Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 February 2024

4:15 pm

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to address the House this afternoon on the very serious issue of the recent arson attacks that have been carried out by a small number of people determined to sow division in our communities. I want to be very clear that, while I will address issues around immigration today, the matter of arson is a criminal and violent act, and is not under any circumstances a legitimate form of protest. Immigration has been extremely positive for this country. I believe the Irish people, with our own history of emigration, are particularly well placed to understand and appreciate the contribution that immigration makes. Many people who have come to live and work here are breathing new life into our towns and villages. Many of them are teachers and pupils in our rural schools and healthcare workers in our hospitals and care homes. Many more of them bring tens of thousands of people to work daily on our public transport. They are building the homes that we badly need. They are also workers in our multinational sector, which generates significant revenue for the Exchequer that is reinvested back into public services and infrastructure.

We have seen unprecedented numbers coming to Ireland in recent years. This is driven by the war in Ukraine and the many conflicts elsewhere. We can all appreciate that this has meant additional pressure on public services around the country but a huge amount of work is being done to relieve those pressures. That work has many strands and involves input from across government and from State agencies and other groups. Against that backdrop, I want to make clear that people have the right to protest, to question and to discuss decisions and changes that have an impact on our country. Absolutely nobody has the right to take action that causes others to fear for their safety or in a way that threatens public order. Nobody has the right to intimidate others and to damage the property of others. Nobody has the right to set fire to somebody else's property. To do so, or to support those who do this, is an extremely serious criminal matter.

With regard to the recent incidents of arson, I assure Members that I and my officials are in regular ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner and his team and I am satisfied that each of the recent incidents is being fully investigated. The Garda Commissioner has assured me that each and every one of these arson attacks is being treated with the utmost seriousness and all necessary resources and skills are being provided for the investigations. A senior investigating officer has been assigned and an incident room established in each case. This is the same approach adopted, for example, in incidents of murder. I add this point simply to emphasise how serious the Garda response is. The highly skilled special detective unit, SDU, is supporting and assisting local units with gathering intelligence and how the investigations are conducted.

As we know, arrests have been made in some cases and it is important that An Garda Síochána is given space to carry out these investigations. A very small group of people have acted in this way around the country, but I have no doubt that there are people close to them or who know them who suspect that person may be involved. I repeat what I have said in the Chamber many times, that by not passing on this information, people are complicit in these crimes. I urge anyone with any information on any of these incidents to convey this information and to contact An Garda Síochána.

It is important to note that An Garda Síochána successfully policed almost 800 protests across the country in 2023.

The vast number of those protests went off without serious incident and without criminal damage to property.  Where any protests veered into any kind of criminal activity, the Garda has pursued that in appropriate ways.  In DMR, as of November last year, there were 47 different arrests, which we perhaps do not always hear about. In response to protests and demonstrations, Garda management deploys an increased presence where it deems it necessary.  An Garda Síochána conducts a review of the response to each protest and public order incident.  Its approach is ever evolving and intelligence led.  I am proud to live in a country where everyone has the right to peaceful protest, but it is the responsibility of everyone to do so in a peaceful manner and never in a way that infringes on the safety and rights of others.  When people go beyond what is acceptable and put others in danger, members of An Garda Síochána should, and do, protect all members of the public and uphold the law.  The recent incidents of arson that we have seen are reckless and serious crimes.  Not only do they show an egregious disregard for those communities, but the people carrying out these crimes are risking somebody being inside the building.  They are risking the lives of the firefighters who go to put the fire out. None of us want a situation where a person is hurt, or worse, where they are in the house or property.  Lighting a fuse that results in a loss of life could lead to a life sentence, and people need to understand that.  These attacks demonstrate utter contempt for the communities they affect and, in particular, the owners and residents of the properties in question.  When gardaí apprehend those who commit these crimes, and they are brought before the courts, serious punishments are available to the Judiciary.  The Criminal Damage Act 1991, for example, provides for life imprisonment as a maximum sentence for arson in some cases.  When it comes to vandalism, there are fines of up to €12,500 or ten years in prison. I reiterate that nobody has the right to cause damage to property, to cause fear, or to threaten public order.  There is strong legislation in place to allow that those who do are rightfully brought to justice.  Progress is being made in the Garda investigations into these incredibly serious incidents.

Since 23 November last, a Garda investigation is continuing into the scenes of violent disorder that took place in Dublin city centre.  Gardaí primarily based at Store Street station are working tirelessly to identify all of the people who took part in criminal activity that evening and more than 48 arrests have been made to date.  As part of the ongoing investigation, more than 450 business premises throughout Dublin city have been visited by gardaí to establish what impact the disorder had on their businesses.  Where damage was caused, looting conducted or staff impacted, an investigating garda has been assigned to liaise with that business.  The investigating team is also liaising closely with all relevant State agencies. These include Dublin Fire Brigade, Dublin Bus, Luas-Transdev, the National Ambulance Service, Irish Rail, the local community safety partnership and Dublin City Council.  Colleagues and I have also met with many of the representative business organisations.

An Garda Síochána has spent more than 100 years serving the State, and expertly navigating the changing criminal landscape.  The Government and I are committed to supporting them in combating every new challenge that presents itself, including the ones we are discussing today.  Budget 2024 provides €2.35 billion to An Garda Síochána, a 25% increase since 2020.  This allows for the continued recruitment of additional Garda members and staff who are fundamental to responding to these crimes.  The Government's current aim, which is not our final target, is to have at least 15,000 gardaí and 4,000 staff - a total workforce of 19,000 people.  I have also set a target of reaching 1,000 members of the Garda Reserve by the end of 2026.  There are currently approximately 14,000 Garda members across the country.  This represents an increase of approximately 9% since 2015 when there were 12,816 Garda members throughout the country.  As we have discussed previously, the pandemic clearly had an impact on our ability to recruit and train new members.  However, I am pleased that the pipeline is now strong.  At the end of 2023, 3,255 Garda staff were working alongside Garda members and carrying out vital roles.  Those roles vary widely, and some of those increase the availability of gardaí to focus on front-line duties.  The significant increase in Garda staff has enabled 900 gardaí to be freed up for front-line duties.  They are also filling roles in areas such as analysis that support new and more effective approaches to policing.  The recent Garda recruitment campaign, which closed for applications on 8 February, saw almost 6,400 people applying.  This is a significant increase on last year's 5,000 people.  Of that number, I was glad that more than 30% were women.  Numbers in Templemore continue to increase, with new recruits entering the Garda college approximately every 11 weeks.  Some 746 trainees entered Templemore last year.  This is the highest intake in the college since 2018.  The total intake for 2023 represents a sixfold increase on the year before.  Some 7,735 people applied to become a Garda staff member in the most recent recruitment competition, which took place late last year.  The competition sought to recruit 400 clerical officers.  The first round of interviews took place in December for six priority counties and 60 applicants have already been offered positions.  I reiterate my stance and to reassure Members that nothing is off the table when it comes to recruitment.  We engage regularly with Garda authorities to make sure we do what we can to ensure we have that garda presence on the ground. We have increased the training allowance to €305.  We have increased the maximum age of recruitment from 35 to 50.  I am pleased that 40% of the new applicants were aged between 35 and 49.  It deepens the pool from which An Garda Síochána can recruit and ensures members with more diverse experiences join the organisation.  I am engaging with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, on a number of other matters, including increasing the Garda retirement age to over 60. Last week, I received Cabinet approval to for new regulations for the Garda Reserve.  This regulation will pave the way for the Garda Commissioner to build the Garda Reserve unit.

  The Government has also consistently sought to support the well-being of Garda members in recent years and to protect them while they are on duty.  An Garda Síochána has introduced a range of measures in recent years to support front-line gardaí, including increasing personal safety equipment, the number of front-line supervisors, the employee assistant service, as well as trauma counselling and peer support.  It is important, in particular when we see what gardaí had to respond to in November last year, that we have those supports. As everyone in the House will also be aware, I have brought through legislation that will enable the roll-out of bodycams for front-line gardaí.  I am pleased the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Act was signed into law last December.  The Act provides for body-worn cameras, Garda closed-circuit television, CCTV, automatic number plate recognition, ANPR, and community CCTV, all of which will be hugely helpful in responding to these types of criminal acts.  The crucial introduction of body-worn cameras is being accelerated through a separate proof of concept project involving the deployment this year of body-worn cameras in Dublin, Waterford and Limerick.  Gardaí in Dublin city centre will have access to body cameras first, before summer, and the other locations will follow thereafter.  The shocking scenes we witnessed in November in Dublin show how crucial body cameras are to protecting gardaí and helping to bring criminals to justice.  We cannot keep sending gardaí into situations where they are the only ones without the ability to record what is happening.  We also cannot expect gardaí to keep manually trawling through thousands of hours of footage. When people are rightly calling for more visible policing, this is a shocking waste of their time.

  The general scheme for a new Bill to allow gardaí to utilise biometric identification using facial images has been approved by Government. It has been sent to the Attorney General for drafting and is undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny.  I await the report of the justice committee following that scrutiny.  This new Bill will allow the gardaí to use this technology in very limited circumstances to assist them in identifying offenders in respect of serious violent offences.  These include crimes such as murder, rape and child sexual abuse.  It will also include the offences of riot and violent disorder.  It is a waste of resources to have gardaí manually reviewing thousands of hours of footage after an incident, delaying the arrest and prosecution of those responsible.  Body-worn cameras and complimentary object recognition and biometric identification using facial images will greatly enhance An Garda Síochána's ability to identify perpetrators and gather evidence directly.  Police services across the world have gained significantly from this technology and, therefore, it is important our gardaí have it too.  The system will be overseen by a High Court judge to ensure that the protection of human rights remains at the heart of our policing approach.

  The manifestation of online disinformation and incitement as violent action in the physical world is of particular concern to me, my Department and An Garda Síochána.  We are all seeing the spread of hatred online. Part of the Garda Síochána response to such incidents is to investigate the role of relevant online activity.  Gardaí are proactively looking at material online.  In cases of arson, gardaí are proactively approaching property owners where information has appeared online and provided advice on how to ensure a property is secure.  However, we have to be realistic.  It is not possible for gardaí to manage to stand outside and be aware of every vacant property.  We have to ensure that where situations arise, gardaí have the resources available to conduct their investigations.  As I have just outlined, I am determined that gardaí will have the resources they need.  Dealing with harmful and illegal content online was a key priority in the programme for Government, which committed to a new online safety commissioner being established.  I think all of my colleagues and I are clear that the era of self-regulation for online platforms is over.

The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has established Coimisiún na Meán to regulate online media, including enforcing rules about how online services or platforms should deal with harmful and illegal content on their services. It is important to say that An Garda Síochána is already engaging with Coimisiún na Meán, as it should be. The Minister is also overseeing the process to develop a national counter disinformation strategy, which will be published in 2024.

My Department is carrying out significant work in an effort to protect young people against becoming seduced and radicalised by extremist elements online. Ireland's Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027 includes a commitment to support those most vulnerable to becoming involved in serious offending or at risk of radicalisation. In terms of offenders believed to be at risk of radicalisation and violent extremism, Ireland's Action Plan for the Joint Management of Offenders 2019-2021 commits to a multi-agency approach. I can see every day that An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service actively collaborate on these matters. At EU level, approximately 25 to 30 Irish experts and practitioners regularly attend radicalisation awareness network working groups and meetings to participate in training and learn how to better counter violent extremism. These include representatives of my Department, An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service, other Government Departments and representatives from civil society.

There is a range of legislation under which threats and intimidation can be prosecuted. This includes the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Persons Act 1997 and our public order legislation. An Garda Síochána continues to liaise with the international protection accommodation services, IPAS, where accommodation centres are being established to ensure the right resources and supports are put in place to prevent any form of arson from being even possible. Under the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, it is an offence to incite hatred against persons on account of certain identity characteristics. We are strengthening our legislation in this area by creating new offences of incitement to violence or hatred. That legislation will also provide for specific hate crime offences for the first time in Irish law and it will expand the list of identity characteristics for protection under legislation. There is no place in Irish society for racism, prejudice or bigotry and I strongly condemn the actions of those who abuse and attack others because of their own prejudices. I strongly condemn those who have engaged in this criminal activity and do so in the name of protest. Ireland is a diverse and tolerant country and such behaviour is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

The criminal damage of property other than by fire can result in a maximum fine of €12,500 or imprisonment for up to ten years or both. As I mentioned, when it comes to arson, it is life in prison for some instances. The same sanctions can be applied if someone is found guilty of threatening to cause damage to property or if they are found to be in possession of something with which they intend to cause damage to the property. If the criminal damage was intended to endanger life or was reckless as to whether life was endangered, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. In addition to those potential penalties, where property has been damaged, a judge can order compensation be paid. I again stress that these are significant penalties. It is important for the House and members of the public, and especially those involved in these criminal offences, to understand that.

Let me again be very clear. Setting fire to property is not a legitimate form of protest. Endangering life is not a legitimate form of protest. Intimidating people, regardless of where they are from, is not a legitimate form of protest. Coaxing and inciting people online to commit violent acts in the real world is not a legitimate form of protest. These actions are criminal and will be met with the full powers bestowed by the Oireachtas upon the criminal justice system. I reassure the Members of this House that building stronger, safer communities and an environment in which every person can be safe and feel safe is my absolute priority and I know it is for my colleagues as well.

4:35 pm

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Since I came into office, we have debated the issues of migration, immigration, international protection and the war in Ukraine extensively in this Chamber. We have done it through statements, oral questions and Leaders' Questions. Those debates have been robust and informative. This is entirely appropriate. We are in the midst of one of the greatest humanitarian exercises and responses we have ever had to undertake as a State in terms of meeting the needs of 100,000 people who fled to this country over the last year from the war in Ukraine and conflict elsewhere in the world via the international protection process.

We can have these conversations about migration and immigration. We can debate those issues and can hold different views. Equally, the Government has an important role in providing accurate, factual and timely information to public representatives. I have met and spoken with many of those here, as has my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O’Brien. We have also met businesses, councillors and constituents. As Members will be aware, we have a dedicated community engagement team. I know many Deputies will have spoken with the team's members about accommodation being used in their constituencies and this has helped them to allay concerns their constituents have raised.

