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Tents were set on fire on Friday evening.
accommodation crisis

Taoiseach 'horrified' by burning of refugee tents as ministers to meet gardaí over protests

Migrant groups have expressed grave concern for the safety of asylum seekers sleeping rough.

THE TAOISEACH HAS said he does not believe there are enough gardaí available on the streets of Dublin to effectively combat violent attacks on refugees.

Varadkar told reporters in Limerick he was “shocked and horrified” at the burning of refugee tents in Dublin city, and he was “worried” of further similar attacks happening.

Ministers are to meet with senior gardaí this week to discuss the policing of anti-migrant protests.

A garda spokesperson said that gardaí from Pearse Street station would continue to patrol the area and that investigations would be carried out into any violence by detectives attached to the serious crime unit in the area. 

There will be a trawl for CCTV and appeal for footage as the gardaí investigating the incidents. It is understood that the probe would be similar to that carried out into a near riot situation on Grafton Street by violent anti-lockdown protests.

The current garda operational order was assisting in how officers responded to the incidents – the spokesperson added that there is active monitoring the activities of people involved “on line and off line”. 

The Taoiseach said he was “worried about” the violence that broke out in the area.

“I am worried about it; we’ve seen these kinds of things happen in other countries, and Ireland is a country like any other country, and there is always going to be an element of people who have far-right views or racist views and an element of people who will turn to violence but I think we as a society, have to reject that unequivocally,” said the taoiseach.

“No human being should be burnt or attacked or have to face this kind of hatred, no matter where they’re from, or what their backstory is; no human being should be treated in that way.”

“And what we’re going to do is work with the gardaí to make sure that those people are detected that they’re held to account that they’re brought to justice. So they can’t harm anybody else. And we as a government, again, are doing everything we can to provide shelter for those who have come here

Asked if he thought there were enough Gardai on the streets of Dublin City to tackle this, the Fine Gael leader replied: “I don’t.”

Varadkar said the government has “provided funding in the Budget for this year to recruit an additional 1000 Gardai, and that will be more than enough to cover retirements and resignations” and bring the current force to 15,000 members.

“We’re going to try and head for 15,000, and also we’re hiring more Garda staff as well, and that helps to backfill positions so the guards can concentrate on law enforcement and being in public areas, and have some of that administrative burden relieved from them.”

He added: “I’m really shocked and horrified to see what happened in Dublin the last couple of days, whatever people’s views are about immigration or asylum seekers or anything like that; these (people) are human beings, and no human being should be treated in the way that people were treated with those protests and the fires the other night, and I condemn it unreservedly.”

“I know the Garda Commissioner is carrying out a full investigation, so that we find who is responsible and make sure they’re brought to justice, so they can’t harm anybody else.”

It is understood that Garda Commissioner Drew Harris visited the scene of the attack last night.

It is also understood that two gardaí have been deployed to the area on a permanent basis.

New beds for refugees

Earlier Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman told RTÉ Radio One that Ireland “has to do better” at accommodating migrants and that 180 beds will become available to be offered to migrants in the coming days.

He and Justice Minister Simon Harris will meet with Garda management in the coming days on the back of Friday night’s attack.

At present, there are around 480 asylum seekers sleeping rough in Dublin.

Large crowds gathered for a protest targeting a small number of tents erected on a small cul-de-sac off Sandwith Street on Friday.

Footage of several men dissembling a makeshift shelter at roughly 10.45pm has been shared widely online, as has footage of tents and furniture on fire.

The makeshift shelter was behind a barricade that was erected by supporters of the refugees after anti-immigration protesters turned up on the street.

Earlier in the evening Gardaí were present on the street to separate anti-migrant protesters from supporters of the refugees at the site.

Several tents have been pitched in the area near the International Protection Office on Mount Street in the city centre, following difficulties sourcing accommodation for those entering the country in recent months.

O’Gorman said that he believed gardaí “did all they could”, but expressed concern at the intimidation facing the migrants.

“In terms of a difficult situation with the far-right group, the counter protest and international protection applicants as well, and I know An Garda Siochana did all they could,” he said.

“Myself and Mr Harris will be meeting with An Garda Síochána management during the week to discuss the response to these protests.

“Obviously people have the right to disagree with governments policy, people have the right to protest but they don’t have a right to to intimidate people. They don’t have a right to commit acts of violence and we’ll be engaging with the minister on this point.”

Harris was among the government politicians to condemn the attack, tweeting that what happened was “utterly appalling and unacceptable”.

“Everyone in this country has a right to be safe. The right to protest is never a right to endanger or intimidate,” Harris said. 

Migrant rights groups have also expressed serious concern at the unfolding situation.

Lucky Khambule, co-founder of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (Masi) told the same programme the ministers needs to act “very urgently” to prevent harm coming to asylum seekers. 

