the road. That is what the Government is doing. Communication with the communities is key. Ireland will always look after people who are vulnerable.

7:50 pm

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Taking up that theme, I wonder that if the Government were to communicate with-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Forgive me for interrupting but is the Deputy sharing time?

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Does Deputy Cowen want a few minutes? I am sharing my time, in that case.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I would ask the following of the Deputies opposite. If information were given to them, would they communicate it to their communities? Would they communicate the State's requirements of different communities in respect of the whole issue of refugees and asylum seekers? Would they drive that message home in order to accommodate the asylum seekers and refugees?

It can be tedious rehearsing the reasons we are here but I want to put them on the record again. The bulk of those who have come to our shores have done so as a result of the illegal invasion of a sovereign state. It is as simple as that. It is the result of the displacement of millions of that state's population and a scorched earth policy adopted by an aggressor that has weaponised the displacement of people in the hope of undermining the status, structure, solidity and foundation of the European Union. Representatives of that aggressor country must smile wryly when they hear a debate that seeks to undermine the efforts - albeit they are sometimes faulty - of the Government to accommodate numbers of asylum seekers we would never have envisaged, even when the war commenced. I commend the Government and the Minister. I stand by the Minister and the Government in the continuing efforts they are making and will have to continue to make.

My parents emigrated from this country in the 1950s and returned in the booming 1960s because they were able to do both. Quite a number of my siblings were born outside this country. One of my brothers emigrated to the United States 30 years ago. I have nephews spread to the four corners of the world. The following sounds like a cliché but it must be repeated. The President said it at the weekend at the national Famine commemoration and the Tánaiste mentioned it in an interview on Friday night. As a country, we have a collective memory of migration and seeking refuge. We are a country to which people have come to and moved from in substantial numbers over the centuries. The DNA of us all probably reflects that.

The world is in a spasm of involuntary movement. Millions of people have been displaced by climate change and poverty and, more and more, by conflict. No one I ever knew voluntarily left their home forever. I appeal on a human level to anyone listening when I say the vast majority of people who leave their homes are doing exactly that - leaving their homes. No one does that willingly. The vast majority of people do it involuntarily and cherish the desire of some day returning to that home.

I was involved, and hope to be again, as a volunteer in the Ukrainian hub in the Citywest Hotel. It is populated by the various relevant Departments of the State, including the Departments of Justice; Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; and Health, as well as the HSE. It is also populated by scores of volunteers who help to give a very warm welcome to the visitors and their families. In the days I was there, those visitors were predominantly women and their children, and grandmothers. We would give them a place for the evening. Others were visiting through the international protection and accommodation services, IPAS. They do not pass through as quickly, which was a comment I made in correspondence to the then Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice. They are dispatched fairly efficiently to different parts of the country where accommodation is provided for them. Without those volunteers and the officials who work thanklessly around the clock, we would not have the kind of streamlined situation we have. It needs to be more streamlined still. I thank all of those involved. I also thank the schools in my constituency that opened their doors to migrant children. I thank the health service and the social protection services. The Cathaoirleach Gníomhach will appreciate there are villages and parishes throughout the country that have been insulated to some degree from the impact of this crisis. They have not had to take on additional pupils and the health services have not come under particular pressure. That needs to be noted.

I want in particular to champion the officials. We talk about having systems in place and consultation, about which I want to say a word. The officials are the front-line people who deal with these issues. They are charged with finding accommodation at very short notice. For them, the luxury of consultation may not be available initially. We do know, however, that without consultation, the process is delayed. Sometimes that process can seem unwieldy and with the best will in the world, and without wishing to judge anybody, I wonder would consultation with local public representatives always ease the way into the communities for people. We had an experience in Cookstown in my constituency. It was visited all of a sudden and what happened was that rumours built because no official information was being channelled. Consultation might seem time consuming and unwieldy but it must be done because we live in a democracy. This is not going to end and we have a significant part to play.

