The Irish have no option left but to protest against an asylum crisis of their government’s own making

Residents gather in the Irish capital of Dublin to protest the government's asylum policy.
By Thomas Brooke
7 Min Read

The Irish government has run out of designated accommodations to cater to asylum seekers. It has thus resorted to placing new arrivals in hotels — at considerable cost to Irish taxpayers — and tents as the country struggles to cope with demand.

Ireland experienced a record year for asylum applications in 2022, with the Department of Justice releasing a figure that was six times higher than the previous year. Immigration into the country hit a 15-year high.

With the government failing to implement the necessary infrastructure to handle such numbers, Irish nationals have taken to the streets to express their concern and anger at what they believe to be an unsustainable immigration rate. The massive influx of people is putting pressure on public services and social housing, in addition to creating social tensions caused by new arrivals unfamiliar with the Irish way of life.

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The integration process has undoubtedly been hindered by the government’s failure to ensure the necessary measures were put in place before opening the country’s doors to newcomers, and those opposed to the record levels of asylum seekers across the world believe placing them in hotels in rural areas has serious security issues. They also argue that stretching social services to accommodate new arrivals when the supply of housing and social housing waiting lists are saturated is simply unfair.

Ireland is already facing a housing crisis

To put recent protests against the rate of newcomers into perspective, one need only look at the housing crisis enveloping the country. Housing in general across Ireland is at a premium, with a collapse in the number of rental properties available leading to sky-high rents in the properties remaining, particularly in Dublin.

According to Ronan Lyons, a Trinity College Dublin professor and housing expert, the Irish government will need to almost double its current commitment to build 28,000 new homes per year to within the range of 42,000-62,000 to accommodate the country’s rising population trajectory over the next 30 years.

The sub-issue of social housing is also raising alarm. The Irish Times reported in November last year how just 200 homes were being added per year to the stock of social housing across four councils in the Irish capital between 2017 and 2021, leaving thousands on waiting lists for social housing who have virtually no chance.

On top of that are official reports of an unprecedented 11,397 people in homeless shelters across the country in October last year. It then becomes clear why people have had enough and believe the country is full.

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Similar to many other European nations whose governments have resorted to block-booking hotels to cater to the influx of newcomers, the upcoming tourism season represents a ticking time bomb. Hoteliers will either reject new government contracts to house asylum seekers or take advantage of the situation and extort those paying the bill — ultimately the Irish taxpayers.

Chief executive of the Irish Tourism Industry Council Eoghan O’Mara Walsh recently told RTÉ that 28 percent of all tourism beds in regional Ireland are currently occupied by Ukrainian refugees or asylum seekers. He urged the Irish government to quickly come up with a comprehensive plan to protect the tourism industry, upon which the Irish economy is heavily reliant.

How does the government plan to address the asylum chaos?

Is the government listening? It would appear not when considering the latest remarks from recently appointed Minister for Integration Joe O’Brien, who told the Irish Independent this month to expect similar numbers of new arrivals in the year ahead, despite Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman warning of the “very real risk” that newcomers will end up needing to sleep on the streets.

O’Gorman spoke of asylum reception centers being filled to the brim, adding that the government was prioritizing families with young children for suitable housing. The inevitable consequence of this, however, is Irish society being left with groups of angry adult men roaming the streets, a consequence Irish protesters are rightly concerned about.

An announcement this week from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth advised “those who are considering seeking refuge in Ireland and who are currently in places of safety not to travel to Ireland at this time.” These appear to be hollow words from a government refusing to take the radical action necessary to prevent the crisis from deepening even further.

Many within the Irish establishment are attempting to dismiss the mass protests across the country opposing plans to keep Ireland’s doors open as events of far-right extremists. The populist Irish Freedom Party has accused the country’s “political and media class” of “engaging in a campaign of demonizing ordinary people.” However, the reality is that many across both sides of the debate agree the asylum system is broken and isn’t going to be fixed by adopting a same-again approach this year.

Earlier this month, the head of the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) in Ireland, Enda O’Neill, admitted that the asylum system in the country is “unraveling rapidly,” and warned that “urgent intervention at the most senior levels of government is needed if we are to turn this around.”

The asylum crisis is one of the liberal Irish government’s own making, and it is clear that a radical change in approach is required to stem the flow. However, if recent murmurs from within the government, which indicate a reluctance to change tack, are accurate, the fault for the breaking point in the housing market being breached, the flames of social tensions being further stoked, and the highly probably rise in anti-immigrant sentiment will be firmly placed at the government’s door.

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