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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to the media this afternoon Gráinne Ní Aodha/PA Images
Asylum Seekers

Local authorities can't have ‘a la carte’ relationship with Govt, Varadkar says after Mayo council vote

Mayo County Council this week passed a non-binding motion to end co-operation with the Department of Integration.

LOCAL AUTHORITIES CANNOT have an “a la carte” relationship with the Government, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said, after Mayo County Council passed a non-binding motion to end co-operation with a government department.

Varadkar said he believed Fine Gael members were among the councillors that endorsed the motion to immediately stop working with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

The motion, passed at this week’s Mayo County Council meeting, was non-binding, meaning the council will not be able to put the motion into action in any meaningful way.

RTÉ reported that the motion stated that “all co-operation ceases immediately, between the staff of Mayo County Council and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland, until such time as an agreed strategy is put in place to properly co-ordinate the provision of additional services for the communities hosting refugees and international protection applicants”.

It reported that an amendment to the motion was set down by Fine Gael councillor Peter Flynn and was agreed by all sides. 

This stated: ”Mayo County Council requests the Irish Government to revoke the European Union (Planning and Development) (Displaced Persons from Ukraine Temporary Protection) Regulations 2022″ and that “Mayo County Council encourages government to utilise lands where planning permission has been granted but no works have taken place to erect modular or prefabricated housing for the accommodation needs of refugees fleeing wars and Irish people requiring affordable accommodation”.

Speaking to reporters following the Chinese premier’s visit to Dublin earlier today, Varadkar said he “disagrees” with the motion that has been passed.

“Local authorities can’t have an a la carte relationship with central government,” he said. 

“A local authority – all of them – but Mayo County Council is one that would receive very significant grants from central government: from the Department of Transport for roads for example, from the Department of the Environment for other things, and you can’t say that you’re going to withdraw co-operation from one government department and then look for funding from five others.

“That’s not a tenable position, I’m afraid.”

He said he would be relaying the message to “the Fine Gael team in Mayo and everyone at Mayo County Council”.

Asylum seekers and refugees

Local opposition to housing asylum seekers and refugees has become more frequent across the country in recent months, with some communities arguing that they are being asked to accommodate a disproportionate number.

The Taoiseach has pledged further supports for such areas but did not give exact details of what was on offer.

There have been more than 101,200 arrivals from Ukraine to Ireland, with 74,500 people currently living in state-provided accommodation and more than 16,000 in employment.

Varadkar said that while Ukrainians, refugees and asylum seekers are welcome in Ireland, the Government has to “respond to genuine concerns” from locals about a lack of services.

“While they are welcome, it’s a simple fact that the number of people who’ve come to live in Ireland and come to live in certain parts of the country has changed the demographics of those areas and, in some cases, changed the economy of those areas, particularly when tourist accommodation has been taken out of use,” the Taoiseach said. 

“So we have to accept that and have to understand why that can cause concerns in local communities and respond to that,” he said. 

“The response isn’t closing our borders. That’s not realistic. There are more people on the move in the world now than any time since the Second World War and migration is a challenge in every developed country.

“But we have to respond to genuine concerns from people around the country who have just seen this change happen very quickly and are worried about it.”

State accommodation for Ukrainians is to be limited from February amid a housing shortage that has seen hundreds of asylum seekers left homeless in freezing temperatures.

The government is now working to find a solution to several protests at asylum seekers being moved into disused and used buildings – including an expansion of the 50 million-euro Community Recognition Fund launched last year.

Varadkar came under pressure from a number of TDs and senators in his own party yesterday who raised the issue of migration, with some criticising the lack of a government plan for sourcing accommodation for asylum seekers across the country.

Questions were also asked of Varadkar as to what was the delay in rolling out the government’s new communications plan.

Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman confirmed to The Journal before Christmas that the Department of An Taoiseach is carrying out a body of work to tackle misinformation and to explain clearly what happens when someone arrives into Ireland seeking asylum. 

With reporting by Christina Finn and Press Association

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