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Integration Minister

Interview: O'Gorman says blockades of asylum seeker accommodation should not be tolerated

The Integration Minister said he regretted government did not act faster to resource communication with local communities.

INTEGRATION MINISTER RODERIC O’Gorman has said he regrets that government did not act faster to put more resources into communication with local communities when refugee and asylum seeker accommodation began to open in new areas. 

Over the past year and beyond there have been an increased number of community meetings where people voiced their discontent at a lack of consultation about migrants from Ukraine and elsewhere being accommodated in certain areas. 

The government has regularly come in for criticism for its lack of communication as it struggles to source new accommodation.

Speaking to The Journal O’Gorman said: ”I would have liked us to have been able to put more resources into the information about the opening of new accommodation earlier than we did. I think that would have been beneficial.”

He said a system is now in place around communicating to local representatives and statutory bodies when new accommodation is coming on stream in a particular area. 

O’Gorman said he recognised “there will be times when it it doesn’t address the issues to the degree insisted upon by some people in the community” but added that “it is broadly a good system and a system that works”.

Ireland has seen a surge in migration since the start of the war in Ukraine, with more than 100,000 refugees being welcomed to the country and accommodated since February 2022. There has also been a significant increase in the number of people seeking asylum in the country – with the number of applications reaching 13,600 last year.

There has been an increased number of local protests against new accommodation in the past year. During the same period there has also been an increase in activity among members of the far right, culminating in violent scenes in the capital on two occasions in recent months – in a protest outside the Dáil and in last month’s Dublin riots.   

The government this month announced cuts to welfare supports to new arrivals coming from Ukraine. The Taoiseach has also appealed to people who already have accommodation where they are not to come to Ireland seeking international protection, due to a lack of accommodation.

O’Gorman spoke to The Journal on Wednesday evening, days after the Ross Lake Hotel in Co Galway, which had been earmarked for asylum seekers, was burnt down.

The minister disputed information given by senior gardaí to the Policing Authority the previous day, when Deputy Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon said information regarding use of the hotel had come from “an informal route” and not via central government.

Speaking more generally about opposition to such accommodation over the past year, O’Gorman said locals taking the law into their own hands could not be tolerated. 

Back in May, shortly after claims that protesters in Co Clare had boarded a bus to take a headcount of asylum seekers, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris insisted the force would not “fall into the trap” of pursuing enforcement action that may be viewed as disproportionate.

The same month, tents belonging to asylum seekers had been torched by anti-immigration protesters on Sandwith Street in Dublin. Far-right protesters in particular, Harris later said, “want an over-response from authorities”.

Responding to a question about local protests and blockades of property, O’Gorman said he accepted people have the right to disagree with government policy, adding: 

“I don’t believe blockading, particularly property where it’s now their accommodation. I don’t believe that’s appropriate. I don’t believe it’s legitimate – nor are these checkpoint type things that have been implemented in a couple of places.

“I know after the the disturbance in the Sandwith Street area earlier in the year, I had a good meeting with Drew Harris and the senior Garda management team. We agreed in terms of better methods of communication in terms of when new accommodation was opening.

“I certainly know over the summer, An Garda Síochana have supported us in terms of opening new accommodation. But I do think it’s important that at the local level, at that operative level, that it is clear that something like a blockade of a place where people are living, it isn’t something that that should be tolerated.”

The minister added that the majority of local representatives have been helpful and stated he that he had no issue with having a debate and a discussion around immigration into Ireland.

In relation to tackling misinformation that spreads online when new accommodation is being opened, the minister said it was decided that the most important step to take is to communicate on a “very local level”. All local reps hear from the department rather than from anybody else that accommodation is being opened, the minister insisted.

A dedicated team are tasked with giving a detailed briefing to local representatives. The team meets with local councillors, community representives and TDs so they can “myth bust in person”.

“I know from talking to some TDs and Senators, they’ve actually found that team really useful in the last while because up to that point, it was often myself or [Housing] Minister O’Brien and our team doing it, and it was difficult,” O’Gorman said. 

“But we felt that was the most practical step, because the people, the local elected reps, are often getting the brunt of these questions and they need the most accurate information.”

The minister confirmed 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. 

“When an International Protection applicant arrives in the country, they’re fingerprinted. Their fingerprints go through two databases. One to see if they’ve been involved with the immigration authorities in any other EU member state and the other to see if they’ve been involved in criminality in any other member state.

He said there was “a higher degree of scrutiny than you and I or anybody gets when they move into a new neighbourhood”.

“We have a rules based system, a system that has significant elements of checks within it. It’s incumbent upon all of us whether we’re speaking on the Dáil or on the media or knocking on doors to explain that.”


O’Gorman said there is a narrative being portrayed that the government is not open to having a debate on immigration.

Speaking to The Journal last week Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she wanted “space for people to ask questions” about the issue and that she did not believe it was  helpful to “repress the conversation”.

During a debate on migration in the Dáil the previous week, O’Gorman accused politicians of cloaking themselves in “victimhood” when they claim they have been prevented from discussing the issue, adding: “Go talk to an Afghan man or a Syrian man in International Protection accommodation. Ask them what government suppression is like.”

Speaking this week he said: “I’m very happy to have that conversation, because certainly in the Dáil two weeks ago, there was this attempt to portray that government isn’t willing to talk about the issues of migration. That’s not true.

“I’ve done countless debates. The amount of times I’ve been on Morning Ireland or Newstalk talking about migration over the last 20 months. So there is a vigorous conversation on migration taking place in this country. I’m very happy to have that. I think it has to be fact-based, though.”

Asked whether the escalation of activity among the far-right made him fearful for his own safety, he responded: 

“I suppose I think it’s no secret, I’ve kind of retreated from my own engagement with social media. That’s done mainly by my team. I don’t reply to tweets or anything like that anymore.”

He said he and other Cabinet members were being provided with additional security by gardaí, adding: 

“I’m very grateful for that. Because the change in tone over the last year has been significant. So, yeah, particularly when I’m at a public event, I am very glad to have that additional support. There’s lots of people who are far more vulnerable than me, who do not have that safety. I’m grateful for what the state provides me.”