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Home / News / Govt immigration policy appears to buckle under tension

Govt immigration policy appears to buckle under tension

Government immigration policy appears to have buckled under pressure this week when it twice reversed plans to house only male asylum seekers.

On Monday, it changed course in Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, when it decided that a former hotel would house families rather than men.

Two days later, a similar reversal for the old Capuchin centre in Carlow, also earmarked for male international protection applicants.

Protestors had gathered at both sites with locals particularly concerned that men would be living there.

The political danger is obvious. This could fuel a pattern of further demonstrations followed by capitulations – something the Government denies happened here.

All week, ministers have been at pains to stress that the decision did not represent a U-turn.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said: “I think it makes sense as we listen, as we engage, to refine how we locate and settle people in particular centres but it will still be used to facilitate asylum seekers”.

The official line is that a current acute shortage of accommodation for families and children precipitated these changes and it had nothing to do with the protests.

But these denials have been met with scepticism from opposition members and wider disquiet that the Government is weakening its long-held position that no community has a veto.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said she had concerns that the Government was bowing to pressure from a small minority.

“It’s most unfortunate if we see any sense that protesting against accommodation for refugees will have an impact on government decision-making.”

She added however that proper information and Government engagement was essential.

But while Government leaders have conceded they need to improve communication, it seems clear that they are not willing to announce the locations of potential accommodation centres in advance for fear of fuelling protest.

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Opposition members have challenged that view though, insisting that the absence of clarity is leading to rumours and misinformation.

Sinn Féin this week labelled the Government’s handling of the immigration challenge as “disastrous”.

Matt Carthy TD said: “If Government wanted to purposely antagonise communities, they couldn’t do a better job than the way in which they have been handling these matters.

“Their so-called engagements involve informing elected representatives after contracts have been signed with private operators who in many instances are making substantial amounts of money on back of humanitarian crisis.”

A clear political danger from this week’s developments is that others will see a template for how to exert pressure on the Government and undoubtedly, it could embolden locals to strongly object to new locations.

Emergency centres have been opened in all parts of the country with over 190 accommodation locations used since January 2022, across all 26 counties.

One Government TD, speaking privately, felt this week’s decisions were a bad move which undermined the attempts at maintaining a hard line.

Next the coalition is aiming to get a handle on the issue by bringing forward long-term plans involving at least three more State reception centres.

This has been repeatedly called for by NGOs working with migrants but some were sceptical at the news.
Labour TD Brendan Howlin said centres have previously been promised but that “a sod hasn’t been turned anywhere”.

The renewed focus on progressing these centres is an acknowledgment of the challenge which will be posed by increased immigration in the coming years.

Also this week, major changes to the offering for Ukrainians arriving in Ireland moved significantly closer.

Cabinet approved legislation to reduce social welfare. This will go to the Dáil next week. Alongside that change, those in State accommodation will in future only be entitled to stay 90 days.

This has clearly been done to move Ireland more into line with the benefits offered by other western European countries with a clear intention to discourage the current level of arrivals which is still at 500 per week.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed that they expect numbers to fall but it is impossible to say where they will land.

And despite the severity of the changes, there does not appear to be huge pushback from opposition parties other than People Before Profit.

Most have been silent on the issue and it seems clear the legislation will pass through the Oireachtas relatively comfortable.

This again illustrates the conflicted position of many TDs.

Immigration is a red-hot, contentious issue in their constituency with not just one but several accommodation centres opening over the past two years.

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