“We don’t want a situation whereby somebody dies in that tent.”

Khambule said that asylum seekers have been camping near the International Protection Office on at Mount Street while they await news from the office infirming them when a bed has become available. 

Last month, the High Court found that it was unlawful for the State to not provide accommodation to asylum seekers, following a case brought weeks ago brought by an Afghan man.

The Irish Refugee Council’s Nick Henderson said yesterday  that there has been a “clear abdication of statutory responsibilities” by the Department of Housing when it comes to providing accommodation and reception services to asylum seekers arriving into the country. 

Responding to criticisms of the government by the Irish Refugee Council, Varadkar said: “I think the Refugee Council is correct to say that we have a legal and moral obligation to provide shelter for people who come here to seek asylum, so they’re correct in that regards.”

Varadkar said Ireland had “accommodated almost all” of 100,000 refugees from Ukraine and “other parts of the world”, and that, despite anti-refugee sentiment growing here, he did not think there was “any lack of compassion or care from the Irish people”.

However, the taoiseach said Ireland is “running up against real capacity constraints”.

He added: “No matter what conditions people face, where they come from, what their story is, why they’re here, or where they live, nobody should be subjected to violence of that nature. Nobody should be threatened in the way those people were threatened.

“And while I accept the criticism made by the Irish Refugee Council, that’s not in any way, to make excuses for the people who carry out these acts — They’re the ones to blame.”

On this, O’Gorman said he will be meeting with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive to see if night services can be provided to homeless asylum seekers.

The DRHE has insisted over the past week that it has “no role” in providing services to any asylum seeker, until they gain residency – which can take years in many cases.

O’Gorman said the government has brought about 5,000 beds into the system this year but added that around half of these have had to house people who lost their accommodation after hotels which had been providing space for refugees did not renew contracts for the work.  

He added that the government has been looking at all options to bring additional beds into the system.

“We’re accommodating people in hotels and former barracks, in refurbished offices. And it’s through this work that over the next week, we’ll be in a position to make a significant amount of offers of accommodation to people up to this point have been unaccommodated, and that will provide them with greater accommodation with relevant services and with safety.”

Modular housing for Ukrainians 

The Dublin West TD said he expects 300 modular homes for Ukrainian refugees to be ready this summer, out of a projected 700 homes.

The Journal reported last month that only seven sites for modular homes to accommodate families fleeing the war in Ukraine have been found so far by the state, with no units yet completed.

The plans for the sites, which are spread across the country, are part of the government’s humanitarian efforts to the Ukrainian crisis.&

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has condemned the attacks on migrants, saying that the hundreds of asylum seekers sleeping on the streets need to be brought into emergency accommodation immediately.

“The deeply distressing scenes of an encampment of those left to sleep rough by the state being burnt out on Friday evening is a worrying development,” it said.

“The further blatant targeting and abuse of those outside the International Protection office on Mount Street on Saturday reflect the increasing targeting by the far right and their supporters of vulnerable people simply seeking a safe haven and shelter.”

Locals ‘dismayed’

Local Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews said many in the community were “dismayed” by Friday’s attack on the migrant camp.

He told RTÉ News at One that while people have a right to protest, that could not be outside someone’s home, which he said was what the tents in the area were.

The Dublin Bay South TD also said the government has neglected inner city communities which has happened in parallel to the rise of “extreme right-wing” protests.

“What we saw on Friday night was absolute has absolutely no place in society and the people I’m proud to represent are among some of the most decent and hardworking and welcoming people in the country,” he said.

“The scenes down in sandwich street don’t reflect all of those brilliant people who are dismayed by what happened.

“They are a welcoming community but equally, they are a forgotten community and they’ve been neglected and forgotten by a government who allow and continue to allow residents living in flat complexes right across the city from particularly in the south, the inner city in accommodation standards that are just completely unacceptable.”

Andrews added: “I wouldn’t discourage anybody from protesting, that’s a fundamental right. I do object and would discourage anybody from becoming involved in violence and hate and there’s a clear line of difference there.”

The TD said that from speaking to locals, he had gathered that gardaí at the scene were “very professional job in a very difficult situation”, adding that they have had to “pick up the pieces from the government’s mess”.

Labour justice spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin condemned attacks on asylum seekers over the weekend and called for all political leaders to form a “common front to face down this poison”.

“What we saw over the weekend was appalling. To see a small number of far-right activist take the actions they did was nothing short of outrageous,” the Dublin Bay North TD said.

“All these people living in tents want is to work, have somewhere to live and be a part of the community.

“It is a shame that Labour leader Ivana Bacik’s repeated calls for action went unheard. It’s time for all political leaders to come from a common front to face down this poison. Indeed, it reenforces Labour’s support for the Hate Crime legislation currently making its way through the Oireachtas.”

- With reporting from Niall O’Connor and David Raleigh in Limerick 

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