It is important we make clear that the international protection process is a rules-based one. International protection means fairly and humanely examining people's applications for asylum, sheltering and supporting them while their applications are being processed and giving people the right to stay here, where it is needed. Where it is found that people do not have a basis for their claim, they will not be allowed to stay in this country. Where someone is claiming international protection, he or she must do so at the International Protection Office. When people enter that process, they are fingerprinted and photographed. Those fingerprints are checked against Eurodac, an EU immigration database which stores the fingerprints of asylum applicants and those who have crossed borders illegally. Character and conduct checks are undertaken by An Garda Síochána at the point where consideration is being given to someone being granted refugee status or other permission to remain in the State. To stick with the facts, while people are being accommodated in the State, they are provided with accommodation alongside a payment of €38.80 per week for adults. People are entitled to seek work here after six months. These are the facts. When we are speaking in this Chamber, it is important that we, as public representatives, speak accurately about the facts. We can debate the issues around this issue and the policies. That is part of a normal, functional democracy and the role we as public representatives need to play.

However, what has happened in parts of the country over the past number of years is the antithesis of this democratic process. The arson attacks we have seen recently are deeply sinister and are designed to intimidate and threaten the normal functioning of government and of this State. Make no mistake about it - this is violent extremism and it is being drip-fed by a feed of misinformation and disinformation, with the result that people, homes and communities are actively being put at risk. Not only has accommodation earmarked for international protection applicants been burned down, but so has accommodation marked for Irish people who are homeless and buildings that have no connection with the State whatsoever. Even in cases where my Department has publicly confirmed a building is not going to be used by us, attacks are still carried out. The people taking these actions claim to be patriots. They wave our flag, yet they are literally burning down parts of our country which they claim to love. They are putting at risk the communities they claim to be protecting. Violence and the threat of it, the destruction of property and the risk to life show us that these are people who care nothing about communities or their country. They do not care about the truth; they care only about advancing a very narrow and dangerous ideology, whatever the cost.

We have to be clear about the real-world impacts of these crimes. Right now, we are facing into a serious accommodation crisis for those seeking international protection. As of today, around 1,000 men have not been offered accommodation. The situation is steadily becoming more challenging. We are facing into similar shortages in accommodation for women and children. The effect of these arson attacks is to deny or delay accommodation to those who need it, leaving vulnerable people in a more vulnerable position. The attacks also place at risk the people living in the buildings, as well as local communities, with fires threatening to spread to adjoining buildings, and the emergency services. I welcome the ongoing investigations by An Garda Síochána into recent arson attacks. I urge anyone with information about any of these crimes to contact the Garda. It is vital that those committing these crimes learn that there are consequences to them.

In my Department, we seek to support accommodation providers in relation to their security. Accommodation providers are aware of their obligations in providing security in the centres and, on occasions of heightened risk, the Department has supported individual accommodation locations to bring on additional security. We also have a 24-7 emergency phone line for accommodation providers and public bodies for advice and action outside normal office hours. Each accommodation centre also has a Garda inspector designated as a liaison officer. This person serves as a direct point of contact if an issue of concern arises.

I thank An Garda Síochána for the support it provides to individual centres. As we continue to respond to the very severe accommodation crisis faced by the State, we will continue to liaise closely with accommodation providers and An Garda Síochána in order to provide safety and security for international protection applicants and local communities. While undoubtedly these attacks grab headlines, over the past number of years, and in recent months in particular, we have seen a quiet welcome being extended by communities throughout the country to people arriving, seeking shelter from the war in Ukraine and other conflicts. I believe these communities represent the best of Irish values of empathy, solidarity, an understanding of our history and an understanding what it means to be marginalised.

As I do in all these discussions, I thank Deputies for their ongoing engagement with me, particularly when people are being accommodated in their own communities. I recognise the great work of community groups around the country in welcoming new arrivals into their communities and making them feel welcome, safe and secure.

4:45 pm

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to Members of the House today. This is a very serious issue and one that I am glad to be discussing today.

I echo what my Department colleague, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has said. The recent incidents of arson that we have seen are categorically not a legitimate form of protest. These are criminal acts by a small group of people who want to tear communities apart and sow division. There is absolutely no justification for damaging property and risking the lives of innocent people.

As the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has addressed the criminal justice aspects of these crimes, I will use my time to update the House on the incredible work that is under way to make our immigration and international protection processes smoother, quicker and more efficient. That work is being done for the benefit of local communities here in Ireland and for those people who arrive in our country to work or study, or seeking protection from conflict and often persecution. An Garda Síochána continues to liaise with the international protection accommodation services where accommodation centres are established.

As the Minister, Deputy McEntee, said, immigration has been good for this country. Just as Irish men and women have helped to shape many countries and cities around the world, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom, so too have our new Irish communities helped to develop our country. Almost every Irish-born person now comes in contact regularly with people who have come here to build their lives, which makes for a richer, more diverse experience for all of us. Many of our new neighbours are providing the expertise which makes us so attractive to the multinational companies whose taxes fund so much of our national spending. They support our healthcare and home care sectors. They help us to build more homes. They drive our busses and trains. They work in our shops and restaurants.

Much has been said about those who come here to claim asylum, and much of that has not been true. I want to make very clear that people who come here to seek protection and to live and work undergo rigorous checks to ensure they meet the criteria to build their lives here.

The International Protection Office is working tirelessly to ensure the systems we have in place ensure applications are processed quickly. It means that those who need our protection are given the opportunity to rebuild their lives here in Ireland in a timely manner. It also means that those who do not qualify are told to leave or are sent back home. This swift and fair decision-making in turn creates a disincentive for others to abuse the international protection system.

My Department has made significant investment in staff and technology, and has re-engineered processes at the International Protection Office, and that investment is delivering. Over the course of last year, we tripled the number of monthly decisions, while processing times for applicants from safe countries reduced to under ten weeks with numbers arriving from them dropping considerably. In January, we expanded the list of safe countries to include Botswana and Algeria. We also put in place a means of clamping down on those who come here having already received protection in another EU state. Those people now enter into an inadmissibility procedure with even swifter accelerated processing. Having said that, I want to be very clear that those who come to Ireland seeking protection and entering our systems having fled from persecution and war, have every legal right to be here while their cases are being reviewed.

As an island, we are particularly conscious of our entry points. For example, Rosslare Europort has been the second point of entry after Dublin Airport for Ukrainian arrivals. Immigration staff have assisted with the processing of more than 4,000 Ukrainian arrivals through Rosslare alone since Russia’s invasion two years ago. The situational policing at Rosslare Europort is regularly assessed and effective strategies have been developed. This work is carried out internally in An Garda Síochána, and externally with customs officials from the Revenue Commissioners, and Department of Justice immigration officials.

Due to the nature of the work, international and European immigration legislation, policies, and societal issues, are constantly changing and evolving, which means the body of work is also changing. To meet these challenges, plans to expand Rosslare Europort are under way and security at the port will continue to be assessed to maintain strict immigration controls to meet the highest of international standards.

While our processes and procedures for immigration are being strengthened and streamlined as necessary, let me once again say that the men, women and children who come here to seek protection from conflict and persecution have every right to do so. Our systems and checks are robust and fair. While those who do not meet the criteria to stay here under international protection laws will be returned to their countries of origin, those who do meet the criteria are welcome to Ireland to build their lives and to enrich ours.

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Minister, Deputy McEntee, mentioned the spread of hatred and there is a problem in the community with people looking at material online, not only on the social media platforms but also on WhatsApp and forwarded messages. It is depressing to read messages that have been sent to me containing not only disinformation but also misinformation, hearsay and opinions that are taken as fact. There is a lack of critical thinking not just among young people but among people in their 40s, 50s and 60s in that messages are being passed on as fact. One came to me recently about a campaign by a Kerry company which was purportedly recruiting only non-EU workers and that was taken as fact. People were questioning whether it could have been true and, of course, there was no truth to it whatsoever. The Government could have a programme or an information campaign as to what is actually evidence and what is not. Someone saying, "I'm convinced that...", "I'm of the opinion of..." or "Everybody knows..." does not really mean anything. That is the type of information that is being sent around the community on WhatsApp groups. I welcome that the Minister has said the unregulated system for these social media companies is coming to an end.

For the purpose of this debate, it is worth outlining the extent of the arson attacks that have taken place in recent years and to put it in its proper context. I commend The Journaland its investigative arm, Noteworthy, on their work in compiling a list of suspected attacks. The first such attack which can be attributed to anti-migrant sentiment was at the Caiseal Mara hotel in Moville, County Donegal, which led to one person being injured. According to the Garda, 100 asylum seekers were supposed to be accommodated on site. Further attacks took place in January of 2019. There were attacks on the Shannon Key West Hotel in Leitrim and also on the home of my colleague Deputy Martin Kenny later that year. Sinn Féin representatives, North and South, have long-faced threats of violence and An Teachta Kenny showed immense bravery in the face of the criminal actions of others.

These attacks were warning signs for the Government that should have been heeded but it has continued to pursue the exact same disastrous policies since then, using isolated and disparate buildings, some of them not fit for human habitation and located in areas with few services. The for-profit nature of the system meant that large operators in small market towns ended up buying vacant buildings and renting them to IPAS, all at the expense of asylum seekers and local communities. The numbers of asylum seekers increased post the Covid pandemic, and as that happened and the need for the buildings increased, the Government has doubled down on this policy or non-policy.

Since then, of course, more and more of these sites have been targeted. The Journalnamed ten such attacks on proposed or rumoured sites for accommodation in 2023 alone. Some were on IPAS centres but there was an issue in Dublin relating to accommodation in Ringsend for Irish people who were homeless and needed emergency accommodation.

Since the start of this year a convent in Longford and a site in Brittas have also been targeted. There is simply no excuse for those engaging in acts of criminal damage.

There is a recklessness about the crime of arson, which is difficult to detect but extremely dangerous. People have been injured, property has been damaged, disharmony has occurred in communities and people have been traumatised. It is almost inevitable that lives will be lost if these attacks continue. At this time, it is worth remembering that those fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands then find it waiting for them here also.

There are a number of factors behind this violence, which is clearly organised and follows a certain modus operandi, such as we saw in the criminal riots in our capital city last year. The influence of the Internet through both open and covert organising and disinformation cannot be overlooked. The open presence of right-wing activists on social media platforms allows for the spread of racist and vile language, much of which is outright lies. These outlets clearly serve as a mobilisation tool for public protests, where they have had mixed results. The professional activists make it their business to travel around the country and whip up whatever they can among local communities who, by and large, want nothing to do with them. If this can be seen openly, it is not difficult to imagine the use of Telegram or other encrypted services allowing for organised attacks.

Arson is a difficult crime to detect and a lack of Garda resources has not helped. We do not need to go into detail about the history of the justice system in recent years, with long waits for court cases during Covid and thinning Garda numbers, but the need for investigative resources to tackle these issues is clear. I commend the apparent recent progress but it seems to be too little too late. There is a lack of gardaí in some counties and I understand in one county there has been no garda recruited in the past two years, only swaps. I understand there was security in at least one of the sites and an attack took place nonetheless. There should be increased co-operation between IPAS and the gardaí. We do not need to see the unacceptable confusion over whether the Garda had or had not been informed about a site in Galway and whether it was to be taken over or used by IPAS. While accepting these attacks are baseless and criminal, we must ask ourselves why they are occurring.

The Government has made a bags of the whole situation since the Skellig Star. The Government had a plan for a number of reception centres around the country but did not implement it. Not one bed has been delivered since the challenges with Skellig Star and the people, some of whom had Covid, being moved to Cahersiveen. The same system has been used since then.

We cannot overlook the influence of two factors. The first is the pressure on local services in rural areas, in particular. In Cahersiveen, there are currently two GPs in the area, one of whom is retiring soon. Services need to be put in place and Sláintecare implemented. On the main street in Cahersiveen is an empty building which was to be used as a primary care centre but has not been. Doctors should be in there servicing a community that is already under pressure. Shop units lie vacant and we saw what was in the report published this morning. Housing is expensive and families who have lived for generations in the same town are depressed because they are seeing their sons or daughters moving out and going to Australia.

Employment is scarce, seasonal or inadequate. Migrants and asylum seekers can help to revive these areas. More than 100,000 migrant visas were granted in 2022. They are the people staffing our nursing homes and hospitals and they are very welcome. They need to be supported with the right resources. Without this, and given the ad hocway the Government has done its business, opportunities for integration are missed. In its place, elements of some communities have their fears exploited by the far right. We need policies that avoid heaping further pressure on the private rental sector, student accommodation and nursing homes.

Sinn Féin would prioritise the creation of State-run accommodation - the same plan - while removing the for-profit element that has allowed one operator to earn €400 million since the direct provision system commenced, so the basic needs of Ukrainians and asylum seekers for shelter and safety can be met. The Government has failed in this area, particularly in not constructing State-led accommodation centres. A more progressive approach is needed.

One of the chief ways the far right exploits fears is by telling lies about the nature of the asylum and migration system. We need a system that is firm, fair and enforced, with the contributions that migrants make to life on this island recognised and highlighted. Open borders do not exist. Most asylum seekers produce documents at some point during the application process and checks are carried out, but a lack of communication has allowed the far right to claim the opposite.

It is clear from the ongoing genocide in Gaza and wars around the world in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Ukraine that we must do more to prevent war and combat climate change. The number of refugees globally has continued to increase and is likely to increase further. Nobody sets out on a boat crossing the Mediterranean, paying money to a people smuggler or taking other such risks to leave their home unless they have to. Ireland has a long history of global solidarity and if our anti-racist and welcoming culture means anything, we must tackle these challenges abroad and show global leadership.

4:55 pm

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The arson attacks seen in communities across Ireland are simply inexcusable. There is no justification for them and the perpetrators do not represent the vast majority of people from the communities affected. They are the actions of a small number of nasty actors driven by hate. Their intention is to divide communities. This type of criminal damage and intimidation serves nobody. Lives are put at risk and, in a number of instances, buildings that were not even going to be used for emergency international accommodation were burned simply due to rumours circulated online by those nasty actors. There must be an adequate response to these attacks, through prevention, monitoring and protecting premises that are targeted and, in retrospect, bringing those responsible to justice. The inexcusable actions of those engaged in criminality should not be used to dismiss or ignore genuine concerns of local communities being exploited by those actors.

The Government has made a mess of the asylum system. If it was to start with the intention of purposely antagonising local communities, it would not have been able to do a better job. Government has made multimillionaires of a small number of private companies and left local communities to pick up the pieces.

The situation at the D Hotel in Drogheda is one of the latest and probably one of the most stark examples of a failed approach. The only criterion considered by the Department is the availability of a premises. There is no consideration of the economic impact of the removal of a hotel – the main hotel in many cases – from a local community, of the number of asylum seekers already housed in an area or of the capacity of local services. There is no prior engagement with local elected representatives, community leaders, schools, GPs or other services. The Department just signed a lucrative contract with hotel owners and then informed everyone else it was a done deal. The actions of Ministers since in trying to suggest alternative arrangements such as dual uses for the hotel simply expose that there was no plan. Lots of hotels are struggling and many have cried out to Government for support which the Government has not provided. Instead, a message is given that the way to overcome the challenges is to stop being a hotel. It is not good enough.

