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Taoiseach says racist 'scaremongering' in communities needs to be called out

Defending Direct provision, he said it ‘is an imperfect system, but not an inhumane one’.

Varadkar speaking at the Immigrant Council of Ireland Integration and Inclusion Conference.
Varadkar speaking at the Immigrant Council of Ireland Integration and Inclusion Conference.
Image: Leah Farrell

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he is concerned about the rise in racist rhetoric in Ireland, but said it is not reflective of the vast majority of Irish people. 

He said people “need to call out the scaremongering”, adding that while immigration does present challenges, the benefits far outweigh them. 

In a speech at a conference on integration and inclusion, hosted by the Immigrant Council of Ireland today, Varadkar spoke about the recent protests against Direct Provision in some towns.

He said he understands why some towns feel their identity is threatened, stating that the government is working at communicating plans to communities in a more transparent way. 

“Some feel that trust with communities has been broken. As a Government we are working to rebuild that trust, communicating better, and engaging with communities to show how their town or village will be enriched not diminished. 

“It is never said – but is worth saying here – that there are no protests in communities that already have provision for refugees.  The fear of the new evaporates when it meets the reality.

“So, we need to engage better with communities and listen and respond to their concerns,” he said.

‘Scaremongering’

Speaking about calling out the “scaremongering of those who seek to exploit local concerns for their own political, personal or outright racist reasons” the Taoiseach said the message that needs to be articulated is that migration is a good thing for Ireland that enriches our society.  

“We all benefit from diversity and together we will be stronger for it. Migration makes our economy stronger, our public services sustainable and our culture and society richer,” he said. 

Varadkar said immigrants enrich our lives, and bring new knowledge, new ideas, new cuisine, new music and culture to Ireland.

Speaking about the recent protests, the Taoiseach said:

It’s never said but I think it is worth saying there are no protests in communities that already have accommodation centres.The fear of the new evaporates, when people meet the reality, particularly the very people who are that reality.

The housing crisis and decline in rural Ireland are not caused by migration and people should not try to claim that they are, said the Taoiseach, who added that the health service here could not operate if it were not for the many migrants that work in it. He said large multinationals locate in Ireland, not just for the tax rate, but for the large and diverse workforce.

Achill Island

The Taoiseach’s comments come after a number of protests against Direct Provision accommodation for immigrants, most recently on Achill Island, where a protest resulted in the housing of 13 women on the island being called off.

Criticisms have been leveled at the government over its communication of such plans. 

Varadkar said:

We’ll try to communicate better than we have in the past, and engaging with communities, to show how their town or village our parish will be enhanced and not diminished by the arrival of newcomers.

The Taoiseach said efforts have been made to regularise some of those who are undocumented, providing legal status to people who arrived as students but become undocumented, along with their families.

“Indeed, over 2,000 people were regularised last year under this scheme. We think it’s a good example for the US to follow in regularising undocumented people there who arrived on student or working visas and overstayed, many of them Irish. We ask for no more from America than we do here already,” he said. 

However, he added that the government will honour the EU pact commitment not to support general amnesty, stating that it could compromise visa-free travel for Irish citizens should Ireland break it.

He said the next move to regulate migrants will be the children of migrants who are born here in Ireland.

Civil service and politics

During his speech, the Taoiseach said he has spoken to his Secretary General Martin Fraser about finding ways to get more people from migrant backgrounds working in the civil service, stating that there is a lack of diversity in An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.

Speaking about those from migrant backgrounds getting involved in politics, he said Fine Gael now has five councillors who come from a migrant background.

He suggested that just as parties are financially incentivised to get more women into politics, the same should be done to get more migrant candidates to run for election.

Defending Direct provision, he said it “is an imperfect system, but not an inhumane one”. 

“We have yet to come up with a better system but we are open to finding alternatives that are viable and affordable. Meanwhile, we are improving standards in line with the McMahon report.

“Newer accommodation, such as that in Ballinamore and Borrisokane, offers own-door self-catering accommodation. We want to see more offered of a similarly high standard.

“And I have to say it does concern me to see people opposing reception centres in their neighbourhood or blocking migrants from moving into a local hotel under the guise of humanitarianism and opposition to direct provision.

“Too often, the sad reality is that the alternative to direct provision is what happens in France, Greece and Italy, which is camps and containers. I am determined that we never get to that point in Ireland,” he said.

He said part of the solution is better consultation with communities. 

“That is important and it has worked in places around the country. We must also explain to people what direct provision is because some have a misconception about it. that it is compulsory or that it is some form of detention. So we need to consult with communities and we also need people to understand direct provision better – what it is and what it is not,” he added. 

Varadkar said that immigration and migration is part of Ireland’s story. 

“When we look at those who come to Ireland seeking a new life we need to ask ourselves do we see strangers, or do we see ourselves? Our global diaspora includes the children of economic migrants, the grandchildren of exiles, the great-grandchildren of refugees.  

“There was a time when we were ‘the tired, the poor, the huddled masses who yearned to breathe free’. The words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty are part of our historical DNA. 

“There was a time when we were despised for our poverty, feared for our religion, and viewed by nativists and nationalists to be a threat to people’s way of life,” he said. 

When he visited the US for St Patrick’s Day last March, the Taoiseach said he spoke of the need for greater toleration, respect and empathy in the world.

“It came down to five simple words. ‘We are all God’s children’. Our words abroad should also have meaning at home,” he concluded.

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