I am conceding time to Deputy Cowen. Many of the points I wanted to make have been made by previous speakers. I assure any of my constituents who are listening that any points they wished to be made have been made. I want to make and emphasise one point in particular. The over-reliance on hospitality and hotels for accommodation must end. I am aware of at least one facility in my constituency that has been made available. I have been aware of that for months. It needs some work. The installation would be considerable. That project seems to have stagnated. It does not seem to be moving. The Citywest Hotel is the Ukrainian hub and the hub for those people coming into the country and availing of IPAS. There are 1,100 rooms in the Citywest Hotel. Other hotels in the area were also providing accommodation. During the peak of the crisis, 2,000 beds were lost every night to the south Dublin county economy. That is an inestimable loss. It would be noticed in a rural town but would be less noticeable in the city. We are talking about the loss of bed nights and the effect on all the businesses that service a hotel, including caterers supplying food and drink, and printers. The Citywest Hotel is a major convention centre and has lost conventions and the spending power of all those visitors. There has been a loss to every business in the area, including the taxi industry. No one is crying for an end to hotel accommodation, and I am sure very generous deals have been done with the hotel operators. No one has asked me to say the following and I am not advocating for anybody but just looking at the situation, the loss to the economy of south Dublin is significant. I accept that we need a hub but the loss of jobs and employment can be taken for granted because it can be absorbed in Dublin and become invisible in a town the size of Tallaght, which feeds into City West. That business goes somewhere else, which is fine. However, that was a point I wanted to make. Retaining Citywest Hotel as the hub cannot go on indefinitely. The State needs to step up with a formal hub so that businesses can do business, tourists can visit and the economy can move in the way it is meant to move.

8:00 pm

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Lahart for affording me a couple of minutes to contribute to these statements relating to the accommodation needs of new arrivals.

Notwithstanding the majority of, if not all, Members of this Dáil agreeing that we have international obligations together with international credibility as a nation, which has suffered through its own history in the context of migration and which understands the needs of those who are fleeing conflict and oppression in the form of the Ukrainian war and those who seek international protection from other nations, thankfully, nobody I have heard over the course of the past number of months and years disagrees with that obligation. Others may find a way in which to disguise that fact, but that is their business and for them to answer to, if people seek to question it, at the doors when they go before the electorate when the occasion to do so presents itself.

The point I would like to make relates to the planning procedures and the authority the State has on foot of a decision of this Dáil to allow for normal planning procedures not to be adhered to in the accommodation of those in need of emergency accommodation. That does not afford the opportunity to anybody in the State, whether it be local authority or a Department, to override the views, opinions and concerns of people who live in a locality or to fail to provide the information they require. These people have access to services. They want to share them and ensure there is adequate provision for them to be shared. Many within Government have acknowledged the poor communication, but few have addressed it. That needs to be deal with by means of concrete measures taken by those with responsibility in this regard.

As we speak, I am sure many local authorities are investigating the possibilities presented by certain locations, provisions, sites or whatever. It should be incumbent on those authorities to regularly publish information on the areas, facilities and options that are being considered in order that people are adequately informed and can make a contribution to ensure that the relevant services can be provided in a manner commensurate to everybody's needs.

Proposals from the Government are imminent on foot of pre-legislative scrutiny that has taken place and the publication of a report by the relevant committee that there will be amendments to the Planning and Development Act to meet the need that exists in respect of our housing crisis. I hope that similar efforts can be made to speed up a process that is strangling a great deal of development. In turn, the latter is strangling the potential and the possibilities that should and could exist in the context of meeting the accommodation of the needs of those arriving into the country in various circumstances.

I just wanted to make that point and to impress upon the Government the need to bring forward concrete measures that will demonstrate to Members that there is a new communications system or procedure in place that acknowledges the failings of the past and that will accommodate the needs of the future.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I am sharing time with Deputies Connolly and Joan Collins. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on the issue of accommodation needs for new arrivals to Ireland.

We have been dealing with an accommodation crisis for a long time; long before the war in Ukraine and the increase in the number of migrants coming into the country. This is not a new issue, and it certainly is not a migrant issue. Anyone who suggests otherwise obviously does not have a clear understanding of the issue or he or she knows well the facts and yet is purposely misleading the public for an ulterior, and far more sinister, motive. It can be very easy to fall into this trap. The public feel they are owed an explanation as to why their Government has failed to support them and their families. In the absence of leadership from the Government on this issue, people may look to what seems an easy explanation without thinking it through or considering the consequences.

I would like to take this opportunity to urge the public to not let those on the far right use them like this. Those on the far right will not care about the public once the public has served its purpose. Their concern only extends as far as getting what they need. Once they achieve that, the public will be left in the same position but the divisions that are left will negatively affect so many lives, particularly those of the most vulnerable in our society. I do not think anyone wants to contribute to that. I have been made aware of many groups that have been established in recent weeks under the pretence of protecting their communities. Let me make it clear that these groups are not protecting communities; they are hurting them. Hate begets hate, and creating an environment of hostility and spite will do nothing to improve communities. In fact, the only thing that those in many rural communities have is the support and friendship they give each other. Communities should not let this be dismantled by those who have no idea of the meaning of community.

