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Leaders' Questions

'You can't erect a tent wherever you want' - Taoiseach responds to 'cruelty' accusations

Harris said Fine Gael is not a ‘nasty party’, as TD Paul Murphy accuses government of playing cynical politics.

“YOU CANNOT JUST erect a tent wherever you want and start blockading streets. You cannot do it,” Taoiseach Simon Harris told the Dáil today. 

Under questioning by People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy about the position the government and Fine Gael has taken to migration, Harris said: 

“We will not tolerate a siloed approach where one organisation says that is a matter for another Department. I cannot tolerate that sort of nonsense.

“The reality of the situation is we were seeing illegal dangerous tented villages emerging in parts of this city. We were very near a public health emergency. I will make no apology for making sure the laws of the land are upheld and for making sure people are in.” 

Murphy responded by asking what laws are being broken in that instance. 

‘You cannot do it’

“You cannot just erect a tent wherever you want and start blockading streets. You cannot do it. I know that is the Deputy’s politics,” responded the Taoiseach, stating that the government won’t stand over it, but will instead provide people with shelter and sanitation. 

Murphy said: “It is not true. It is not illegal.”

Last month, when assertions were made by government about the legality around people staying in tents on the street, Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman said while there are criminal sanctions attached to some elements of pitching tents in public spaces, a humane approach is the preference. 

The Journal has previously tried to clarify which exact offences are being referred to in  letters that were given to IP applicants about remaining in tented accommodation. 

Murphy said in this election, there was a “cynical attempt” by the government to make immigration the central issue to distract from its failures.

“Almost every week in the run up to the election, the Government had new policies of performative cruelty. I have new figures to show that the Government spent almost €100,000 on clearing tents and erecting fences at the canal while there are thousands of empty beds in State-provided accommodation.

“The Government announced cuts to payments for Ukrainian women and children and means-testing of asylum seekers,” he said, adding: 

It was a trap designed for Sinn Féin, which it unfortunately fell right into by welcoming each of these measures and saying that it would go further.

The Taoiseach said Murphy is “beyond wrong” in terms of the government’s approach on migration, but said he agreed with his consistent calling out of racism. 

Harris said a functioning migration system that is fair and has rules is what the government is pursuing, stating that Ireland has seen approximately 3,500 people per year coming to this country increase to more than 20,000 people.

Fine Gael not a ‘nasty’ party, says Harris

Fine Gael “is not a nasty party. This Government is not a nasty Government when it comes to migration”, Harris said. 

In response, Murphy said Fine Gael has chosen, with Fianna Fáil and the Green Party,  “to give €100,000 to private companies to clear tents, which arrive back the next day, put up fences to block access to our city and to leave people sleeping in tents on our streets”.

“Nobody should be sleeping in a tent on our streets. It is a cynical policy choice to do so. I make the point again; there are empty beds in the State accommodation system that the Government is choosing not to use, and why?

“In my opinion, it is extremely cynical politics. The Taoiseach knows that if a central issue in the next general election is housing, the cost of living or the healthcare crisis, they are not winning grounds for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They want to centre the issue of migration and to present themselves as being hard even though it will not make a single difference.

“All this cruelty the Government is doing does not make ordinary people’s lives any better whatsoever. The job on our side of the House is to say that very clearly. Migrants are not responsible at all for the housing crisis the Government has caused,” said Murphy.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik also criticised the government’s response, stating that there is a lack of alternative options for people.

“It is simply not an appropriate response to keep fencing off areas of the canal, public parks and public spaces in this city,” she said.

She said a group of men forced to sleep in tents on Wilton Terrace at Leeson Street Bridge have been ordered by the Garda to move on but they have nowhere to go.

“That is not appropriate. It is not a humane or sustainable policy for the accommodation of those who come here seeking asylum,” she said.

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