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Justice Minister Helen McEntee speaking in the Dáil today Oireachtas.ie
Asylum Seekers

McEntee says commentary in Dáil is 'feeding blatant racism' as she defends Migration Pact

In the same debate, Bríd Smith accused some TDs of engaging in “scaremongering” in relation to asylum seekers.

JUSTICE MINISTER HELEN McEntee has said commentary in the Dáil about immigration and asylum seekers is “feeding” racism and hatred.

Speaking during a debate on the EU Asylum and Migration Pact, McEntee denounced recent attacks on gardaí and arson attacks at sites earmarked to house international protection (IP) applicants.

She also said TDs have a responsibility in terms of the language they use and information they share.

“So much of the commentary that we hear and see in this house is feeding into that hatred and that division and that blatant racism that we’re seeing right across the country.”

McEntee said remarks made by independent TD Mattie McGrath yesterday – where he compared An Garda Síochána to the B-Specials (a heavy-handed anti-Catholic auxiliary police force that operated in Northern Ireland from the 1920s to 1970) – were “completely unacceptable”.

“I think we all need to understand the responsibility that we have in this house when we talk about people and the huge contribution so many of them make and will make to this country,” the justice minister said.

The Rural Independent Group, of which McGrath is a member, is today bringing a motion before the Dáil for a “transparent national debate” on the EU pact. The group also wants the Government to consider a referendum on the issue.

The RI group’s motion accuses the Government of “imposing large-scale immigration on a local population without consultation”. 

Replying to McEntee, McGrath said he supports An Garda Síochána “100%” and has “all his life”.

However, he said the “heavy-handed tactics” used at recent protests at a site earmarked to house IP applicants in Newtownmountkennedy in Co Wicklow had done “damage” to relations between gardaí and “ordinary people trying to get answers and protect themselves”.

The protests in Newtownmountkennedy reached fever pitch last Thursday as members of the Garda Public Order Unit clashed with protesters. Four people have been charged following the incident.

The Journal visited the town in recent days to speak to locals and organisers, while also examining the social media posts used to gather support for the demonstration.

McEntee herself has previously been criticised by the Ceann Comhairle for her choice of language in the Dáil, after she referred to people who took part in the Dublin riots as “scumbags”. She refused to apologise after being accused of using a classist term.

‘Scaremongering’

During today’s debate, several members of the Opposition were critical of elements of the EU Asylum and Migration Pact.

People Before Profit-Solidarity TD Bríd Smith said she is opposed to the pact, but for “entirely different reasons” to the Rural Independent Group.

Smith said there is “hysteria” and “scaremongering” happening in relation to asylum seekers and migration.

What’s going on here is scaremongering, scaremongering that men of colour who come to this country are a danger to women and children. That is a huge, big factor in why communities say they are worried and they are frightened.

Smith said there is indeed a shortage of resources in terms of housing, healthcare and childcare – but that if “every single” asylum seeker was deported in the morning, all of these issues would still exist.

“These crises were not created by refugees or asylum seekers, they’re the product of continual rule in this State, dominated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who favour the rich and the elites.”

‘Going down a rabbit hole’

Defending the EU Asylum and Migration Pact, McEntee said: “There is nothing in the pact that doesn’t benefit Ireland, I am absolutely steadfast in that view.”

She said the pact will lead to faster processing and appeals, enhanced data sharing, and greater emphasis on returning people who do not have a legal right to stay here.

MEPs voted in favour of the pact last month. 

It contains five main proposals:

  • To create uniform rules around the identification of people who arrive in Europe from outside the EU to claim asylum
  • To develop a common database about new arrivals to Europe, which can paint a more accurate picture of migration trends
  • To speed up decisions on claims made by asylum seekers who enter Europe
  • To establish a ‘solidarity mechanism’ so that all countries share responsibility for asylum applications, rather than those that are at the edge of Europe
  • To ensure that the EU is prepared for future crises, including the weaponisation of migration

James Browne, Fianna Fáil TD and junior minister at the Department of Justice, also defended the pact in today’s debate.

He said Brexit showed what happens when countries try to ‘go it alone’ in terms of migration.

“The idea of going it alone, we don’t have to guess what this will look like, the United Kingdom have gone down this route.

They went down this rabbit hole for about 20 years… But what happened? They got more migration than ever, migration went up.

“Why? Because other European Union countries have no particular interest in helping the United Kingdom… Anybody who’s serious about controlling migration in this country should be in favour of this agreement.”

If Ireland doesn’t sign up to the pact, the country could become the “release valve for migration problems in the European Union”, Browne added.

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