I am always supportive of communities mobilising and of letting their voices be heard, but they have to who they are pointing the finger at. Years of inaction by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have created this crisis. Only the Government has the power to fix it. People who have come to this country to seek asylum and who are in the most vulnerable position imaginable have no power and are often left voiceless and abandoned in hotel rooms, centres or even on the streets. How can we truly believe that people who have been left in this situation pose any threat? Our population has still not returned to pre-Famine levels. There is room for everyone in this country and for plenty more. The reality is that if all migrants left tomorrow, we would still have people sleeping on the streets and there would still be families in temporary accommodation and students camping out in their cars. I ask the public to consider who is really at fault here. It is clearly the Government we should be rallying against. Communities are stronger together. I implore the public not to allow unnecessary and unwanted divisions to destroy this.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity, however short, to take part in this debate. It is appalling that a small group of people would be allowed to burn out tents, board buses and block roads. That is unacceptable behaviour. Notwithstanding any genuine fears that a community may or may not have, that type of behaviour is unacceptable. That a man in his 70s is now in hospital as a result of what happened is shocking.

I understand that on Monday morning members of the National Party refused entry to vehicles carrying asylum seekers coming from Citywest Hotel to the Airways Industrial Estate. Let me condemn that behaviour out of hand. Now let me look at Government policy, which introduced direct provision in 2000 as a temporary measure. Here we are in 2023 and we are going backwards.

I welcomed Dr. Day's report and the White Paper. One of Dr. Day's main conclusions before the White Paper was a key conclusion that a system which places applicants for periods in accommodation with little privacy or scope for normality is not fit for purpose. We have been told that by Dr. Day. We know that from the White Paper. We know that from retired Mr. Justice McMahon, whose terms of reference forced him to merely look at making changes to the system, not abolishing it. We know it is not fit for purpose. We welcome the decision by the Government to end direct provision, but my difficulty at the time was that we were basing that on accommodation in the community and that was a complete denial of the accommodation crisis and a refusal to look at the accommodation crisis and the causes of it.

Twenty-three years after the introduction of direct provision, we are distinguishing between those of colour and those who come from non-Ukrainian countries. It is shocking that we would have a two-tier approach to asylum seekers and refugees. It is simply appalling. I have no idea how the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, can stand over it. Approximately one fifth of the 20,400 people in direct provision are children. As of 6 April last, 5,197 people, more than 1,000 of them children, have no status and cannot go anywhere. They cannot get out of direct provision - 376 of them housed are in Galway - and yet we lay on every assistance to Ukrainian refugees, who I absolutely welcome. How can we distinguish between different wars? How can we do that and look somebody in the eye? It beggars belief.

What the EU has done is to deliberately create a distinction that leads to hatred and othering of people that tells us we have learned nothing from our experience. Now we are looking at cruise ships and various things like that when, over a long period, we should have been building non-profit-based direct reception centres.

We have put everything into the market and rewarded hotels and various accommodation centres for profit, while utterly failing to recognise that we needed a direct role, as in the case of the housing crisis. I welcome the fact we have now got communication from the Minister in respect of Galway and that more than 302 asylum seekers will be going to Galway. I hope we five Deputies in the area will have a meeting with the Minister and the Minister of State in respect of the benefits to all of us in Galway from that. Industrial units are not suitable, however. Their use needs to be temporary, and we need a long-term plan.

8:10 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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Five hundred asylum seekers were living on the streets a couple of weeks ago. The Taoiseach said today that was down to 250. Ours is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and it is totally unacceptable to have any asylum seeker living in the street, just as it is unacceptable to have any Irish citizen living in the street. I understand it was going to be a struggle to provide for everyone who arrived over the past two years, but there is a context to all this. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and the Green Party, over successive Governments, instituted a programme of austerity and cuts to public services, housing policies designed for the wealthy to make profits at the expense of ordinary people being able to find homes, and an asylum-seeking process intended to scare people away from the country through the cruelty inflicted on people through direct provision. The Government cannot now turn around and say it does not know why its response is not working properly. The difficulties we are facing are because of the rotten foundations on which they were built.

