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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Alamy Stock Photo Roderic O'Gorman

Roderic O'Gorman emailed by TDs over concerns about refugee accommodation and far-right figures

Dozens of TDs have emailed O’Gorman about refugees in the past year.

OVERCROWDED ACCOMMODATION, CHILD welfare and fears about far-right figures are among the concerns that TDs have relayed to Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman about the refugee crisis in the past year.

Correspondence seen by The Journal also reveals how several TDs lobbied the minister after their constituents heard nothing back about offers to provide accommodation to asylum seekers.

Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act show how TDs have contacted O’Gorman over the past 12 months in relation to refugee accommodation and anti-migrant protests.

The correspondence came on foot of a growing anti-migrant movement in Ireland, as well as the arrival of tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees and a record number of international protection applicants last year.

The Government has at times struggled to source appropriate accommodation for new arrivals here, with dozens of new international protection applicants forced to sleep in tents in Dublin city centre in the first half of the year.

Following a series of protests outside proposed accommodation centres across the country, O’Gorman was accused by one TD of not doing enough to counter far-right misinformation.

In January, Independent TD Violet-Anne Wynne wrote to the minister about the use of Shannon Business Park in Clare to house refugees, on foot of queries and concerns from her constituents.

“As a direct result of your Department’s lack of support on the ground, a vacuum has been created that has allowed for unsavoury far-right sentiment to hijack the conversation around the country,” she said.

“I am calling on you to come down to Shannon personally and ally [sic] the concerns of local residents.

“If your department does not engage with local residents, community groups and local representatives, then that vacuum will be occupied by the same shameless, opportunistic, far-right elements that are now seeking to distort the lens on this national conversation.”

Emails also show how other TDs contacted O’Gorman as part of efforts to fight misinformation about accommodation for asylum seekers themselves, on foot of high-profile protests elsewhere.

Sinn Féin’s Sean Crowe wrote to O’Gorman earlier this year to ask about the proposed use of an industrial space to house refugees in his constituency.

“The area is one that has traditionally suffered from socio-economic deprivation and public services are already stretched,” he said.

“My fear is that a vacuum of information will lead to a repeat of scenes in [other locations] and I have already received reports of anti-refugee sentiment by users of social media, and I believe it’s in everyone’s interest not to stoke tensions further.”

People Before Profit-Solidarity TD Paul Murphy also raised concerns about videos on social media from a “far-right activist” claiming that the location would be used to house refugees.

“I’m anxious to find out if it’s true or not as soon as possible so that I can get working to help build a coalition locally to counter any misinformation by the far right and to try to ensure that refugees are welcomed by the local community,” he wrote.

In both cases, O’Gorman responded to say that he had since met with local representatives and briefed them on the matter.

Last November, Dublin Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews also wrote to O’Gorman asking about a facility in Ringsend, though he said he was seeking clarity in order to calm any fears among locals over its use.

“We are eager to dispel any misinformation that may be circulating locally as we have seen the harm that disinformation can cause,” he wrote.

‘No information’

A number of TDs also contacted the minister to relay concerns expressed by their constituents about asylum seekers being accommodated in their area.

In November last year, O’Gorman was sent an email sent from the office of Higher Education Minister Simon Harris, after a constituent wrote to him about the housing of refugees in a location in Co Wicklow.

“Local residents received no information in regard to this, and [the constituent] would like to enquire as to how long the refugee facility is set to be in place, along the future plans for said facility,” the email read.

In response, O’Gorman said the facility would be used for up to three weeks and that it was being used for single men because the department believed it would be inappropriate to house women and children.

“The [location] is being used as a temporary rest centre for single males on arrival to Ireland after being registered at the Citywest Transit Hub,” he said.

“I am very aware of the isolated nature of the facility, but given the shortage of available accommodation and the offer by the Minister of Defence to make it available we accepted it.”

The same month, Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan asked the minister whether a location in his constituency was being used for emergency accommodation for refugees.