If an asylum process is to work, it has to be fair, efficient and enforced. That is what Sinn Féin demands – not open borders as some of those nasty actors try to suggest in their anonymous online rants. For the system to be fair, we must recognise the positive contribution of the vast majority of people who have made Ireland their home but we must also recognise that Irish people by and large have been very welcoming and have gone out of their way to facilitate those who have come here in search of a better life. We must also recognise it is not fair to ask communities living with the housing crisis and suffering as a result of Government failures in health and other public services to suck it up when their last amenity, whether it be the local hotel or another business, is removed from use without a single thought for the impact. I have seen people in rural communities that have lost their local Garda station and post office and where people cannot get a GP appointment then wake up to learn that their last amenity, the local hotel, has been turned into an international emergency accommodation centre. It is a recipe for disaster. Government Members cannot scratch their heads and wonder why people are angry and frustrated.

The dependence on private operators adds to the anger.

People with genuine concerns watch as those operators make a literal fortune while their community is expected to deal with the outworking of Government's failed approach. The failure of the parties opposite to implement their plan to construct State-led accommodation centres is not acceptable. The longer they rely on a system that enriches a few and gives no consideration to any criteria other than the availability of a building, the worse the problem will get. Despite all of the promises, there have been no tangible supports for communities which have accommodated large numbers of asylum seekers or Ukrainians. There has been a lot of talk, but no meaningful support.

It must be acknowledged that a two-tier international protection system was applied after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While understandable considering the emergency situation, it has added to the sense of unfairness. The temporary measures for Ukrainians end in a year and following that we must return to a single asylum process and a plan for that has to be put in place now.

To be efficient means that applications for international protection must be processed quickly. The process still takes far too long. Some of those who are applying for international production wait years for a decision to be made. That is unfair on them. It is also unfair on new arrivals who are forced to sleep on the streets because places are being taken up by those who are waiting too long.

For those who are successful in their application, we have to do more to support them to play an active role in our society and help them to get the jobs that we need workers for and play a positive role in enhancing our communities. Those who are not successful must leave. That might sound harsh but it is the only way to ensure that the system actually works. It is not good enough that the Government cannot, even at this stage, confirm that all those who have been refused international protection have actually left. Without that assurance, the view that the system is not enforced feeds into the frustration that I referenced earlier. It adds to the capacity issues that are obvious to everyone except, it appears, the Government.

Those who have come to Ireland in search of a better life deserve the same respect we would expect to be afforded to Irish people who move abroad. The vast majority of Irish people are welcoming, accommodating and compassionate. They want an asylum system that is fair, efficient and enforced and it is time for that to be delivered. In the meantime, anger should be directed at those responsible for the current failures, that is, this Government, and not at those who are living in emergency accommodation and who simply came to Ireland because they want what is best for their families. Those who exploit the genuine concerns and frustrations through online manipulation and, worse, criminal damage to property and the endangering of innocent lives, must be faced down by all right thinking people.

5:05 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We have a small number of people who are recklessly carrying out delinquent attacks on buildings through pure racism, and we all know that. They are a tiny number of people. The system which has evolved is one Governments have stood over for a couple of decades since Senator Michael McDowell was Minister and direct provision was first brought in as a temporary measure. The problem is that the temporary measure has grown into a mess and has continued.

Successive Governments have set out a playbook that the far right - I sometimes find it difficult to call them far right because it gives these lunatics a kind of legitimacy on the political spectrum - can use as a playground to manipulate people because of the disappointment and failures we have seen for decades. Austerity is at the core of much of this. For the past decade or more, going back to the economic crash, many communities have felt let down and left behind. The only thing they see coming into their communities after all of that is a direct provision centre or hotel opening to look after people who come from abroad. They are very welcome and the vast majority come here for a genuine reason, whether they have papers with them or not. People leaving Afghanistan will not get a passport. People need to cop on when they comment on people coming here without papers.

The reality is that people who come here do so because they want a safe place to go and deserve to be looked after. We have an opportunity to try to do that. However, the problem we have is that the Government has made a mess of this up to now and we need to change that. There is a plan to provide large accommodation centres. We need to do that with haste and not be talking about it in another five or six years' time. We actually need to do it, and do it quickly, to ensure that we can provide for these people.

The majority come here for genuine reasons and we need to process them quickly and ensure they can be part of our workforce and take up the employment that many of the employers say they need workers for but cannot get. Many employers are going to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to seek permits to bring in people from abroad to carry out many of these jobs.

Some people have a certain sense of apprehension about people who come here from abroad. When we ask them which foreigners they know they tell us they know the guy who changes the wheels on their car and say he is a lovely fella and the person who works in the supermarket is a lovely girl. All of the foreigners people know are great people but there is something in their head that the stranger is the problem and issue. As my colleague, Deputy Pa Daly, said, we need to try to develop a process to deal with the lies that are being spread and the manipulation of people through social media and other outlets. The Government has the primary responsibility for dealing with that, and it has failed to do so appropriately and properly.

Communities are facing difficulties. One of the things people continually say is that they cannot get an appointment in a hospital or with a GP and that schools are full. These are issues that were there before anybody came here from abroad, but when people see new people coming into their community they expect that the competition for scarce resources will increase. That is why the Government needs to put more resources in place to reassure people that is not going to happen. The Government has completely failed to do that, and continues to fail to do that.

A centre was due to open up and the community came together and said it was prepared to take X amount of people, provided that the community got extra resources and was looked after. The Department told the community a building can hold so many and that was it. There was a stonewall kind of attitude, which creates more and more animosity in people. As I said, it creates an environment where these agitators and headcases can continue to manipulate people and bring them down the path of fear, which generates more and more hatred. That creates an atmosphere whereby a tiny number of delinquent people will then go off and burn buildings, attack people or whatever.

We can state that the Garda is doing this, that or the other and the Government is opposed to what is happening and all of that, but the Government also has a responsibility to ensure that it does not create fertile ground for this stuff to grow. That is what it has done. That needs to end, and end quickly.

The brutal invasion of Ukraine by Putin has caused an awful lot of issues. Many from Ukraine have come here. That has, of course, put the largest amount of stress on the system. We recognise that. While the war continues to rage in Ukraine, it will come to an end some day. At some point, we will see a relaxation of the situation. This is a crisis for communities and politics that the Government has not dealt with efficiently and effectively enough. I hope in the future when we look back on this we can learn lessons from it and ensure that when we are in another economic crash or there is another economic problem that we do not sow the seeds of this kind of division again by manipulating people and ripping communities apart by taking away their services and ensuring they have no hope or future. That is how so many communities feel.

At the end of the day, we can come here and make statements about what is happening, the burnings and other issues. Ultimately, politics has to work. Politics can only work if the Government provides the resources required in order for the people who live here and those who come from other places to be able to live decent lives.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Let us return to what this topic is actually about. In a debate like this, when we discuss the road blockers, protesters and people who feel they get on buses to check passports, we are actually talking about domestic terrorism when we talk about people setting stuff on fire.

While it is open season for people from the Government and, indeed, from the Opposition to start talking about the immigration system, we need to get back to first principles. What we have seen over recent years is a spate of fires, arson attacks, and somebody is going to die. That is inevitable. If and when that happens, we are all going to stand up here and say how terrible it is but it is absolutely predictable. It is extremely important, therefore, for every representative from every political party in this House, and especially from the Minister's own, to call out the road blockers, the protestors, the bus-invaders and the arsonists as being absolutely wrong. When some local protestors or road blockers get succour from local councillors, we need to call out those councillors as wrong and their own political parties need to haul them in. It is not good enough to go to public meetings or public demonstrations and speak out of two sides of your mouth. We are dealing here with domestic terrorism and nothing, no loophole in the system, no question about how the system is organised, no rhetoric or community unease, justifies any of this. Nobody has the right to block a road. Nobody has the right to protest outside where somebody is living, to intimidate mothers and children getting off a bus and going into a place where they are going to live, or to set fire to somewhere.

As has been stated, we have had a litany of this stuff over recent years. This is Alabama 1955-type behaviour, when people used to set fire to black churches, and now it is happening in this country. The audacity of the Irish, the audacity of us. This is my real issue. In the light of all this stuff, with places being set on fire and everybody who is not white Irish being genuinely afraid to walk the streets because of things that might be said to them, and when there are protests all over the place and roads are being blocked, what is the rhetoric from the Government this month? The Taoiseach said there will be a “crackdown” on illegal immigration. The Minister for Justice, when interviewed this month, stated we will see “a lot more deportations”. Even today, the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, came to the House and spoke about clamping down. The audacity of the Government, representatives of which, in three weeks' time, are going to be over in the White House asking Joe Biden about documentation for the illegal Irish. They will be asking if we can sort out the undocumented Irish in the US and do a job for them while, at the same time, they use rhetoric such as clamping down-----

5:15 pm

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I never used that word.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----and cracking down and have stated we are going to see an awful lot more deportations.

What have we dealt with over recent years? As has been said, in 2018, the Caiseal Mara Hotel, Moville, County Donegal, where 100 asylum seekers were proposed to be accommodated, was burned out. The Shannon Key West Hotel on the Roscommon-Leitrim border was set on fire and a second fire was lit a month later, in February 2019. Later that year, two fires were set over plans to accommodate asylum seekers in a 25-unit apartment complex in Ballinamore, County Leitrim. In November 2022 - we had a bit of a break because of Covid - an equestrian centre in County Kildare that was proposed to house Ukrainian refugees was set alight. In January 2023, a fire was set at Rawlton House, Sherrard Street, Dublin. Violence escalated further in May, with tents belonging to homeless refugees at a makeshift camp in Sandwith Street, Dublin, set on fire. By the way, it was not as if people were not outside accommodation centres saying the only solution to this was to burn them out or as if people were not saying this on social media channels or as if this was not being reported or as if this was not flagged. In the same month, there were two attacks linked to refugee housing in Buncrana, County Donegal. A building at Ludden, Buncrana, where a businessman was going to establish a centre for Ukrainian refugees was set on fire. The former Gaelscoil Uí Ríordáin building in Ballincollig, County Cork, was targeted in July. It was a disused school building subject to plans to be used for accommodating Ukrainian refugees. In August, Ridge Hall, a vacant building on the Shanganagh Road, Ballybrack, Dublin, rumoured to be the subject for plans to house asylum seekers, was set ablaze.

This is an epidemic. In any other language, in any other country, this is terrorism. Of course, the lasting legacy of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, will be the riots last November and burning buses. The Holiday Inn Express, Cathal Brugha Street, was set on fire because rioters thought immigrants were inside. In Finglas, a petrol bomb was thrown into a premises earmarked for refugees, setting part of it on fire. Last December, the former Great Southern Hotel in Rosslare, County Wexford, which was being developed into a direct provision centre, was the victim of a suspected arson attack. Soon afterwards, the Ross Lake Hotel, Galway, was set alight, and we know what happened in Ringsend, Dublin. This year, in January, a disused convent in the main street of Lanesborough, County Longford, was set on fire, and we know about the St. Brigid's nursing home in Brittas, County Dublin, which also went up in flames.

There is a spate, a pattern, of protests not being called out, of blocked roads not being called out, of public meetings with violent language and rhetoric not really being cracked down on, of local representatives kind of turning up, or not turning up, or just playing both sides, and then everybody is surprised when the building goes up in flames. Meanwhile, there are completely dispirited, morale-on-the-floor, unprecedented resignations in An Garda Síochána. What we do we get from the Minister this year in the light of all that? Clearly, it has been successful, because these protests, this anger and this violence have led to Government representatives, yes, saying it is terrible and wrong and should not happen but changing its tone when it comes to immigration.

I am not going to come to the Chamber and tell the Minister she needs to change the immigration system. Other people may do that but I am not, because I am not afraid of an immigrant. I am afraid of the lunatic who wants to set something on fire. I am afraid of the person who wants to block a road. I am afraid of the person who thinks they can board a bus and check the passport of somebody who is not white. I am afraid of that person and I do not want anybody I love anywhere near that person. We are at a crossroads in this debate, and maybe we are unfortunate because this is an election year. That is probably the reason the Government has so many councillors getting excited about it and so many Ministers changing their tone. Even so, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, will have to respect my view that it is stunningly hypocritical of her party leader and Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, to start talking about clamping down on illegal immigration while going over to the States and demanding that the US introduce a different regime for illegal Irish over there.

This is domestic terrorism. This is people taking the law into their own hands and if this is not stopped and arrested, somebody is going to die. Let us recast our brains here. Let us recast our moral compass and treat this debate with the seriousness it deserves such that, when it comes to it, there is a line beneath which none of us should fall. We hear that people have genuine concerns and a right to express their view - absolutely - but we have to step back, as a collective in Irish politics, and say that, actually, when it comes down to it, you do not have the right to block a road. You do not have the right to intimidate women and children, to spread lies or to set something on fire. That is the baseline. That is today's conversation. Issues people may have with communication, the immigration process or the asylum process, I would respectfully suggest, are probably for another day. We are talking about people setting buildings on fire and it is a disgrace that in response to that, what we are getting from the Government are terms such as "clampdown", "crackdown" and "deportation".

Government members will not be using any of those phrases when talking about the undocumented Irish when they are in the White House in three weeks' time.

5:25 pm

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Deputy has not heard me use that language.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I agree this is a very important debate. Something the Minister said earlier holds true, namely that there is a need for absolute condemnation by all sides of anybody who commits arson. What she said in her speech is important to press home, which is that if a group of people breaks into a premises and sets it on fire, it does not matter who actually lit the match, all potentially face a charge of arson and could spend up to a maximum of ten years in jail. Special gardaí have been appointed to investigate each and every one of these awful, evil, criminal acts and I welcome that. I also welcome the fact that people are before the courts following the riots in Dublin. It is important they get salutary, long sentences.

It is important for me during this debate to say what I believe in. My brother Niall has worked in America for many years on behalf of the people that Deputy Ó Riordáin spoke about. He has worked very hard to make sure the Irish in America are treated properly and that Irish immigration reform is appropriately and properly handled. I fully support that work. We can draw an historic parallel between the people who are burning premises and opposing new people coming in to our country today with the Know Nothing movement in America in the 1850s. Members of that movement were opposed to, and tried to combat, what they viewed as foreign influence. They wanted to uphold and promote traditional ways of life and what they considered to be the American way of life. They were virulently anti-Catholic and were particularly against German Catholics and Irish immigrants. That was a movement in the 1850s and today we have the same xenophobia, with appalling acts being carried out and very offensive language being used. We are seeing the targeting of people who are of a different religion to Christian religions, who have different mores and customs and who are a different colour to most people in this House.