Asylum seekers are facing an increasingly violent far right. We have seen that with the attack on the camp in Sandwith Street, the assault of the 70-year-old man in Clare this week and the increasing number of threats made against people working with and supporting asylum seekers. I joined Dublin Communities Against Racism last January not just to resist and condemn the hate and lies of the far right but to put the blame for the crises we are facing, from housing to healthcare, firmly at the feet of the parties that have led our Governments for decades and the policies they have implemented. There is fear and anger arising from the desperate economic circumstances many face in this country. Our communities have faced decades of cuts, underfunding and neglect. People cannot find homes. They have been let down time and again by successive Governments. This fear and anger is now being weaponised by the far right and directed at asylum seekers, refugees and those working to welcome and support them.

Great work is going on in communities to push back against the far right's lies. I am a member of Drimnagh for All, which has done great work. Even so, people are understandably scared that these underfunded and neglected services will be further stretched. The way to avoid this was by properly informing communities about what was going on. If they were going to have new arrivals, what new services would be set up and what new resources or supports would be needed? That did not happen because, as far as I can see, the Government knew it did not have those supports in those communities. We lack teachers, so students are missing out on studying certain subjects, and we do not have enough resources for these schools and communities.

As I always say, we need to start building public housing on public land. The Minister stated earlier that the Government had identified 30 sites on which to build 1,500 modular homes for people on the housing lists. Sites for modular homes to house asylum seekers were identified in November, yet we still do not have them. I want to hear about what sites, what modular homes and when they are going to be there. The Government needs also to reassure communities that they will get more services, not fewer. We need to end this two-tiered asylum-seeking process, start finding accommodation for IPAS applicants and reinstate the eviction ban to ensure nobody, no matter where they come from, will have to live on the streets.

Photo of Joe O'BrienJoe O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Green Party)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important and welcome debate. I thank all the Deputies who participated. I listened to almost all their contributions, including on my way to the House. The debate has been useful.

The Department continues proactively to secure shelter from multiple sources to accommodate those fleeing the war in Ukraine and those applying for international protection. It has been extremely challenging to adapt existing systems to help meet the needs of those arriving here in a vulnerable position and needing supports. The Government acknowledges that elements of the response have been imperfect - the same is true of countries throughout Europe - but this opportunity to discuss the issues and listen to feedback is of great benefit. We must remain committed to doing our best for those seeking protection in Ireland and appreciate the scale of what we are dealing with and what has been achieved so far. In recent years, communities throughout Ireland have demonstrated great solidarity and welcome for those who come here seeking refuge. In particular, I thank the community and voluntary groups who have done so much, individually and collectively, to welcome all those seeking refuge to our country, and I was glad to get the opportunity to thank them in a more direct way at the annual summit of The Wheel in Croke Park this morning.

The Government deplores any action that seeks to intimidate vulnerable people seeking refuge here, many of whom have fled countries with oppressive regimes, war and persecution. The violence recently directed towards vulnerable people in Dublin city centre was deeply disturbing and there can be no excuse for such sinister intimidation. While peaceful protest is a right, international protection applicants also have a right to live peacefully in what is, essentially, their new home in Ireland while their application is being processed. Successful integration does happen if communities open their hearts and minds, hold off judgments based on preconceptions they may harbour and give people a fair chance to engage in local life. My visits to communities throughout Ireland have shown me that in communities that have done so, there is a vibrant new dynamic where those who arrived and were accommodated there are now involved in the likes of Tidy Towns, local volunteering and sports clubs. Communities, and we as a people, are enriched by this integration.

The Government is supporting this work on a variety of levels. Earlier this month, I announced grant funding for more than 110 local projects nationally under the community integration fund. Before the summer break, I hope to announce further community and voluntary sector supports under the international protection integration fund, and later this year, there will be even more substantive packages to support migrant integration at the national level. Local authorities will play a more proactive role in supporting migrant integration, with funding from our Department to recruit between two and four integration officers in each local authority area. That funding will be released soon. We hope to have these teams in place later this year in each local authority area. Last week, of course, as has been mentioned a few times during this debate, the Department of Rural and Community Development, at which I am also Minister of State, announced grants to local authorities under the community recognition fund, which will go to areas that have seen significant numbers of arrivals of new people in the past year to help enhance local community infrastructure for all, such as community centres, sports facilities, parks and playgrounds. Deputy Kerrane spoke about Ballaghaderreen. A total of €270,000 has been granted to Ballaghaderreen, with a lot to be funded under that, such as a community bus, a park enhancement and a boxing club. The social inclusion and community activation programme saw a significant increased allocation last year but also for this year, which has allowed local development companies throughout the country to employ additional community workers to reach out to new arrivals and build bridges with local communities.