“I don’t believe people are objecting but they have asked me to enquire whether this is so,” he said.

Fianna Fáil’s Jackie Cahill also wrote to the minister last November about the use of a building to accommodate refugees in Thurles.

“[Constituents] have been told that asylum seekers will be going into a house there soon, and they are of the position it is not a suitable location,” he said.

“Can you confirm whether an application for this has gone in?”

Sharing rooms 

Other TDs raised concerns about the welfare of refugees being housed in their constituencies, occasionally on foot of issues raised by those working in accommodation centres.

In December last year, Solidarity TD Mick Barry raised concerns about Ukrainian families having to share rooms with other refugees due to a lack of available spaces.

“In one case a family of four (husband, wife and two young girls) were told another woman will be sharing a room with them as the room is designated as a five-person room,” he said.

“A woman with two young children in a single room is currently being forced to share a double bed with another woman.

“Another family – mother, grandmother and young teenage girls – are being told a non- family member, a 15-year-old teenage boy, will be sharing [a] room with them.

“There is also a potential case of an unaccompanied Ukrainian minor being left at this facility [...] with a possible solution being suggested that this minor would move in with a male member of staff.”

O’Gorman responded to say he had passed on Barry’s concerns and that he had been in contact with the constituent.

Fianna Fáil’s Sean Fleming contacted O’Gorman the same month about “a number of specific concerns” that had been sent to him about the housing of Ukrainian people in Co Laois.

Those concerns included a need for a study space for children staying in emergency accommodation, families “sharing very tight quarters”, possible “child and welfare protection issues” and an inability for some children to attend school because they were not able to get buses in Portlaoise.

In one instance, the minister was contacted about fears that asylum seekers were being targeted in Co Louth. 

Sinn Féin’s Ruairí Ó Murchú warned O’Gorman last November that Ukrainian refugees in his constituency were being intimidated by locals.

“Videos have been posted online where these folks have been confronted by someone about why they were there, in what was a shocking and dreadful incident for them,” he wrote.

“Local people and representatives, such as my colleague Cllr Antóin Watters and myself, were scrambling to find out last night the correct information for the local community, so that the wrong assertions made in these videos could be halted and corrected.”

Ó Murchú asked the minister whether a “communication channel” could be opened between the department and the local community in order to disseminate correct information on an ongoing basis. 

Housing offers

Several TDs also wrote to O’Gorman in an effort to speed up the provision of housing to new arrivals, with many claiming that their constituents had not heard back after they had offered accommodation.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty wrote to O’Gorman late last year to ask why offers by his constituents had not yet been taken up by the department, and whether it was because their companies were “blacklisted” from providing accommodation.

“I am writing again to seek clarification on the issue of properties in my constituency being fit and available to house Ukrainian refugees yet no contact has been made with the owners from your department,” he wrote.

“Without clarification coming from your department my office cannot provide answers or alleviate these concerns.

“There are serious questions surrounding the omission of these premises from the plan to house Ukrainian refugees in the county, and I would appreciate you reassuring me that there is fairness in this process.”

O’Gorman responded to say that no companies had been blacklisted, and that efforts by Donegal County Council to manage refugee accommodation were stretched after the Creeslough tragedy, and therefore had to be suspended temporarily.

“I can confirm that this pause has been lifted and properties in Donegal are used, with engagement with the local authority taking place as needed,” he said.

Doherty’s constituency colleague, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue, also contacted O’Gorman last December with details of properties belonging to locals in the area.

“As you know, Donegal has stepped up very strongly in relation to supporting Ukrainian refugees, has extended a warm welcome and has one of the largest number of refugees in the country [sic],” he wrote.

“I do believe it is important as we continue to provide shelter and a warm welcome, we also ensure there is consideration given to the capacity of services in the area to cater for the needs of those who we are providing a home to as well as considering the availability of accommodation.”

O’Gorman responded to say that the offer was “greatly appreciated” and directed McConalogue to a form allowing constituents to register their properties to the department for assessment.