It is hugely important that we balance this debate, say exactly what we think and try to get an outcome that is acceptable to everybody. The situation in Drogheda has been very difficult. I know that all political parties in Drogheda are basically of one mind on the decision to remove the only hotel in occupation in the town, to take it out of the public domain. It was a bad and arrogant decision that showed no empathy or understanding of the commercial and other needs of a community that has played, and continues to play, its part in meeting the needs of new residents or international protection applicants and Ukrainians in the town. It is very important to say that the high-handed action of the Minister, which was taken without consultation, resulted in a group of people who were members of the Irish Freedom Party holding an event in Drogheda at which, thankfully, nobody in Drogheda was prepared to speak. That is an important point. There was a call for people from Drogheda to speak at the event but nobody took the microphone. It is very important to note that there are people who support proper and full integration in our society but who, at the same time, have a significant objection to losing the only hotel they have.

Drogheda is the largest town in Ireland. As I understand it, the Chamber of Commerce said the occupancy rate in the D Hotel was 86%. This was an active hotel that was fully in use and there is no other hotel within walking distance of the town. There is no other hotel, apart from Scholars Townhouse Hotel which has only 16 bedrooms, because the others are also being used to house Ukrainians and other refugees. There are several small hotels on the periphery of the town but none of them is within walking distance of the centre. As a result of the cack-handed actions of the Minister, there is nowhere in Drogheda for people to stay overnight. Our tourism industry, which has been very heavily invested in by this Government, is at nil because people will not be able to stay overnight. If people come back from America, England or elsewhere for a funeral, there is no hotel for them. That is at the heart of the objections in Drogheda and it is very important to say that clearly here. I am someone who has stood up against the abuse of Ukrainians when they were being exploited in my town. I stood on their side and will continue to work for them and support them. The Minister for integration, Deputy O'Gorman, needs to think again. He needs to go back to the premise that democracy is about consultation. It is not about telling people what one is going to do or giving them an hour's notice that their hotel is closing. When faced with such a major decision, an experienced politician will think it through, talk to the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, and identify what the impact will be economically and in terms of tourism but that did not happen in Drogheda. I note that the Minister for Justice, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys and the Minister for integration, Deputy O'Gorman will meet to discuss these issues again. It is important to find a way forward that does two things, that welcomes migrants into the town but also makes sure we do not lose our only hotel. That is the conundrum that has to be faced and dealt with.

Ukrainians in particular make a huge and important contribution to our economy. There are more than 16,000 Ukrainians, mainly females, working in our cafés, shops, garages and elsewhere and they are very welcome. They also make a very significant contribution in rural areas. Where school enrolment numbers are down, they can make a real difference by making schools, and primary schools in particular, viable into the future. They bring vibrancy and new life into our communities which is very welcome indeed. The key thing is to accentuate the positive and support the people who are entitled to be here.

I agree with the immigration process being firm. If people are coming here from a country that is deemed safe and there are no other issues related to abuse, rape, or female genital mutilation, they should be sent back to their country, if it is a safe place and there is no danger there. If the country is deemed to be safe, then there is no issue. Obviously, sending people back to Afghanistan would be a different ball game altogether. I understand why governments might be reluctant to send people back to countries where the Taliban is in power and they are likely to be executed if they go back there. We need a balance in this debate. The European Union has discussed this but it would be useful if it could agree a full list of safe countries which is recognised in every member state and agree that there is no place in the EU for people from any of the countries on that list.

The other issue I wish to address is shortages of skilled labour in our economy. If we have people living in this country and we are assessing their applications for permission to stay, I would support a policy of allowing them to work if they have skills we need, such as carpentry or other building skills, and if we currently have a shortage of such workers.

Why do we not specifically in those cases say, "Yes, you can stay here because you are going to add to our economy, build the houses we need and make a significant difference"? A total of 20% of our population was not born in Ireland. That is a significant number. We need people in this House and in the Seanad from those communities. They need to be elected, to represent those views here. We need people of all religions in here. If people stand for election, it is the luck of the draw whether they are elected or not, but there is a significant need for representatives of those communities, languages and religions to be in the Seanad at the very least. I would like to see them in this House. In my constituency, and no doubt in all constituencies, there are people of different religions and backgrounds standing for election. I hope they will be elected in the local election.

Things are changing on the ground. Ireland is a different place now. It is multicultural and multiracial. Driving here today, I witnessed how vibrant our economy still is. At 7 a.m. our roads are crowded with people going to work. Our trains are full. There are many good things happening here. It is a safe place for people who need to come and who are fleeing persecution. Long may it remain so. Nevertheless, the reality isTheIrish Times poll yesterday showed that of people who were asked what was the most important issue in their community, 22% responded, "Immigration". They deem it to be more important in the month of February than housing and everything else. There is an issue here and it is the issue of talking to people. People object when they do not know the facts. When a town loses its only viable hotel, that is not acceptable. If the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, learns that lesson, he will have learned that the people of Drogheda are very angry at what he has done. He is meeting us again and hopefully will have an answer. The Minister must not confuse losing a hotel and not welcoming new people into the community. People welcome them. In Drogheda, we have a huge immigrant population with more than 2,500 people working in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. It must one the biggest employers in the country. Many people from diverse cultures and religions are in that hospital and also people with no religion. We are a vibrant, welcoming community and will always be, but we want a resolution to our hotel problem.

5:35 pm

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

So many things could be said. As I considered where to begin, I clarified my thinking and thought there is only one place to begin and that is that arson is wrong. Arson is wrong, criminal damage is wrong, attacks on property are wrong and potentially putting people at risk of serious injury and death is wrong. There is no excuse for it and no justification. It is clearly becoming a tactic and a strategy of people who are nasty actors trying to unilaterally take decisions about what places should or should not be used to accommodate people. Much can and will be said in terms of the approach that should be taken but it can never justify what is happening.

It is concerning that this is clearly a pattern that is repeating. It raises the question of whether enough is being done about security around these incidents. Unfortunately, in most cases we are not at the stage of prosecutions yet. I am sure gardaí are working as hard as they can to pursue the people responsible for this. I am very concerned, and this concern has been expressed by others, that there is undoubtedly potential for somebody to be badly hurt or killed in one of these incidents. The people who undertake these actions must know they are taking enormous risks with people's welfare and lives.

The context of this is immigration and migration. Sometimes the two are conflated. There are differences. In the minds of most people, they are part of the same discussion. I often think in trying to imagine where people are at, of a public meeting with 100 people attending that there might be ten who are entirely comfortable and at ease, ten who might be vociferously angry to the point potentially of being violent and aggressive, and probably a large number of people in the middle between those extremes. There are undoubtedly ways of raising concerns about these issues. I recognise that people have concerns and it is important that Irish politics does not repeat the mistakes that have been made elsewhere of discarding entirely people who have such reservations. The language is deplorable. People are entitled to have their views and to express them. Many people have expressed such concerns to me in respectful ways that I can comprehend. I might not agree with every part of them but I can comprehend and listen to them. Some people have made appointments to see me in my clinic, some have made phone calls and others have raised it at the door. There should be a place in our democracy for people to express concerns in such ways as that. I agreed with part of Deputy Ó Riordáin's contribution. It is important in this debate where we are talking about the arson attacks that we take the opportunity to distinguish that there are legitimate ways of expressing concern and I have given some examples. There are forms of protest that are legitimate, even if I might disagree with the policy objectives of such protests. What is not legitimate is burning buildings down, barracking women and children as they enter accommodation or putting people at risk of serious harm. There is absolutely no scope for that whatsoever. I believe mistakes have been made in communications. I am astonished. I mentioned directly to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, the need to tackle the issue of misinformation. People have concerns, some of them are legitimate but unfortunately some are not, some of them are based on fiction. Some are based on things that are not even real. The fact it has taken so long for the Government to get to grips with that and to try to tackle that misinformation is a source of huge concern. The communication with communities has at times been poor. The policy approach of renting private accommodation, if it was ever viable, has clearly run its course and a different approach is needed. We need a system that is rules-based, fair and decent but is consistent as well, with confidence in its working.

Much the same as that imaginary public meeting I spoke of with 100 people, there is a diversity of views here as well. However, that can never justify attacks on property, putting at risk people's lives and their welfare, which is much more important than property. That applies right across the political spectrum. I understand Deputy Carol Nolan's constituency office was damaged over the weekend. That is also unacceptable. No matter what a person's perspective is, political representatives should not be at risk of that. There is no justification for attacks and the arson that has been happening here. I hope those people are brought to justice.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is obvious that there is not a gap in the legislation but what is needed are the resources to investigate properly who started the fires and bring the culprits to justice. People have to see consequences. That is where the focus should be. RTÉ's "Prime Time" programme has helpfully mapped the arson attacks since 2018 when a hotel in County Donegal earmarked for 100 asylum seekers was set alight. Since then ,23 fires have been set in properties that have been linked to housing for international protection applicants or beneficiaries of temporary protection. There has been an escalation. Ten of those fires have occurred since last November. Some of those fires were incorrectly linked to use for housing, including the Shipwright pub in Ringsend, which was intended for homeless families. Similarly, Honeywood in Leixlip was not considered, nor was it eligible to be considered, because it was a former family home.

I had that in writing and the people who were outside protesting had it in writing. There were two fires in that house. That was preceded by a small nightly protest and, on one occasion, a well-known far-right person participated in that protest. As we speak, there is a protest in Naas. It is very difficult to make people believe that temporary protection is the intended use because it is difficult to deal with misinformation.

“Prime Time” asked the Garda about those protests and the response was that "the majority of public gatherings and persons attending them are peaceful and their intent is peaceful”. The Garda went on to say that "such gatherings, and in effect those persons attending them, are used by a small minority with extreme and potentially criminal and dangerous intent to spread misinformation, disinformation and fake news”. It is domestic terrorism. There can be no excuse for deliberately setting a building on fire. It is a miracle that no one has been hurt or killed in the fires to date. There is a presumption that the buildings are empty but even if they are, neighbouring buildings, people in those buildings and those going in to fight the fires are being put at risk.

There have to be consequences. It is essential that the Government does not make empty promises with respect to resources and that those responsible are brought to justice. Those resources have to be guaranteed. Significant Garda resources are required to gather evidence following such events, and resources are taken away from the detection of other crimes when we already have a challenge with Garda numbers. The more arson attacks that happen, the greater the challenge. That is why it is so important that this is addressed comprehensively.

It cannot be a coincidence that the presence of individuals who are well known on social media platforms are available to go to any part of the country at the drop of a hat to pursue their far-right political agenda, and following their involvement, miraculously, many of these fires start. It seems obvious that there is some degree of organisation. The social media companies are facilitating some very dangerous and unacceptable behaviour and they have to be responsible. If they will not act, they should be made to act.

The lack of any obvious strategy by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in dealing with the accommodation needs of people coming into the country, the lack of a transparent process for considering offers of accommodation and the absence of communication with communities are leaving a dangerous vacuum. There is no doubt the war in Ukraine has changed the dynamic and removed the possibility of ending direct provision. There is a whole-of-government issue, yet the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is primarily left dealing with an issue that is broader than direct provision and accommodating people seeking refuge. Thousands of people living in direct provision have been afforded the right to remain but they cannot move on because of the housing crisis. We all hoped the war in Ukraine would be short-lived but it shows no signs of ending. It has just entered its third year, yet the Government appears to still be in emergency mode. The knock-on effect of this impacts people seeking international protection.

Several of the buildings that have been set alight are owned by the same cluster of people. Changes to legislation on the beneficial ownership of a company means it is impossible to get exact information, which needs to be addressed, but it is possible for the Government and the Department to get that information. There is no doubt that people are making a small fortune out of the misery of others and there is a lot of anger at how this is being handled. It needs to be addressed. Basically, the Department makes a call for expressions of interest, the buildings that are put forward are considered and, in some cases, they move to being used. However, only a small internal team seems to have knowledge of what accommodation is being considered. While I accept there is an emergency, with more than 1,000 human beings sleeping in tents on the streets and feeling threatened, people need to have confidence that the Government is handling this in a fair manner.

The former pub, the Shipwright in Ringsend, was intended for use by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to house 16 families, but it was set alight. The ownership of the Shipwright pub, the building on Sherrard Street and Honeywood House in Leixlip are all linked. The same group of people in different capacities are involved in many buildings. Some of those who are purported to own these buildings are far from wealthy and there are legitimate questions about where the money is coming from. I have talked to many people who feel really angry about how the Department, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and the Government are handling this and the lack of controls over how contracts are awarded. Many of those I have spoken to are appalled by the handling of this issue by the Government but they are equally appalled by the arson attacks on buildings. There are legitimate concerns and labelling people who have those concerns as far-right is a major mistake, as is equating their concerns with being racist or being people who lack compassion for those who find themselves on the streets. It is not the fault of people arriving here that this is happening.

I have asked questions at the Committee of Public Accounts as to how those contracts are considered and I am told the only real issue that is considered is if they are tax-compliant. Hatch Hall, for example, a very fine building, was purchased recently and a contract was awarded by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive for ten years for homeless services. The building was purchased for €24 million on a ten-year lease worth €84 million. The person who appears to own the building is a guy who ran a small barber shop in Leixlip and retired a few years ago. He is not someone of means. If he is not the beneficial owner, who is hiding behind him? People have a legitimate reason to be concerned about that and to wonder what controls the State is putting on those particular aspects. There is a sense that this is not being-----

5:45 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I ask the Deputy to be careful she is not making a comment about somebody who could be identified.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It has been identified in newspapers all over the place.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It still does not give the Deputy cover here for mentioning somebody.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Government needs to get a grip. It is wider than the issues relating to migration and is about how this is being managed.

There is absolutely no justification for buildings being set on fire by anyone and I want to see people brought to justice for that. When she wraps up, will the Minister deal with the issue of the resources that are being made available? The fires have happened in dispersed locations. Are specialist resources available at all of those locations? We need those specialist resources, including for looking at social media accounts. These people are not putting advertisements in the Irish Independentor The Irish Timesor putting an ad on a local radio station. It is social media that is being used. I would expect there would be strong involvement of specialist units, not centrally, but locally when there is a need for that to happen. The Minister might deal with that when she wraps up because it is critical.

I echo the points she made regarding people who have knowledge of who started these fires or who have been involved in them. They should be providing that information so this issue can be stopped.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I call Deputy Farrell, who is sharing time with Deputy Costello.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this worrying trend across Ireland, which is an illustration of ignorance and hatred that cannot be allowed to take hold or accepted as normal, or, indeed, a consequence of doing what is right. It must be investigated with the appropriate vigour by An Garda Síochána. I thank Deputy Murphy for making clear earlier that there was no legislative gap, a point that I entirely agree with.

