The junior minister for integration has said he is “shocked” and “disgusted” at reports of an attack on a group of homeless migrants who had set up camp by a Dublin river.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the incident “has the feel and look of essentially a racist attack”, saying that he was going to seek a report from Gardai about the issue.
It comes amid some protests organised by communities in Dublin, Cork and Waterford in recent weeks against housing asylum seekers in their communities – raising objections over a lack of consultation.
Politicians have raised concerns that members of the far right are whipping up fear among locals about what would happen if groups of migrants are moved into an area.
“I was shocked, I was disgusted,” Joe O’Brien said of the incident in Ashtown.
I've never been more worried about the safety and security of migrants in the country than I am nowJoe O'Brien
“It’s very worrying. I’ve worked in the area of migrant rights for 20 years plus, I’ve never been more worried about the safety and security of migrants in the country than I am now,” he told RTE Radio.
It comes after the Irish Times reported that a group of homeless men were attacked at the Tolka river at River Road in Ashtown at the weekend, with journalists witnessing men with dogs and sticks arriving at the campsite.
An Garda Siochana said it had received reports of an incident in River Road in Ashtown on Saturday afternoon, but no formal complaints had been made.
No reports of injuries have been made to Gardai and enquiries are ongoing, it said.
Mr Varadkar told Newstalk that the reported attack was “very disturbing”.
“It has the feel and look of essentially a racist attack. These are people who are foreigners, people who were sleeping rough.
“It requires a full investigation from Gardai and it’s something I’m going to pursue with them,” he said.
Joe O’Brien said that although accommodation available for Ukrainians and asylum seekers is “extremely tight”, his understanding is that the people at the camp had not sought international protection.
He acknowledged that the state needed to improve its efforts to house asylum seekers, days after the government said the Citywest welcome centre could no longer take in arriving single adults and warned that asylum seekers may have to sleep on the streets.
“We’re at the stage where we kind of need to take it to another level. We need, in my view, more state homes, more state-controlled accommodation, we are too reliant on private providers.
“We have human rights obligations that we need to fulfil as a state. We can’t be relying on private providers to do that. So it’s got to the stage where we need to source and obtain and take control of more state accommodation ourselves to fulfil our duties.”
He said that Gardai are monitoring “a small group” who are vocal online about migration, and said authorities need to get better at putting accurate information out to the public.
“Gardai are watching very closely these people online who are quite visible, and I understand there has been some measures planned in that regard.
“Online disinformation is going to be difficult. We do have a national action plan against racism, which we hope to publish early in March. Part of that will be around the online area as well, we have to get more accurate information out sooner as well,” Mr O’Brien said.
Former TD Ruth Coppinger said a group is to gather at Ashtown at 6pm on Monday in a show of solidarity in the wake of the attack.
“I would strongly appeal to the community and people throughout Dublin who are concerned about racism to mobilise for this standout and attend.”
The incident in Ashtown comes as around 200 people gathered in Lismore, Co Waterford on Sunday over the use of a vacant hotel to house dozens of migrants as a direct provision centre.
Mr O’Brien said that his understanding was part of the reason for the disquiet was the loss of the prominent hotel building.
He said that the Government “is conscious that there’s more that we can be doing in that regard in terms of preparing and engaging with people” – referencing a newly launched fund for communities that welcome Ukrainians and refugees.
Last week, a 50 million euro Community Recognition Fund was launched by Mr O’Brien and Communities Minister Heather Humphreys which allocates funding to eligible areas.
This funding can be used to invest in sports clubs, play areas, transport infrastructure, or to keep community services open for longer hours. 1.4 million euro has been ringfenced for Waterford city and county.