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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Leaders' Questions

There will be no cap on the number of Ukrainian refugees Ireland takes in, says minister

There were heated exchanges between Independent TD Carol Nolan and the housing minister over the issue of immigration.

THERE WILL BE no cap on the number of refugees Ireland takes in from Ukraine, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has told the Dáil. 

The housing minister was taking Leaders’ Questions as the Taoiseach is in Mayo today.

There were heated exchanges between Independent TD Carol Nolan and the minister over the issue of immigration.

Nolan asked the minister “if the Government has conducted an assessment on the State’s capacity to deliver housing to its own citizens, in light of the enormous rise in inward immigration, international protection and asylum applications”.

“I am conscious this is a difficult and sensitive issue and we must tread carefully if we are to avoid blame being targeted at those who least deserve it.

“However, I am convinced that if we do not find some way of exploring in a grown-up, pragmatic and constructive way the links between unsustainable levels of inward migration or asylum into this State and housing, then we will never find a meaningful solution to an already overwhelming crisis,” said Nolan.

‘No cap’

O’Brien said the Government has been “very clear, particularly regarding our response to our friends from Ukraine”.

“We will take in as many Ukrainian citizens fleeing the brutal war foisted upon them through no fault of their own as we must. We will not introduce any caps in that regard. Our housing response is in addition to Housing for All.

Nolan said the Government can produce all the housing strategies it likes and it can commit to implementing White Papers to end direct provision, but said it is “utterly meaningless if we do not find a way to make the immigration and asylum system more robust and fairer to everyone, citizen and non-citizen alike”.

“We can no longer bury our heads in the sand when it comes to these issues. Our political system must find a way to talk maturely and openly about these issues without fear. The Minister will be aware that, in May, the Government was warned that the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees posed a risk to social cohesion and integration, particularly in deprived communities.

“That risk will increase greatly and continue to grow and become more widespread unless we seek to ensure that our barely functioning immigration system is brought under control.

“Does he agree that it would be a lose-lose scenario for everyone involved and particularly for those who have now been homeless for some time if we did not bring this under control quickly?” she said.

‘Social cohesion’

O’Brien in his response said he believes Nolan’s comments “pose a risk to social cohesion.” Nolan said his comment to her was “outrageous”.

“The arrogance is unbelievable,” she said.

O’Brien then asked Nolan a question. “Does she support this State providing refuge and safe harbour to citizens from Ukraine who are fleeing a brutal war?” he asked.

There were interruptions from Mattie McGrath and Michael Healy Rae, with the minister stating in the Dáil that Nolan “is trying to say that there will be an impact on the delivery of housing for people”.

“There is,” she responded.

The minister said Nolan had “walked a very fine line here this afternoon”.

“What she is effectively calling for is a cap on immigration and asylum seekers in this country. Let us be clear. I am calling that out. That is what she is calling for. We will not support that. We will not support a cap on Ukrainians coming here having fled a war foisted upon them through no fault of their own.

“As far as I know, all parties, with the exception of the Deputy and her colleagues’ group, support that approach,” said O’Brien.

“Does it pose challenges for us? Of course it does. Do the Irish people realise that? Yes, of course they do. This is a welcoming country. Over our history as a people, we have had to seek safe harbour all across the world. We were treated very badly in some of those countries. We are not going to allow that to happen here in Ireland,” said the minister.

Housing plan

The Government’s Housing for All plan is robust and will deliver the houses we need, he said.

The provision of longer-term accommodation and housing for Ukrainians and, indeed, those from the Middle East, Africa and other places who are seeking safe harbour is in addition to that, explained the minister.

“Does the Deputy want to draw a distinction between different groups who come here? Is that what she is asking me to do?” he asked.

Nolan told the Dáil that the minister’s comments are “absolutely outrageous as is the reckless policy he has in place”.

“Is the Minister saying that we welcome everybody in only to leave them sleeping on hotel floors for years? That is what he is saying. That is how reckless his Government has been.

“How dare he misrepresent what I have said. I asked him very direct questions. We have a housing crisis. The situation is unsustainable. It would be lovely to be able to give everybody a house. The Minister has said that himself.

“Is he suggesting that we can do that? Is he suggesting that it is fine to have people on hotel floors for years, because that is what he is saying to me? The Minister needs to come down off his high horse, face the reality and the facts and listen,” she said.

Nolan said she wanted to clarify that she does not want to see anybody who is fleeing war or genuine persecution sleeping on a hotel floor for years.

“Neither do I want to see families in Laois-Offaly left without accommodation, languishing on a housing list for ten years. How dare the Minister answer me in that way and misrepresent what I have said here today.

“The Minister would be better off doing his job because he is failing miserably. He is failing Irish citizens. He is failing his own people and the immigrants as well,” she said.

‘Read the record’

The minister then encouraged people to read the record of the Dáil, adding that people will be able to make up their own mind as to whether Nolan was drawing a distinction between our own Irish people, “and those who are coming here to seek safe harbour and refuge”.

We will not put a cap on the number of people coming here from Ukraine, he repeated.

The Dáil exchange comes as Micheál Martin said in Mayo today “we’ve got to do everything we can along with all of our European Union colleagues” confirming that 36,000 people have fled war in Ukraine to come to Ireland.

Separately during Leaders’ Questions, the minister said he will consider amendments to the new defective blocks bill, as homeowners are set to raise concerns over the compensation scheme.

Campaigners will tell the housing Oireachtas committee that the mica redress scheme agreed last year by the Government is not fit for purpose.

The Oireachtas committee will sit for some seven hours on Thursday to scrutinise the government bill.

Sinn Fein TD Eoin O Broin said it was disappointing that the full bill has not yet been published in advance of the meetings.