These incidents of arson are extremely reckless and, by their very nature, serious crimes, especially when risking somebody being inside the building who might be harmed or worse. While people have the right to protest and, of course, that right must be respected, people do not have the right in any way to cause others to fear for their safety or to act in a way that threatens public order.

Neither should it ever be accepted that property is somehow fair game for destruction because of a particular ideology or stance against long-standing State policy.

Ireland is a diverse and tolerant country and our population is rising at a remarkable rate, as illustrated just this morning on social media by the author Mark Henry when he noted that Ireland had one of the fastest growing populations in Europe and that we had seen a staggering 14% of an increase over the past decade with only Malta and Luxembourg's populations growing faster. During the same period, the population of the EU grew by just 2%. Such population growth drives economic growth. As of last week, 2.7 million people in this jurisdiction had a job.

There remains no place in Irish society for racism, prejudice or bigotry. I join with the Minister in strongly condemning the actions of those who abuse and attack others because of their own prejudices against a person's religion, ethnic origin, nationality, sexual orientation or any other part of his or her identity as a human being. We in this House have a firm obligation to speak carefully about immigration and not to fuel the growing global trend of racism and religious bigotry.

An Garda Síochána is investigating 18 incidences of arson and 12 arrests have been made since May of last year. It is important to note that, if a group of people breaks into a premises and sets it on fire, it does not matter who lit the match; all could face a charge of arson. The penalty for criminal damage other than by fire under the Criminal Damage Act 1991 is a fairly significant fine of €12,500, imprisonment for up to ten years or both. The same sanctions can be applied if someone is found guilty of threatening to cause damage to property or if found to be in possession of something that might be intended to cause damage to property. It is worth highlighting that with these arson attacks comes a real threat of death should someone be on the premises at the time. Furthermore, let us not forget the men and women of our fire services who must risk themselves in tackling such wanton acts of destruction.

Given the very serious nature of the recent arson attacks and other public order incidents, I am pleased the Minister is taking a number of legislative measures to uphold public order and to support An Garda Síochána. Legislation has been enacted to provide for Garda bodycams. The Joint Committee on Justice, several members of which are in the Chamber, is currently debating the use of facial recognition technology to assist An Garda Síochána in doing its job. There have also been measures on Garda CCTV, automatic number plate recognition and community CCTV. Our public order legislation criminalises offensive behaviour in public places and engaging in threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour in a public place. I am positive that these measures will curb the type of antisocial and disruptive behaviour that has become all too commonplace in recent years.

It is worth noting that An Garda Síochána's budget is now at an all-time high of €2.35 billion. This represents a very significant 25% increase in just five years. All Members remain completely committed to getting an increase in the number of gardaí to reach the current target of 15,000 but there are also other strands to the investment strategy. These include the recruitment of Garda staff, 1,000 of whom have been hired to free up sworn members of An Garda Síochána to get out on the beat and do their jobs. We have also seen a significant 10% rise in the number of members of An Garda Síochána up and down the country since 2015. There have been increases of 14% in my own community in Swords, 14% in Malahide and 50% in Balbriggan. Those are very significant numbers to read into the record.

As a country and as a society, we must recognise that migration is a good thing for Ireland. To put it bluntly, we simply could not run our public services without migrant workers. Anyone who has visited a hospital recently will have noticed the number of people from abroad who are working here. They come from a broad spectrum of countries and moved here because they wanted a better life for themselves and for their families and because we desperately need them. We have been calling for them and recruiting for them in foreign countries. That is a narrative Irish people know about and understand. We are an island of migrants. My brother lives in Massachusetts, USA and my other brother lives in Northampton, England. We have been leaving these shores and returning for generations. It is no different when people come to these shores for the purpose of seeking a better life or to get away from persecution, the effects of climate change or any other difficulty.

Ireland is not full. The island has supported more than 8 million people in the past and our population density is currently one of the lowest in Europe. There are 135,000 farms in this jurisdiction. They require workers and it is very hard to get them, as any rural Deputy will say. A total of 15 of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies are located here and they require skilled expertise that we do not have. In IT, nine of the top ten tech companies are domiciled here. We also need approximately 20,000 construction workers, not to mention the people we will need to man the very ambitious retrofitting programme that is being rolled out. Hospitality is another industry that is heavily reliant on migrant workers. Outside of the economic prism, Ireland is a far better country as a result of having more diverse communities within our society.

However, we must acknowledge that we are seeing unprecedented numbers of migrants arriving on our shores seeking refuge. This is not unique to Ireland. People are becoming more and more displaced because of war, poverty, bigotry and, as I mentioned, climate change. However, the percentage of migrants Ireland receives from across Europe is a drop in the ocean when compared to the percentages received by our EU neighbours. I find it interesting that those who called for a debate on migration are not present for this debate. As I have stated previously, it is our responsibility, as Members of this House, to inform people and reiterate that our immigration policy is robust and that sloganeering from politicians, both inside this House and outside it, or from those who try to manipulate the electorate for their own benefit cannot be tolerated and must be called out. I am sharing time. Was it three minutes for Deputy Costello?

5:55 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source


Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source


Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Okay. We must also advocate for any improvements or changes to how applications are processed. I note the quite remarkable change from 26 months in 2022 to 65 days in 2024. I commend the Minister, her Department and her officials on that. By any measure, it is a very significant change. Applications by people from other countries take longer and the process of verifying details can be more lengthy. The average time for a decision has reduced from 18 months in 2022 to 13 in 2023. Within these figures is a positive news story.

As a member of the international community, as a signatory to the 1951 UN refugee convention and as a result of our rules-based approach, we have a moral, legal and ethical responsibility to support and handle those seeking a better life or our protection. Yesterday, I watched several hundred new Irish citizens being given their citizenship. It was moving to see the pride in their faces and to hear the stories they told. Those who come to these shores almost always enrich our country. Long may that continue.

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank my colleague, Deputy Farrell, for generously sharing his time. I thank the Minister for coming in for this debate. I was on my feet last week to address a Topical Issue debate. I spoke a lot about my concerns in this area. I will start with one thing I did not raise at that point, which is that there are a lot of very positive things happening. Where new people have come into communities, many of these communities have come together in very positive and supportive ways. New friendships, new organisations and new groups are coming together and have provided amazing support to some of those people who are new to our shores. Community organisers, mammies on the ground and the local community partnership project are doing very positive work in my area. It is really positive to see these amazing things happening.

This is important to see because it pushes back against those who want to sow hate and division. In that vein, I encourage people to go out and join the solidarity march on 2 March to push back against hate and division.

I am nervous about naming some of these positive and good projects because by naming them in this House and by their names getting out on social media, they become targets for organised networks that are operating. I repeat that I fundamentally disagree with the position of the Garda Commissioner who said there is no shadowy hand and there are no organised networks here. There are organised networks and if we are not on top of them, it is because of the way they are organised. There may be no legislative gap but there might be an investigatory, organisational or understanding gap. These networks are organising through social media and the Internet and through connections and in ways that were not available in the past to anti-democratic groups who wanted to disrupt our democracy. Ultimately, that is what is happening here. There are attacks on Deputies and their homes and constituency offices. Equally, the constant harassment of and attacks on the media are ultimately part of an anti-democratic project by many of these shadowy organisers. As part of this, we have seen attacks on trade union members, librarians and people running bookshops.

We need to look at how we are addressing this very real and serious challenge. While there may not be a legislative gap, there may be a different kind of gap, namely, a conceptual gap. There are groups operating and, as I said two minutes ago, I believe the Garda Commissioner is wrong when he dismisses the organised nature of the threats we are seeing. I will leave it there. I thank Deputy Farrell for sharing his time.

6:05 pm

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The recent arson attacks on buildings in our communities across the length and breadth of the State are to be condemned in the strongest possible terms, irrespective of what future plans were in place for those buildings. Peaceful protest is a right we must protect and celebrate in an open democracy. Arson is a criminal act that puts lives in danger. The people who claim to put Irish people first are the same people who are cheerleading these attacks. They put fire brigade officers at risk of serious injury or worse. They create a climate of fear for those who own buildings or live near them by spreading lies and misinformation on social media. Unfortunately, the poor communication strategy by the Government seems to create a dangerous vacuum at times. These people have little support in our communities and I know that this Saturday's March in the centre of Dublin will attract a massive crowd of people who support human beings being supported. The last such march in Dublin attracted tens of thousands of people from all over the country. This is the message we need to send out to the people who spread hate and fear in our communities.

I note the lack of action by social media companies, which I mentioned earlier. I have given up trying to understand what they mean when they talk about their so-called "community standards". I have reported numerous blatantly racist statements on all social media platforms and not a single post or comment has been found to breach their community standards. These companies have a responsibility and should be held accountable for the spreading of hate and their toleration of racism. If they do not act responsibly, it is up to the Government to take action to force them to remove hate-filled racist posts or be held accountable.

An Garda Síochána must be given all the resources it requires to catch these people and ensure they face the full rigours of the law. Gardaí are under serious pressure in our communities on all fronts due to the failure to reach recruitment targets. In my community, I recently met with exasperated business community leaders in Tyrrelstown who are experiencing a growing number of attacks on their businesses and serious thefts from their shops. This threatens their viability, thereby threatening jobs in that community.

It is deeply worrying that nobody has been charged with any of the attacks to date. This may only embolden them and encourage others to escalate their attacks on even the flimsiest of evidence and false or fake news. These attacks occur across the State. Are these seemingly co-ordinated attacks being dealt with in a co-ordinated way by An Garda Síochána? It may be time to establish a special task force to co-ordinate a response to these arson attacks and the rise in hate and racism.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There is no doubt that far-right extremists have become emboldened, not only vocally but also physically. This has become evident in the past seven or eight months in the targeted attacks against buildings that have been proposed for use in housing international protection applicants or others. It is incredible to think that when a building is designated to meet what is a basic need of any human being by providing shelter, another human can feel it must be set on fire in order to ensure the people in question are not housed there. I never thought I would see it in this country but that is the reality. These people are highly motivated. Let us call them what they are. They make up a tiny fraction of our society but they are fascists and ideologues of fascism. This is how fascists work. They sow hatred and division and engage in extreme acts. They conjure up the poison of racism and division and play to people's fears and prejudices. Sometimes they are quite good at that.

Thankfully, the vast majority of people in this country and other countries around the world have rejected these ideas. Irish people have emigrated for a couple of centuries and more and met terrible prejudice and racism. That is in our DNA to a certain degree in that we have empathy for others who come to this country. People who come to this country come for all sorts of reasons. They come to better their lives, and there is nothing wrong with that. If they want to work and play a really good role in society, that is a very good thing.

It is important that we stand up to this kind of poison. The organised labour movement has a huge part to play in that. There will be a big protest at 1.30 p.m. this Saturday in Dublin city centre. It is about people coming together to stand together against the attacks that are taking place and with the thousand people living on our streets without shelter. It is unbelievable that, as a very wealthy country, we cannot even provide these people with shelter to keep dry and warm.

The positive aspects of immigration have touched every village and town in Ireland. I am very proud to be from a country whose people have welcomed other people in the vast majority of cases. I listened last night to a podcast about Bundoran. It is fantastic that people from Ukraine have settled in the town and the vast majority of residents have welcomed people from Ukraine by providing accommodation and employment. This is very important and we want to keep it that way. We do not want to see these acts by individuals who are hell-bent on promoting extremism. I have no doubt these people want to go from burning buses and buildings to burning people. When we look at how fascism and extreme ideology develops, we see that this is what these people want to do. They want to cause division, hatred and fear. There is no doubt they also want to kill people. We must prevent them from doing that. To do so, we must marginalise these people in our communities and workplaces and anywhere else that this absolute filth arises.

It is important that everybody, regardless of political affiliation, stands together against this fascist threat, not only in Ireland but across the world.

6:15 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We are discussing the series of arson attacks we have seen across the State over the past five years. Let us imagine that for the past five years there was, instead, a series of protests outside the holiday homes of the super rich and famous demanding that these homes be taken into the ownership of the State and used to accommodate homeless people. Let us imagine that two or three days after the protests, these holiday homes were burned down in the middle of the night. To be absolutely clear, I am not advocating the burning down of the holiday homes of the rich and famous - let us be clear on that - but it is useful for example and a useful comparison. Does anyone here seriously think that five years on from the start of a campaign such as that, there would be no one in jail for it, no one charged and maybe a dozen or so arrests? Does the Minister seriously think that? No way. It just would not be the case and everyone here knows it.

It is a different matter when the properties being targeted are the temporary homes of asylum seekers, one of the most vulnerable groups in society. A backbench Government TD, Deputy Costello of the Green Party, said recently that An Garda Síochána is not taking the series of arson attacks around the country seriously enough. He questioned whether the attacks were merely the actions of so-called lone wolves. I agree with him and I think it is a more than fair question. The Garda Commissioner has questions to answer in that regard. The burning of buildings does not merely cause damage measured in bricks and mortar. This campaign of terror turns up the temperature on race and fear. It has a direct impact on migrants, especially on people of colour, who feel the effects of the turning up of that temperature on the streets and sometimes even in their workplaces.

Partly as a result of arson attacks, but mainly as a result of Government failures, there will be, potentially, more than 1,000 asylum seekers sleeping rough in this State tonight. This is a case of the Government playing with fire. These asylum seekers have to deal with the weather. Let us hope they do not have to deal directly with a violent far right that has identified them as an enemy community. The Government will bear responsibility for any consequences that might ensue from that.

More than 90 organisations have endorsed the Stand Together national anti-racist demonstration in Dublin this Saturday, assembling at 1.30 p.m. in Parnell Square. I appeal to people to join this protest and say "No" to the far right and the politics of hate and "Yes" to taxes on the super rich in this society to provide housing, healthcare and a decent life for all.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. We are living at a time when unprecedented forces are conspiring to undermine the values on which our democratic community is built. These values are absolutely vital. They are critical to our society and we need to treasure them. They are the republican values of liberty, equality and fraternity, respect for every individual and his or her right to be treated fairly and in accordance with the law, and respect for international law. Unfortunately, there are now forces that are deeply hostile to the sorts of values we have built our community on.

There is no doubt that war in Europe, the onward march of climate destruction and the resulting surging numbers of displaced people are putting strain on the values that we hold so dearly. Unfortunately, as others have said, the intent of those who seek to use these forces to undermine our community are easily fuelled by a social media that thrives on outrage and alarming portrayals of people that bear no relationship to the truth. This, unfortunately, is the clickbait that attracts most attention from our social media; it is not the reasoned explanations from the Minister as to how the process of international protection works or the recent efforts of the Minister for children to provide accommodation for the people who need it.

