A Government minister has accused an Opposition TD of wanting to put a cap on the arrival of Ukrainian refugees into Ireland.
Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien claimed the points of Independent TD Carol Nolan could “pose a risk to social cohesion”.
He said: “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.”
Ms Nolan, an Independent TD for Laois Offaly, derided the minister’s reaction as disgraceful and outrageous.
The row – which saw Mr O’Brien repeatedly jabbing his finger at Ms Nolan and the Ceann Comhairle threatening to suspend the House – errupted at 12.25pm.
Ms Nolan asked “if the Government has conducted any 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”.
She added: “The numbers arriving into Ireland are now at the rate of 1,500 per month. 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.”
She called for the system to be made “more robust and fairer to everyone, citizen and non-citizen alike”, referring to a media report of a rise of 700pc in one category of immigration alone, and a report of an anonymous Fine Gael TD saying that the impact of the UK government's Rwanda policy was “a runaway train coming down the track at us, and we have no way to stop it”.
Ms Nolan put it to Mr O’Brien: “All of this means that Ireland's capacity to provide even the bare minimum of emergency accommodation and shelter to its own citizens and those genuinely fleeing war is being severely undermined.
“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.”
She suggested that the “barely-functioning immigration system” be “brought under control.”
Mr O'Brien replied: “I respectfully suggest that the deputy's comments this afternoon pose a risk to social cohesion.” Ms Nolan protested immediately sying: “That is outrageous.”
Michael Healy-Rae TD heckled that the minister was “losing the run of himself”. Meanwhile Mattie McGrath, leader of the Rural Independent Group, said: “The problem is over there,” referring to the Government benches.
Despite Ms Nolan continuing to brand him “disgraceful”, Mr O'Brien referred to the Government response to “our friends from Ukraine”, adding: “We will not introduce any caps in that regard.
“Our housing response (for Ukrainians) is in addition to the Housing for All policy,” he said. “Let us be very clear; there is no blurring of the lines here.”
Ms Nolan heckled: “The arrogance is unbelievable.”
The minister said he wanted to ask her a direct question. “Does she support this State providing refuge and safe harbour to citizens from Ukraine who are fleeing a brutal war?”
Ms Nolan pointed out that she had asked the minister the question. “Is the minister now questioning the Opposition?” she asked.
She insisted that there was an impact on the delivery of housing for people as a result of the influx of Ukrainian refugees, with Michael Healy-Rae adding: “Of course there is.”
The Ceann Comhairle threatened to suspend the House if people did not allow the minister to reply.
Mr O'Brien then said: “Deputy Nolan has 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.”
It posed challenges, he admitted, but the Irish people realise that. “This is a welcoming country,” he said.
“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.”
He asked if Ms Nolan wanted to draw a distinction between different groups who come here, a query she branded “absolutely outrageous”.
Mattie McGrath said the Government had drawn the distinction.
Ms Nolan responded: “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 needs to come down off his high horse, face the reality, and the facts, and listen.
“I want to clarify that I do 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 10 years. How dare the minister answer me in that way and misrepresent what I have said.
“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.”
Mr O'Brien replied: “Here we go again. I would encourage people to read the record of what Deputy Nolan said in her opening question.
“People will be able to make up their own mind as to whether she is drawing a distinction between our own Irish people, to paraphrase the deputy, 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.”