Extra 350 beds for asylum seekers to be opened in the coming days

Taoiseach suggests Irish supports for asylum seekers could soon be aligned with those of EU so there is no ‘pull factor’

Minister Roderic O'Gorman

Gabija Gataveckaite, Senan Molony, Maeve McTaggart and Conor Feehan

An extra 350 beds for asylum seekers, including for some who are currently rough sleeping, are to be put in place over the next week.

Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman said people may have “preconceptions” about international protection applicants and those fade away once asylum seekers settle into communities.

However, he said accommodation for asylum seekers at Magowna House in Inch, Co Clare, which has been the subject of protests in recent days, “must be used”.

His comments come as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suggested that Ireland’s social supports for asylum seekers could soon be aligned with the rest of the EU so that there is no “pull factor” to attract them to this country.

Speaking in Iceland this evening where he is attending an EU summit, he said: “What we're trying to do when it comes to the kind of support and offering that we have (in Ireland) is to align them with other European countries so that they're roughly the same.”

He added that this was because “if somebody is seeking asylum, we want them to apply in the first safe country that they arrive in, and not to be moving around in different countries because different countries may have different offerings. So we should try to align them across the European Union”.

Asked if this could involve time-limiting certain supports like accommodation or welfare payments, Mr Varadkar said: “It does depend on the circumstances because depending on your status, you're entitled to different things.”

He added: “What we've tried to do as much as we can, is to align them (social supports) with other European countries and with the UK so that we don't have what they call a pull factor, where people leapfrog over other countries to apply for asylum, for example, in Ireland.”

Meanwhile Mr O’Gorman said he held a meeting with Co Clare politicians earlier today in which he made it clear that the accommodation at Mogowna House must be used “in light of the pressure that the system is on right now”.

“We are hoping over the course of the next week to open, to make available about an additional 350 beds in a number of centres around the country. This will allow us offer accommodation to a significant number of international protection applicants, including some who are currently rough sleeping, he added. previously reported that Mr O’Gorman was willing to meet the protestors in Inch, Co Clare. He said this is now something he wants to “advance”.

“Often I know people have preconceptions about international protection applicants, I think often when they meet after accommodation has been established for a while, I think those preconceptions fall away.

“That’s happened all over the country, both with IP applicants and with Ukrainians and I believe that can happen in Inch.”

Junior minister at the Department of Integration, Joe O’Brien, said that once contracts for accommodation at properties are signed, “we have to move fast” in moving asylum seekers in.

“That timelag between when the contract is signed and when it is opened is quite short - it can be a couple of days, can be a week,” he said.

“Therein lies the problem, that problem relates to the fact that people can just be on the streets, so when we get the contract signed, we have to move fast.”

Mr O’Gorman held a video call with local politicians this morning to discuss the situation at Magowna House.

More than 30 asylum seekers arrived at the hotel in recent days and the Government moved to clarify they are staying in three holiday homes beside Magowna House, a former hotel.

Clare-based Fine Gael senator Martin Conway called for an immediate end to the protest.

"The blockade is wrong and should be abandoned immediately. I support legitimate protest and there are ways and means of protesting," he said.

"But you cannot blockade people from going to where they are living."

Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe, who took part in the meeting this morning, said he understands a meeting between the minister and protestors will now happen.

Mr O’Gorman is also understood to have told the meeting that he did not have any personal involvement in organising the contract for Magowna House and that his officials carried out this work instead.

Mr Crowe said he raised concerns about the “woeful lack of information” and told the meeting that there has been a “withholding of information”.

He said there are around 20 other accommodation facilities in Clare which currently have Ukrainians living in them and that there is no media commentary around them as “they are in the main, located in good places and the people being accommodated are very well looked after”.

“It doesn’t appear that [the minister] is going to rescind or revoke the contract [with Magowna House],” said Mr Crowe.

There is currently one bus that brings the asylum seekers in and out of the accommodation and this is set to be improved, according to the minister.

Locals protesting have also raised concerns about fire safety certs at the accommodation.

It is understood the meeting heard this would be resolved in two weeks.

“Mr O'Gorman listened to concerns raised by local representatives, particularly around transport links and communications with the local community,” said a spokesperson for the minister said.

“He agreed to continue dialogue and work towards a solution that will work for all concerned.”

Tourism Minister Catherine Martin today said there has been “a whole government approach since day one” to the accommodation crisis.

“What we see unfortunately when you have the amount of people coming in such vast numbers unfortunately there will be accommodation shortages,” she said.

"We are traditionally known for our ‘céad míle fáilte’ and I really do think communities across the length and breadth of our country have shown solidarity.”

Ms Martin said there is a “right to peacefully protest,” but urged people to remember the “horrific” circumstances that many refugees and asylum seekers have come from.