Migration is genuinely testing the values of our community. There is no question but the surge of people coming to our country, as many Deputies know, represents a real challenge. It places strains on infrastructure and services. People can rightly say the Government response could be better, and I have no doubt that it could be. Nonetheless, it must also be said that the Government has found accommodation for almost 80,000 people fleeing war in Ukraine and 20,000 people seeking international protection from other, similar situations that they face. We have seen the support for many schools to accommodate them. We have seen support for communities to take them in. We have seen the generous response of communities. We have seen the reform of the processes used to ensure our system is fair but firm. While it is easy to come in here and say the Government could do better, there is no doubt that, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, they are in the ring, with their faces bloodied with the effort of trying to deliver a service in very difficult circumstances.

We politicians, who have been the beneficiaries of the struggles of those who went before us to ensure we have a community such as this, must help people to respond to this threat and not in the way in which we have seen many other European countries behave. We have seen in many countries the rise of parties that see migration as their meal ticket to winning power in communities that should not be so easily taken in. It really appals me to envisage what a society would come to if arson of buildings that could provide shelter for people being forced to leave war-torn areas were to be seen as part of some form of legitimate protest. It suggests a moral bankruptcy among the people who see arson in this light. Any one of those arson attacks could have ended in tragedy for people and sullied the name of Ireland for all to see.

These are people pursuing an approach that is not only ruthless but morally bankrupt. It is appalling to see 18 attacks and the Dublin riots that shook us to our core. We must see this as an opportunity for us, as a community, to step up and recognise that the society we have built so successfully has been built on international opportunity and international responsibility. We have enjoyed the opportunity part of that deal. We have seen employment grow from 1 million to 2.5 million and more. The other side of that coin is that we have to take responsibility. We cannot pick and choose those who come to our shores. We have to observe international law and provide legitimate UN processes to deal with people who seek refuge in our country. These two things go hand in hand. We cannot champion the success we have had and the new people we have attracted to this country, who are manning our health services and international businesses, and then say we will not also seek to support and give shelter to those who are in dire need.

It is important to say that Ireland is not receiving more people proportionately. Some suggest that Ireland is a soft touch, but in reality Ireland is receiving the same share of people seeking international protection as other countries. As the Minister stated recently, we are actually turning away a higher proportion than other countries. We have significantly improved the process by halving the time it takes to deal with applications, with applications from ten countries being dealt with within 65 days. We are making decisions, turning around applications and ensuring that the system is fair and firm.

We must now take a stand and seek to deploy the new confidence and creativity that Ireland has enjoyed in our new international phase, which has seen us take our place among the nations of the world, to find solutions to the challenges being thrown up. Distortion, intimidation and arson have no place in an Ireland that meets such challenges courageously.

6:25 pm

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Let me be clear - arson cannot be tolerated or justified and it cannot be seen as any form of protest. Arson is not a way to express frustration. Its only purpose is to sow division, fear and distrust in our communities. For the people who do this and who seek to do the same in other forums, the truth is secondary. It is not a primary concern for them because if the truth and accuracy of information were important to them, those bad actors would try to find that out. They do not, though.

In the situations we have seen, rumours can be enough for those nameless people to feel as though they have a cause, one they try to present in a package of patriotism or community involvement when the reality is that they have little or no care for communities. This is especially the case when we consider that they have no problem with setting fires and causing damage and danger in those same localities. They believe in consequences for people they deem "the other", but they do not have the courage or conviction to come forward and justify their acts. They are cowards.

Matters have reached such a stage that rumours are becoming increasingly concerning. When rumours begin to go around about a property possibly being refurbished or brought back from vacancy, concerns are expressed – I have encountered this myself – about whether the property might be at risk. When this happens, I have contacted the Department to confirm or deny the rumours so that there is less chance of a vacuum of information being filled by misinformation and the other consequences that may have. The Department could be more timely on this front. When requests for information of this nature are responded to, the Department should relay information to all local representatives so that there is a common level of knowledge that can be conveyed to people. A fractured and piecemeal approach serves no one.

Before any of those involved in these criminal acts thinks that the fact we are discussing this matter today is in any way giving credence to the actions of criminals, it is not. We are expressing our united opposition to their acts, and we would remind them that, in our view, the full weight of the law should come down on them for their mindless acts. Those acts have not contributed anything positive to the issue. All it has done is leave communities in fear that criminal behaviour will result from those who pretend to be opposed to criminality. Someone will get killed if this is allowed to continue.

We have a duty as public representatives to call out these actions and condemn them completely. The people who commit them are not representative of the communities in which they carry them out. They do not speak for any community at all. What communities want is adequate and timely communication. They want their particular circumstances to be taken into account when plans are being made. When information is not forthcoming, there are some bad actors, who usually come from elsewhere to try to insert their own agenda into the information vacuum. Communities do not want this. Communities want the Government to recognise their needs and when they are struggling. Unfortunately, though, it is often the case that communities are struggling because of a failure of the Government. It can be the consequence of a failure to implement centrally contracted GPs as part of Sláintecare. It can be the lack of balanced regional development or the inadequate resourcing of our schools. Community concerns can also stem from a lack of preparation on the Government’s part, for example, its failure to implement its own plan to construct State-led and human rights-compliant accommodation centres. Such centres are badly needed so that we can reduce our reliance on buildings and land that should really be used for other purposes, for example, hotels and nursing homes, while also avoiding putting further pressure on student accommodation and ordinary housing in general.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that we have a duty to people seeking refuge and a duty to live up to those commitments. We also have a duty to our communities. The Government must live up to this obligation by acting on these measures, which can unite people and address disinformation and those who use it to stoke up division.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this subject, which has gripped every community, with everyone discussing the arson attacks. I condemn such acts outright. No one who has respect for this country, law and order, gardaí, the people coming to our country and his or her community, in which those in question are destroying vital infrastructure, supports them.

All of these acts are unnecessary. I listened to the earlier contributions from my office. It was mentioned that 100,000 people had come to this country in recent years. On top of the pressures we have in terms of a growing population, GPs, whom we discussed last week, and other services, it is not an easy task to find a solution to how this should be handled. As a country, we have been inviting of these people, be they from Ukraine or asylum seekers. When one travels around the country or goes into one’s local town or shop, one invariably meets people who are from a different country. When I was a young fella growing up, it was just ourselves. However, we were also brought up with the knowledge that the generations before us had needed to emigrate because they could not make a living here. They went to other countries, where some were not treated too well. We were sore about that treatment for generations. We must remember that what is happening now in terms of immigration is what we ourselves did in the past, when people had to leave Ireland and go to other countries to try to make a living and keep existing.

The main issue I encounter as a public representative is the lack of communication with communities about what is happening. Speaking as a community worker, communities will be part of the solution if they are involved in a timely way. Instead, rumours circulate. I will get a phone call asking whether such and such a building is being used for asylum seekers or the like. I will have to check with the Department and then revert to the person who called to say that it is not happening and is only a rumour. It is difficult to dispel these rumours because of all the types of social media messaging about such issues. As public representatives in the House, it is important that we have an Oireachtas line to the Department so that, as soon as we are asked about something relating to this matter, we can get an immediate answer. Councillors in every local authority should also be communicated with.

Deputy O’Dowd spoke about Drogheda and set out what had happened. The scale of it is too much for a town like Drogheda and is taking away from the town.

I have people coming to my office looking for housing, including social housing. They would buy a house in the morning if they could, as they are working people, but they cannot because there is none for sale. People cannot even get social housing. They are living in rented accommodation and so on.

They often say to me that the foreigners are getting everything. That mantra exists. I deny that and explain to them what is actually happening. We are battling a tide like that, however, where people are building a philosophy that foreigners are getting everything and Irish people are getting nothing. That message needs to be turned around fast. It comes back to communication. When we select a place for a big centre, we have to do the due diligence on the property but that is only the start of it. The due diligence has to be done on the community and whether the community can support 500 people coming into it in one go like that.

There is no point in giving out to the Government. This is not something that is of its making. There is huge demand. Everybody in this House should be of one mind that we do not condone any kind of violence or hatred and we protect our democracy. That is what we are here for. The important thing is that we continue to do that. Everybody in the House has a responsibility to support the Government and the Government members have to support one another across Departments to make sure that when we do this job, we do it to the best of our ability and that we are trying to plan it a bit better to make sure that we can give information to communities in a timely fashion to make sure that people are well informed about what is happening and that the truth prevails in all cases. Otherwise, we will end up with more vandalism and fires and with people getting hurt and maybe killed. That is where we are going if we do not arrest this mayhem that is happening. It is a real threat and many people are saying nothing. The silent majority is saying nothing. We have to make sure that the silent majority that is in here says something, that we do not tolerate this any more and that we will not stand for it. We need to see action being taken and arrests being made in order that people will understand there is a consequence when they cause wanton damage like this to property and to people as well.

6:35 pm

Photo of Joe FlahertyJoe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

At the outset, I wish to state that the spate of burning buildings nationwide in response to plans to use these buildings for emergency accommodation, or even the mere suggestion or rumours suggesting that they will be used for emergency accommodation, is repulsive and reprehensible. I say this as a TD who grew up in a village where criminals attempted to burn one such building. There is no defence for such an action. These isolated actions on the part of a handful of criminals do not reflect the will, position, earnest goodwill and heartfelt willingness to help others among the vast majority of Irish people.

Having stated the obvious here today, I also need to articulate the view that the public feels underwhelmed and disappointed and is losing faith in our ability to address the immigration challenge. For the past two years, we have fumbled the issue and dropped the ball on multiple occasions. We have isolated, frustrated and angered small communities, including some of the most reasonable and humanitarian people you are ever likely to meet. The public is frustrated by our failure to get ahead of the immigration crisis. Most reasonable people will now accept that immigration is now one of the biggest challenges facing modern, progressive and wealthy countries, among which I include Ireland. Matters are compounded further by issues such as the war in Ukraine.

We came into this Government committed to ending the blight of direct provision in this country. At the time, we were processing about 2,500 applications for international asylum per year. Today, we have 104,000 Ukrainians here with temporary protection status and 13,227 immigrants sought international protection here last year. As long as extreme poverty, deprivation and the climate crisis persist in some of the world's poorest countries, Europe will remain a destination of choice for those fleeing poverty and persecution. We should not be an outlier with our EU peers when it comes to immigration. If an EU bloc country lists a particular country as a safe country of origin, then there is no reason why it is not deemed safe here also.

The public see us fumbling with the crisis. We are now looking at a number of large reception centres around the country but only after we have dispersed thousands into the most isolated and sometimes wholly unsuitable corners of Ireland. As bad as direct provision might have seemed, we now appear to have created a much worse system entirely of our own making. It is dividing a country and sowing divisions among scores of our communities. The Irish people are largely fair, pragmatic, tolerant and the first to reach out to those fleeing persecution. We need to ensure that we operate a fair and compassionate rules-based system for assessing international protection applications that can be completed within a six-month period. If that means ramping up staff in the Department and new, additional IT supports and systems, then so be it. As soon as the numbers fleeing the war in Ukraine started to scale, we should have seen this as an issue. It escalated to a new level 18 months ago. We should have initiated and followed through at that time on plans to provide large accommodation facilities on disused State lands while applications were being assessed in that six-month window.

A handful of people and a number of foreign entities are making millions through the leasing of properties to accommodate international protection applicants. Many of these properties, such as local hotels, were providing essential services to many local communities. We have pulled the hearts out of many of these small communities and have set back tourism in these areas by a decade or more. Many of these opportunists, who are capitalising on the back of misery and despair that has travelled to our shores, are doing so with no regard for these local communities and making no effort to invest in those local communities or to share any of the lucrative money they are getting from this Government.

On almost every metric, we are out of step with or trailing our EU peers when it comes to immigration policy. We are too slow to process applications and we have proven to be wholly ineffective when it comes to deporting those who have failed in their applications. We have been laissez-faireand far too tolerant with airlines and ferry companies that fail to comply with their obligations under section 2 of the Immigration Act 2003 by failing to ensure that each person they carry into the country has with him or her a valid passport or other equivalent documentation which establishes his or her identity and nationality. We need to fine these companies into compliance. If one looks at the safe country list of our EU peers, we are way out of step. I welcome the recent additions to the list of Algeria and Botswana. I have seen no compelling reason for why a country deemed safe on mainland Europe has not the same standard in Ireland. In this regard, a new EU migration pact is a step in the right direction as a nation and as we try to draw breath and get to grips with an unfolding crisis. I welcome recent comments by An Taoiseach that we will opt to pay a financial contribution rather than accept more immigrants under the terms of the pact.

At the outset of my contribution, I referenced the recent attempted arson at the former convent building in Lanesborough, County Longford. That same town hosted hundreds of Turkish workers who came to live in it while building a new power station there almost 30 years ago. That is the town where the local schools are now an eclectic mix of cultures and nationalities, all learning together and focused on an Ireland truly for all.

However, the fact remains that we as a Government have heretofore been overwhelmed by the immigration challenge. The challenge will not dissipate and it behoves us as a Government to recalibrate, look to Europe, replicate what is working there and implement a policy that protects those fleeing war and poverty while at the same time rebuilding the goodwill and earnest support of hundreds of our communities nationwide.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It has almost become a sick running joke at this stage that whenever a building is said to be earmarked for refugees or asylum seekers, the immediate response from some is, "I hope they have good fire insurance." There is a pattern to these arson attacks dating back nearly six years. They have only intensified in the last 12 months. More and more buildings are being burned. People are losing faith in the official response and its inability to stop these attacks. I went on RTÉ news one evening and said that I had spoken to the Minister only a week before, in this Chamber, and expressed my concerns about the possibility of that happening to a former nursing home on the edge of my constituency.

It is a miracle that somebody has not been killed or seriously injured. It is only a matter of time before someone is caught up in a blaze or a firefighter or some homeless person is injured or worse following these fires.

The burning of St. Brigid's, a former nursing home in Brittas, County Dublin, was another in a series of attacks on sites possibly earmarked for accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers. One of the questions I asked the Minister was if there was any truth in the rumour that St. Brigid's would possibly be used. The Minister said he was not aware of that and would come back to me. I went to him again, and there was no decision made about the site. I am not saying that to say I told you so, as if I have some great insight that this was going to happen. There were protests outside it and so on. I could not have predicted it but my concern was that I had seen it happening in other areas and did not want it to happen to that. I had been a supporter of the save St. Brigid's campaign since it was established at the end of the site's use. It was originally used for people with TB. It was gifted to the State. It was then used for women with dementia. When there was a possibility of closure, it was being used at one stage by Tallaght University Hospital as a step-down facility for people. It was then closed and was not being used. Many of us involved in the campaign said there was something almost spiritual about it. It was a beautiful setting. When you talked to families that used to go there, they said there was always something special about the building. It was burned down. These criminals say they are standing up for communities. I fail to see how burning down buildings and preventing them ever becoming a community resource achieves that. They are causing more harm to the communities than 100 refugees or asylum seekers will ever do.