Nevertheless, bad-faith actors are seeking to infiltrate communities and prey on people's fear of the unknown. These actors are intent on sowing division and hatred in communities. So far, the vast majority of communities have been resolute in not accepting this hateful rhetoric and the dangerous actions that emanate from such rhetoric. I must emphasise, however, that while it is incumbent on the Government to do all it can to prevent and de-escalate tensions in local communities, we must all show leadership. We now have an active national action plan against racism and I have put a lot of energy into getting momentum going on it since I launched it in March. I have begun bilateral talks between Departments and key organisations in regard to its implementation, with two more such meetings to be held tomorrow. Earlier this month, I launched the Ireland for All fund, which will fund small-scale and large, national antiracism projects. The deadline for applications to that scheme is 31 May.

Perhaps the most important antiracism project, however, relates to how we as political and local leaders respond to people's reactions to arrivals. I have been struck by how, by and large, political representatives of all persuasions have stood in solidarity with people seeking protection and have, on many occasions, been instrumental in communicating not just the facts of a situation relating to a new accommodation centre but also the importance of our moral obligation, as a country and a set of communities, to do our best to help people who are fleeing circumstances we do not have to face in Ireland. I thank Deputies, Senators and councillors of all persuasions who have assisted in this regard, over the past year in particular. Indeed, it is local leadership that is most important in these matters. As is always the case, it is local communities who show what we truly mean when we speak of the very Irish notion of meitheal, that is, coming together with the ultimate goal of making things better for everyone.

I will continue to work with community and voluntary groups and other services across the country to ensure we continue to show the best of who we are at a local and a national level. Indeed, it is my intention next month to hold a national event where we will pull together good community-based integration initiatives from across the country in order to share good practice, give communities the confidence and ability to reach out to new arrivals, but also to platform at a national level the wider reality that the dominant response of Irish communities to new arrivals continues to be welcoming and supportive.

I will pick up on a number of points mentioned this evening. We remain committed to the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision. Obviously, it has suffered a setback over the last year but the structures have been put in place to start that process.

I also express solidarity with other Members of the Houses, who have been personally threatened or harassed, or the members of their families have been, due to standing up for what is right. We are all of different persuasions and from backgrounds here but what has been said and done to Members is unacceptable, and particularly to members of people's families, not just over the last couple of weeks but for some months now. We all need to stand together against that.

I acknowledge that communication could have been better in many cases. I would say there is a wider context. We have opened 150 emergency accommodation centres since January last year. The majority of them have worked very well. Communities have accepted them. Some have said here that there is no communication with communities by Government. That is not wholly true; I accept it could be better. I will try to explain briefly what happens and why I think Deputy Canney adverted to us trying to be secretive about it. We do not want to share the full information about an accommodation centre until we know it is coming online. There is obviously a negotiation process. There is a process where a provider will try to improve a building. What happens in many cases is that local information leaks out and people start rumours. We do not have a deal done in many of those cases. However, when we sign the contract, we finalise the information and it is at that stage that we email the local Deputies with that information. The problem arising from the situation we have at the moment is that we have a centre that is ready to go and we 200 to 300 people who are unaccommodated, and the timeline between the two of those needs to be tight. We would like it to be longer. In some cases, we have had a decent lead in time of a few weeks. It has not happened properly in other cases and that is why, to some extent, the communication has not been great.

I appreciate the Deputies who have assisted in disseminating that information. In some cases, when we disseminate information, the Deputies will tell us that we need to meet locals on this and in many of those cases myself, the Minister of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, or members of our staff have endeavoured to do so. That system needs to be better. The Department of the Taoiseach is developing a better communications plan that will help that.

I put a slight caveat on all this, and it has been said by some in the House this evening. Engagement alone or information alone does not always convince everyone. It can be better and it will help the process but we will not get everyone over the line. That is where local leadership is especially important and why we are grateful for that support across parties. We want to support that local leadership across the community and in the voluntary sector as well.

I appreciate Members' input tonight. There were clear messages which we accept in terms of communication, resourcing and planning. We would be wise to take these on board.