"I think rather than blockades or rather than these protests, it’s better to tease out the issues and engage.”

She defended the lack of notice that some communities might be given regarding the accommodation of asylum seekers in their local area, adding the “opportunities aren’t there” when accommodation is found quickly.

The “ideal” scenario would be to communicate in advance, she said, though added this was not always possible when the “priority” is quickly finding shelter for them.

Earlier today the Taoiseach toughened his language on the Magowna asylum seeker blockade - but stopped short of calling on the protesters to disperse.

Leo Varadkar said nobody gets to have a veto on who lives in their area and the Government has to stand up to the small minority of people who hold racist views.

Mr Varadkar said yesterday the blockade “wasn't necessary,” and it was put to him in Iceland today that this was a lily-livered response.

The Taoiseach replied in Reykjavik today: “Well, I do think the blockade is wrong. Nobody should have their free access over public roads stopped in that way.

Locals block access to accommodation provided for asylum seekers in Co Clare

“But I also don't want to dismiss the fact that sometimes people in local communities do have genuine concerns that need to be listened to.

"And that's why there is going to be an engagement today involving the minister (Roderic O’Gorman) and also local reps, to give communities the information and the reassurance that they need.”

He added: “It's not a veto. Nobody gets to say who can or cannot live in their area. And we can't have that kind of situation. But I think we shouldn't dismiss concerns that people have about their locality.

“People do want to know what's happening. They want certain assurances and we have a responsibility to do that. But that doesn't mean that anyone can say that certain types of people can’t live in their area. We can't tolerate that.”

The Taoiseach was asked if he was calling for those carrying out the blockade to disperse pending the talks, and to go home.

“Let’s see how the talks go today,” he replied.

“I’ll be speaking to Minister Roderic O’Gorman later on today. And I'm confident that we'll be able to get to a situation whereby we'll be able to bring in some of the buildings, as part of that complex, to use for people who need accommodation.”

The Taoiseach said he thinks there has been more than 100 protests on the accommodation issue in the last couple of weeks.

“Most of them are very small, but some larger and a small number have become violent.

“I think there are two things to consider: Government has a responsibility to provide information and to communicate with local people about what's happening in their area, and we're stepping up our efforts to do that all the time.

“But we also have a duty to dispel a lot of the misinformation and false stories that are being put about.

“There are people who hold extreme views, who hold racist views, essentially, and we have to stand up to that.”

He explained however: “When it comes to most people, with information and with communication and with assurance, I think you can get them on board.

“But there always will be a small minority of people who have extreme views or have racist views and they need to be stood up to.”

Mr Varadkar said,to the best of his knowledge, gardaí kept informed of where asylum seeker accommodation will be, given risk of protest, he said.

“I have to say, the gardaí have done a very good job to date in managing what can be a difficult situation and they have the full support of Government. Additional resources are being provided throughout the course of this year.”

More than 30 male asylum seekers arrived by bus to the Magowna House Hotel on Monday but locals blocked the entrances with tractors and silage bales.

Members of the local community have said the property, which has been vacant since 2019, is not suitable for the refugees over fire cert and sewage concerns and are looking for written assurances that their concerns about the suitability of the property and the location will be addressed.

They were also angry about not being consulted before the refugees were transported to the property.

On Monday evening, 33 asylum seekers arrived by bus at Magowna House hotel.

Talks took place last night between the local community, Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley and the hotel operator.

Prior to this morning’s video call with Mr O’Gorman, Mr Dooley said efforts must be made to de-escalate the situation.

“It’s hard to know how it will go. People are embedded in their views,” he said.

Mr Dooley said there had been good engagement and goodwill shown on all sides.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday said the blockade of the new asylum centre in Inch, is “not necessary”.

“I don't think what's happening there is necessary. I don't think the blockade is necessary. What we do need to do is engage with the community,” he said.

“We are facing an unprecedented situation. Nearly 100,000 people from other parts of the world - mainly Ukraine - have come to Ireland seeking refuge and seeking shelter,” he said.

“We have to provide for them whatever accommodation is available and it isn't always going to be perfect. But it is the best we can do.”

“I know that huge numbers of us throughout Ireland have welcomed people into their communities - including in Co Clare - and there will of course be engagement with the rest.”

“You always try to do better. But I think if you look at the bigger picture, if people are being fair, Ireland as a society, not just the Government, has done very well.

“There's no country in Western Europe that has taken in as many people from Ukraine as we have, as a percentage of our population,” Mr Varadkar added.

“While Ireland hasn't taken in as many asylum seekers as other countries, “we have dealt with dramatically increased numbers (of those seeking International Protection) in the last couple of years. And we're dealing with it as well as we can,” he said.