There is a challenge there for us all. However, local communities cannot be expected to shoulder the burden. We have seen across the State the challenges that communities have been asked to take on. It is a badly worked out system. We need to come together collectively and come up with solutions for how we are going to do that. There has to be State-run accommodation. The reliance on private developers is a huge problem. People are becoming millionaires from the challenges we are facing with people fleeing war in Ukraine and other areas around the world. There needs to be a different approach from the State. It is pouring money into private hands to house refugees and asylum seekers when I think it should be doing it centrally. That is what we should be aiming for. In some towns you can see people driving around in big cars. They are making huge money out of this, and I think that is one of the causes of resentment. There are also challenges with people getting access to a GP or dentist. Again, people fleeing these countries have skills and medical backgrounds. We need to be quicker in that regard too. There needs to be a recognition that communities are struggling and a realism that we need a different approach to asylum seekers.

I do not think this is something that cannot be solved. I believe there needs to be a different approach. I know we are talking about the arson attacks, and I think there is a role for An Garda there. It needs to be covert and overt. There is genuine criticism about some of the things that have happened in many communities. It can be solved but we collectively need to have a different approach to this huge challenge of our century.

6:45 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I want to rebut some of the claims made here earlier by people who are now far distant. People like us who were looking for a debate on the issue of migration were not in the Chamber. We all have committees and a lot of committees were sitting today. I was listening in my office to some of the diatribe. I point out that when we had our motion, we did not have a quorum for the whole motion.

The Minister for Justice said last week in Thurles that she has to "push back very strongly" against claims by women in Roscrea that they do not feel safe in their own town.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I did not say that.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

She said local protesters are being manipulated by outside forces trying to stoke up trouble.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Do not quote me incorrectly. Quote me correctly please.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is an utter lie by her, an utter diatribe. These are good people who have contacted me in numbers to say they are offended and disgusted that she carries on with this diatribe.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Minister has made it clear she did not say that.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am quoting from her statement.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Do not quote me incorrectly.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have it up on my phone.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I did not say the women-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Do not be wasting my time. I am quoting from a statement.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

All right.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would not do it otherwise. It is a statement. This is the problem with the Government, with its head in its hands. It is a problem it has failed to deal with and it sticks in my craw to hear Deputies from Sinn Féin, who were good at the petrol bombs, and their groups and rewarders, and burning down places. Nobody wants a place burned down. I condemn from the bottom of my heart anybody who burns a building. A burned building is no use to anyone. However, good people are being labelled when a place is burned. There was an attempted burning of an old school in Fethard, County Tipperary. It turned out there was not even a rumour it was going to be used. Straight away the media jumped on this. The Garda has said it had no information whatsoever. There were no rumours or anything else. It could have been ordinary people doing something they should not have been doing in that building, like sometimes happens. It could have been an accident or anything else. There were no refugees going into it. There was no mention or rumour of it. I make that quite clear.

The Government thinks it can peddle this "Croppies lie down" narrative as if it knows everything. It has utterly failed to house 14,000 people. Now people are telling us there are 1,000 IPAS applicants. It is horrific if they are on the streets of Dublin. There was also a young woman who died in Dublin during the week and was buried in Roscrea. She was from Roscrea and died homeless on the streets of Dublin. All of these problems are being compounded and they want to flood the people. The Taoiseach tells me that 14,000 people who came in with no paperwork were all trafficked in. They should get their heads out of the sand and be fair and respectful to the people out there; the electorate. They should remember they have to face these people. They have failed to deal with the housing crisis. They have failed to deal with the health crisis and many other crises. That is the situation and that is what they are doing. They have failed miserably and are failing miserably to deal with this. They need to put the people in and support the Garda. We will have between 4,000 and 5,000 exits from An Garda Síochána in the next couple of years and the Government cannot recruit people. The Minister is the woman who, I respectfully suggest, needs to wake up and not be demonising the good, decent women, grandparents and children in Roscrea and trying to put them down. It is insulting. It is gross. It is crass. It is beneath her but we do not expect anything better from this Government only to piddle down on the Irish people.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

First and foremost, let me be unequivocal. Any deliberate arson attack on property is condemnable, regardless of the rationale behind such acts. They are criminal and should be dealt with swiftly by the State's law enforcement authority, An Garda Síochána. The risk of someone being killed or injured in an arson attack is real and the act of burning buildings is deeply wrong and unhelpful to any cause. If this trend continues it could result in the loss of precious lives; lives that matter to our families, our communities and our nation. However, let us not ignore the occurrence of public anger that surged through our society. The temperature of discontent has risen to a point where more fire attacks are likely in 2024. When local communities feel unheard and their voices are stifled by bureaucracy or political inertia, some individuals may the law into their own hands. Desperation breeds desperate actions and in many cases they may get away with it and escape the grasp of justice.

Why are certain buildings targeted? Why do we witness a pattern of arson attacks directed at structures related to immigration? The answer lies in the Government strategy or perhaps its lack thereof. Until now, the strategy has been to impose information blackouts about migrant accommodation centres. These centres are often tucked away from public view because they become focal points of tension. The deliberate withholding of information aims to pre-empt local opposition. However, the consequences are far reaching. The Government's communication strategy on migrant accommodation centres inadvertently encourages misinformation and rumour by keeping communities in the dark. It creates fertile ground for speculation, fear and mistrust. Transparency becomes a casualty. Public engagement remains illusive We have consistently called for a change of strategy, advocating for transparency and meaningful dialogue, yet our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. If the Government was trusted to provide accurate information by local communities, there would be no room for misinformation.

6:55 pm

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I too condemn the burning of any buildings or properties belonging to anyone. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. There are no two ways about it. Any right-minded man or woman would not support that kind of action.

Of course, then, our own local people are very angry because if they opened their mouths and asked any questions, they were deemed to be racist. I refer to the people on the Muckross Road who held a very silent protest and then convened a meeting in the East Avenue hotel, which was attended by over 300 people. All those people asked for at that meeting was that the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, or someone from his team, would go down and meet them. They failed to do that. Some 77 men were landed in alongside a 90-year-old woman, whom everyone worried about because no one knew where these people were coming from or anything.

The honest truth of it is that Garda cars are there regularly outside this building. It is not a good sight. People are very angry. The other item people are worried about is that they feel that refugees are getting better treatment than themselves. To give one example, a person renting a house will get €800, tax-free, if he or she rents it to Ukrainians. That is fine, do that, but give it to the local people as well. Give them the same tax exemption and the same acknowledgement. They are looking for houses too and they are homeless as well, many of them.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

At the outset, in the interests of transparency, I just want to say that I house Ukrainian families, including moms, dads and children, as I do a lot of Irish people. I just want to put that on the record. I am totally horrified that any person's property would be burned. It is an act of wanton vandalism that should in no way be tolerated. We cannot, however, compare that to the people who were at the meeting in Killarney. Some 300 or 400 genuine, hard-working people came to a meeting to discuss concerns they had. All of them were taxpayers. These are honest, upstanding people in Killarney town. The reason they came to that meeting was to talk about their issues. They had issues and they wanted to hear from the Government. They wanted to hear facts.

To get to the truth of the story, I will use one example. I refer to the Government going into Roscrea and taking over an operating hotel. Having created a problem, the Government then came along and said it would buy a hotel that was closed for 12 years, open it up and give it back to the community. Would it not have made more sense to have bought that building in the first instance and used it for housing the people coming in, and let the existing hotel carry on giving the excellent service it was giving? Is it any wonder that people have concerns? It is not possible, though, to compare those with concerns to thugs and people who damage property.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

At the outset, I condemn anyone who would burn or damage anyone's property. I condemn anyone who would go out on a violent protest. I do not condemn people who go out and protest peacefully. I refer to people who wish to meet in a community to discuss what is happening in their area because of the lack of information from the Government. One thing the Government and the Departments are guilty of is not letting the local communities know what they are thinking of doing in their areas. The people in the community should be the first to be contacted. What the Government has done is that it has scared people. It has scared people in their own communities by not informing them and not, via dialogue, telling them what is happening. This is not right. The Government is guilty of this. The people that burn down buildings are guilty of what they have done and they should get the full rigours of the law brought down on top of them. The Government, however, should be held to account for the people in communities it does not inform. It should stop scaring families and good community people. It should stop putting out the wrong message when communities meet to discuss these things or people have a peaceful protest. They are there for the good of the people they want to get into their areas and not there for violence.

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Arson is an extremely serious criminal offence. Under section 2 of the Criminal Damage Act 1991, any person convicted of arson on indictment can face a maximum penalty of up to life imprisonment and an unlimited fine. The reason we impose such a serious sentence upon those convicted of arson is because we recognise the danger associated with it. It is remarkable and extremely lucky that, to date, no one has been killed in any of the arson attacks we have seen in the last six months. I regret to say, however, that if we continue to see arson attacks in this country, then it is only a matter of time before a person loses his or her life as a result of such an arson attack. It is for this reason that we impose such a serious sentence on those convicted of arson.

I also know that An Garda Síochána will be taking such arson attacks extremely seriously. Some Members of the House have expressed concern that there have not been any convictions yet in respect of the offence of arson. The Garda, however, needs to be given time. We have seen the force operate very effectively in respect of other serious criminal issues that blighted this country over the years. It was also highly successful in its investigations and in securing convictions before the courts. We are also aware that the reason these arson attacks are taking place is because misguided individuals believe that if they set fire to a building, they will be able to ensure it is not used for accommodation for those seeking international protection. It is extremely important that we also emphasise, though, that throughout this country and in the constituencies of every Member of this House many accommodation centres have been initiated where there have been no attacks and no complaints. TDs and individuals have accepted people into their communities and have not engaged in any threatening or violent acts against the properties they live in. It is also important to point out that even though there are people who protest against the policy of the State in seeking to provide accommodation to those seeking international protection in their areas, the vast majority of those people would completely condemn any arson attacks. In my constituency, a series of accommodation centres is being used for the purpose of providing accommodation for those seeking international protection. The overwhelming majority of them have been accepted and there have been no issues in respect to them. There was, however, one isolated arson attack in respect of an accommodation centre in my constituency. I can guarantee, however, that the vast majority of people in the community where that arson attack took place did not support the act of violence that was perpetrated on the property.

It is also important that we talk about the issue of immigration. Historically, we have not been used to the whole prospect and action of immigration. The population of Ireland declined consistently and repeatedly after the Famine. It is sometimes forgotten that on this island, prior to 1841, there was a population of approximately 8 million people. The population of the island today is about 7.2 million people. Consistently since the Famine, though, and up until the end of the 20th century, there was an ongoing decline in our population. We have really only encountered immigration into this country from the end of the last century and over the past 25 years. My own view is that it has been an extremely positive experience for Ireland in terms of accepting people in. Anyone who has been involved in sport or who has seen young people playing sport can see the wealth of opportunity and of cultural enrichment gained as a result of people from different backgrounds coming into Ireland and growing up here. Although they are from different ethnic backgrounds, they endorse and become a part of Ireland's culture and heritage.

We have dealt with this aspect extremely well over the last 25 years. In many respects, though, I suppose what has been remarkable is that there has not been a debate on or an issue with immigration over the past 25 years. We should be honest, though, and recognise the reason this has been seen in opinion polls to have become an issue of concern for the public in the past two years or so.

The reason is fairly clear and that is the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Over the past two years, we have extremely compassionately and generously accepted into Ireland approximately 105,000 Ukrainian refugees who are fleeing the war. The European Union decided that they would be granted temporary protection. I agree with that and Ireland agreed with that. However, obviously that number coming into Ireland puts huge pressure on our accommodation resources. Anyone who suggests otherwise is simply not facing facts. It is because we have seen such large numbers coming in over the past two years that concern has become heightened about the issue.

In 2019, prior to the Covid pandemic, the number of people seeking international protection was in the region of 3,500 to 4,000. Last year, in 2023, approximately 13,500 people sought international protection. Based on the numbers that we have seen already this year, it appears that those numbers will be exceeded. We need to recognise that if the numbers are going to continue at approximately 15,000 or 20,000 people coming in seeking international protection each year, we will find it extremely difficult to provide the accommodation and the shelter to which they are entitled. We need to think what we should do to try to respond to that. In fairness, the Government has put extraordinary resources into the international protection process. That is having the effect of expediting the process.

However, as Deputy Flaherty mentioned earlier, we also need to look again at the provisions that we are entitled to invoke as a result of Article 38 of the recast directive on international protection. That article was transposed into Irish law under section 72 and it allows us to designate countries as being safe countries. If a country is designated as safe country, it does not mean that an individual who comes in here applying for international protection from that country is immediately refused. Their application is considered but the categorisation and designation of the country as being a safe country is a factor that expedites the process. We need to ensure that we can expedite the process of international protection applications particularly since the numbers are growing so considerably. We need to be clear that the persons who are losing out as a result of the process not being expedited are the persons who at the end of the process are entitled to claim international protection. Therefore, it is to their benefit that this is being done. I am sure the Minister will also be aware that the designation countries as safe countries can and does result in a reduction in the number of applications coming from those countries. That is a factor we need to look at.

We are very compassionate people. There is obviously racism in every country but racism in Ireland is at a low level. I do not believe that the vast majority of Irish people are in any way racist towards persons coming into this country. We have seen it for the past 25 years with people coming from all around the world. That is why I repeat again that the obvious reason it has risen up in our issues of concern as assessed in polling is because the numbers have become very considerable.

We also need to reflect on our own history in this matter. We have a history of travelling around the world and making a great contribution to other countries. We faced terrible persecution when we went abroad. I recently had an opportunity to read the reports from Liverpool newspapers of the tens of thousands of Irish people who migrated from Ireland to Liverpool after the Famine. In the 1850s, there was virulent anti-Irish feeling in Liverpool, which was extraordinary, particularly since the Irish people were coming from part of the same country as Liverpool as it was at the time.

There are also opportunities for us. The numbers coming in as a result of the war have made it extremely difficult for us to provide the necessary accommodation. Ultimately however, we will need to recognise that Ireland is a very attractive country for people. People fleeing persecution will obviously pick a country that is attractive to them. Ireland is attractive because we have such a strong economy and a welcoming population. We need to recognise that as the years progress will need to ensure that we have State-provided accommodation that can provide short-term shelter for persons seeking international protection. It is our obligation to do so. There is something unsettling and inconsistent about going around different areas of the country, trying to identify accommodation that can be used for the purpose of providing shelter for those seeking international protection. It is also unfair in local towns if the only hotel or a building that is providing an essential service is removed from the town as a result of providing accommodation pursuant to an international protection obligation.

This is not easy. As a Government TD, I have no difficulty in accepting we are finding it difficult to cope with providing accommodation for the numbers coming in. We need to look at other mechanisms to expedite the process so that we can reduce the numbers applying. I do not envy the Minister's task but it is our duty to put forwards as suggestions here.

The one thing we should recognise as not acceptable is people's use of violence to advance their political objective. People in this country are perfectly entitled to protest against State decisions. They are perfectly entitled to object to Government decisions. We have vigorous debates in the Houses of the Oireachtas. People are perfectly entitled to oppose everything Government is doing. However, they cannot break the law to advance their political objective. They cannot use violence to achieve their political objectives or to prevent another political objective from being achieved. In Ireland in the late 20th century, we saw how using violence to achieve objectives is fruitless. I appeal to people who are misguided and who think it is appropriate to engage in acts of arson to achieve some short-term shortsighted political objective not to do so. It is anti-democratic and also a serious breach of the criminal law and they could end up going to prison for life.

7:05 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity. I thank the Minister for staying in the Chamber for the duration of this important debate. Between November 2018 and February 2024, there have been 22 incidents of arson and nobody has been convicted. I welcome that the Minister said in her speech that the Garda is taking an active approach and that some people have been arrested. However, for the attacks in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, there have been no convictions. We gave free rein to the idea that a building can be burnt down, which I absolutely deplore.

I will talk about asylum seekers and the deliberate of blurring of words - immigration, asylum seekers and refugees - and why it is important not to do that. Before doing that, I have no hesitation in absolutely condemning arson. I come from Galway city. I described a meeting a few years ago on a proposal to move asylum seekers into a hotel in Oughterard as the worst in my life. We have had the latest burning down at the Ross Lake House Hotel. I was of the opinion that building was not suitable in any event. However, there was absolutely no justification for what happened. We got notification from the Minister at approximately 3.50 p.m. on a Friday and I understand a barricade and other items were erected within an hour of that. Nobody emailed my office or sought to talk to me, as a representative, to outline their concerns. I have an open office and would have been happy to listen to any of their concerns about the lack of integration - but not about single men being a danger. It is a very dangerous narrative and the Government should put it to bed.

I have only to think of the horrible domestic violence figures we see month after month. I can think of many other examples, yet we continue to allow this narrative about young men being dangerous.

It is important to note asylum seekers are fleeing war and persecution. They make treacherous, unsafe and lengthy journeys at a terrible personal cost. According to the International Organization for Migration, 29,087 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea alone. I have said on record I do not think I could ever swim in the Mediterranean again because we are standing idly by while the bodies pile up somewhere in that sea. A total of 110 million people have been displaced worldwide, of whom 43.3 million are children, due to wars, conflict and climate change, and for many other reasons.

Ireland's direct provision system was brought in in 2000 as a temporary measure. I sat on the Committee of Public Accounts and was never impressed with the Department of Justice officials coming before me at the time. They were utterly unprepared to change the system that was to be temporary. We had Judge Mahon's report with all its recommendations followed by Catherine Day's very good report, the one flaw in which was that it stated the solution was housing in the community. That was never going to happen because the report was published in the middle of a housing crisis, which has intensified since. Following that, we got the very welcome White Paper, which stated we would stop direct provision by 2024, would gradually lead into that and not have direct provision and would construct centres to house asylum seekers, deal with applications swiftly and move on. That has never happened.

To put it in perspective, we have approximately 26,000 people seeking asylum in Ireland, separate from the Ukrainian refugees - or whatever name we give them. That is all. If this country cannot cope with 26,000 asylum seekers, we are totally lost. Within that number, approximately 6,000 have status but have no place to go.

The people from the Ukraine were openly welcomed by Irish people but the Government in its wisdom decided on a two-tier system so we treated people from Ukraine fleeing the illegal war and invasion by Russia utterly differently and we allowed a narrative to develop: Ukrainian people fleeing war, good; people fleeing from other countries, not so good. They got less money and respect and almost 6,000 have been left almost locked up with nowhere to go after getting status. The two-tier system is appalling. I know it will stop now but it has caused a huge amount of damage.

I live in a city with two direct provision centres. The privatisation of that for profit has led to millionaires making a profit on taxpayers' money and it has stymied the integration of those who are dying to work.

Then we have confusion about immigrants. This country has been kept going by immigrants working everywhere from hospitals to the retail sector. We should not be confusing all these words. It is wrong and dangerous.

7:15 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am disgusted at the recent arson attacks. Attacks like these are devastating for a community to witness and they do not reflect the feelings of a community, only the hate of a handful of individuals. These individuals claim to care about the safety of a community, while, at the same time, they are burning its buildings to the ground. The only thing these people care about is spreading hate and igniting violence. The justification of their actions as being in a community’s interest is disgraceful and disingenuous because the people burning down local buildings are not the people involved in Tidy Towns or community council meetings each week. They are not the people packing bags or standing with collection buckets for local clubs or charities, and they are certainly not the people running local support groups, youth groups, community kitchens, food banks or parish quizzes. Many are not even from the communities they seek to divide and the claim that they are acting for the good of that community while they undo the work of many great and genuine community workers is an insult. It is likely these community workers will be left to clean up the mess of arson attacks and face the consequences of such hate and violence. It is important to remember that the cost of such a clean-up will come out of the pocket of the council and, as a result, the community.

I hope that acts like these empower communities to stand up against hate and violence. Communities across Ireland and County Donegal have rallied against acts of violence and hate towards asylum seekers and have come together in support of people coming in and the diversity that they bring. The Government needs to support communities in doing this. Its approach to these attacks has been completely inadequate and has done nothing to challenge those who fan the flames of unjust hatred. The Government needs to provide increased supports for asylum seekers and the communities hosting them, but it also needs to start acting on anti-immigration sentiment, which has now risen to dangerous levels, driven by just a few people. Attacks such as these cannot be tolerated and the perpetrators of such violence and of hate speech need to be targeted and monitored. Hate crimes need to be addressed and treated seriously. We need to take a strong stand against division and reject the hate of those who seek to endanger our communities with violent arson attacks.

Somebody spoke earlier about the population of the country in the 19th century. That is a fact. If we did not have the Famine in the 1840s, the population of Ireland today would probably be 25 million to 30 million. How can we say Ireland is full? It is disingenuous and it is lies but it is made to suit a political agenda to sow division and hatred in our communities, targeted at the most vulnerable, that is, people who come here for protection. We let those people down by doing that. Unfortunately, the State is not taking an active enough role in dealing with it. Maybe it is belatedly coming to the table now and the Garda are starting to respond to it but I know of stuff reported to the Garda and little if any investigation has ever taken place. That is wrong and should not be tolerated. We need to be strong and to stand up to this.

The Government needs to start showing leadership on this issue by addressing the needs of communities, who are resilient and who have shown time and time again that they are willing to come together and overcome these attempted divisions. By standing together, we can overcome them but that means standing with everybody, including asylum seekers.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will try to respond by grouping. Many similar remarks have been made and there were not too many questions. I concluded my opening remarks by saying that intimidation, violence and acts of arson or incitement are not a legitimate form of protest and those responsible must be held accountable. While we disagree on plenty in this Chamber, we have all condemned these acts and are all clear this is not a legitimate form of protest.

I agree with colleagues that the vast majority of people across the country have been extremely welcoming to those fleeing war, persecution or starvation, irrespective or where they are coming from. Unfortunately, the world is a different place from what it was a few years ago. There are millions of people on the move because of conflict, including wars, we are not even aware of. As people, we automatically want to respond, provide shelter and support people. We see that in communities coming together and people coming together not in protest but in responding to the needs of those seeking international protection and putting in place welcoming committees. No group should ever be afraid to say that is what they are doing.

However, we have a challenge on our hands. Deputy O'Callaghan said we have in a short time gone from 3,000 to 4,000 people coming to this island seeking international protection to more than 100,000 in the past two years. Whether we like it or not, that has placed huge pressure on our accommodation system and our overall immigration system. With my colleagues, we are doing everything we can to respond to it.

Whether Deputy Ó Ríordáin likes it, the fact that people are asking questions about the immigration system now is because we have an increase in the number of people coming here and it is my role and responsibility to respond to those questions in the clearest and most coherent factual way.

We need to make sure we invest in our immigration system. If I had not done that over the past two years, I am sure the questions would be about why we had not done more. We have almost doubled the number of staff dealing with immigration queries. We have invested tens of millions of euro in our IT systems, moving many of our application processes online. We have advanced accelerated processes, in particular for safe countries. Obviously, we need to make sure that we have the capacity to deal with those applications in a fast way. I have no doubt that I will review those countries in the near future and more may be added. It is not just safe countries that are in the accelerated process; returns are now in it.

We will build up that system and structure because the migration pact I will recommend and firmly believe we as a country should join means that every person will be in a much quicker application process. Anybody who applies, irrespective of whether they are from a safe country, will move into a much quicker scenario whereby they will receive their first instance decision much more quickly than they do now and will be able to go through an appeal system much more quickly. We will have a more effective returns policy. At the moment, Dublin does not work but there will be a better system in place whereby in the case of person who has international protection from another country and seeks it in this country, the initial country will have no option but to accept the person back. That is not the case now. A lot of work has been done over the past number of years to deal not just with the increase in the number of people coming here but to make sure that we are prepared and ready when we sign up the immigration pact, which will be better co-ordinated and have better co-operation. I believe it is a system that will be fair and firm to those who need our help.

We are also making sure that those who are responsible for these crimes are held accountable. That is why so much of my contribution focused on An Garda Síochána. We need to move away from the fact that this is not legitimate protest. These are crimes committed by criminals. Anybody who aids or abets those crimes or withholds information is partly responsible. The only way we can respond is through the law and making sure gardaí have the resources and ability to be able to deal with these crimes.

That is why I am doing everything I can to make sure we have as many gardaí as possible. That is why we are doing everything to encourage more people into An Garda Síochána and retain the numbers we have. That is why we are investing in technology for gardaí and will have body cameras on gardaí this year. That is why we are investing in CCTV and all of the other types of technology that gardaí need to be able to do their job as effectively as possible.

One of the challenges gardaí have is where there is no CCTV, witness who has come forward or other evidence normally needed to prosecute these crimes. It is all circumstantial. Investigations take time. The Garda Commissioner has my full commitment that gardaí will have whatever resources they need to respond to these. Unfortunately, this is not quick work. The fact that we have arrests and there is progress is something I hope people take into account. I hope they acknowledge the work gardaí are doing. Any suggestion that gardaí have not responded effectively simply because something involves international protection applicants is something I would absolutely reject it out of hand.

A lot of work is under way. We have spoken about much of that today. We talked about the steps that are being taken to try to move towards the new migration pact. There are also discussions taking place at European level to determine what we do next with our friends, those who have come from Ukraine, as the temporary protection directive comes to an end. We need to discuss how we transition into something different and support those who want to go home, if that is even possible as the war in Ukraine continues. How do we transition into another type of arrangement for those people? That work is under way.

In response to Deputy Connolly, the temporary protection directive was always going to be different from that pertaining to those seeking international protection because we essentially agreed that those coming from Ukraine would be treated the same as European citizens. That is inherently different from those who come here to seek international protection. We wanted to provide protection, but it was agreed that it would be done in a way that treat people as European citizens. Whether that is right or wrong, that is the legal parameter within which we had to work. Obviously, we want to make sure that everybody, irrespective of where they come from, gets the protection and support they need.

Deputies spoke about communication and language. We all have a role to play. Deputies spoke about creating a fertile breeding ground while, at the same time, Deputy Carthy spoke about the need for people who are angry to divert their anger towards the Government. In the same slot, Deputy Daly mentioned Deputy Kenny who had experienced his own difficulties. Many Members have experienced acts of aggression towards them and I would not wish that on anybody in the House. It is really important, when we are talking about communication, that we do not add to the challenges in this House by telling people on the outside to divert all of their anger towards Government Deputies. That is not what we should be doing here. The only people are responsible for the vitriol, arson attacks and crimes are those who are committing them, not anybody in the House. It is very dangerous language to use.

Deputy Daly referred to online content, and I agree with his remarks. The spread of misinformation or disinformation and, on top of that, the use of artificial intelligence to spread misinformation is frightening. It is something we were recently updated on by Europol. The ability for any individual to use technology to mimic another person and pretend to be another individual and spread disinformation is frightening. It is accessible to absolutely everybody. That is why I believe gardaí should not work with an analogue system. They should have all of the digital tools available to them to be able to counter this type of technology and the way in which it is being used by those who wish to sow division, create fear and disrupt democracy. This is not an issue that we are grappling with our own; this is a challenge that every democracy across the world is dealing with. We are doing a huge amount of work to try to counter it.

Coimisiún na Meán was established in recent years and its sole focus is to take on social media companies where hateful or harmful information is being spread. There has been investment in technical bureaus in An Garda Síochána, whose sole focus is to make sure that they can investigate these types of crimes. Every type of opt-in that is available to us in recent years to better integrate with Europol and Interpol to counteract this type of disinformation is being taken up. A lot of work is being done, but I come back to the fact that we each have a role to play in making sure we are responsible in how we communicate and get this information out to people.

There is often criticism around how gardaí police protests. Not one Deputy suggested that we should not have peaceful protests or allow people to protest in a peaceful way. A challenge comes with that. When people are protesting peacefully, gardaí have to manage the situation as they see it. If the situation escalates, they escalate their response. We saw that in recent times.

Where people are protesting peacefully, it is often the case that this is infiltrated by those who have more sinister objectives. They also do not cross the line but get into a community and manage to sow fear and concern. That is exactly what I spoke about on Tipperary radio recently. To correct Deputy McGrath's suggestion that I had in any way been critical of women who have genuine concerns, what I said was that there was an attempt to instil fear in the community. There was attempt by some to link crime with migrants and say there is an increase in crime where there is an increase in migration. That is simply not the case. We should all push back on that. That is what I stated in that regard.

More broadly, we are all of the same view. We utterly condemn the acts of arson and violence that are being committed by a small number of people. Gardaí have my full and absolute support in respect of anything that they need to ensure that those who are accountable are held responsible. If anybody has any information on any of the attacks, not just in recent months but over the past number of years, I encourage them to come forward to the Garda with that information.