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President Michael D Higgins condemns those ‘sowing hate and building fear’ around refugees as poll shows 56pc believe Ireland ‘took in too many’


President Michael D Higgins. Picture; Gerry Mooney

President Michael D Higgins. Picture; Gerry Mooney

President Michael D Higgins. Picture; Gerry Mooney

President Michael D Higgins has intervened in the immigration controversy, as the latest Sunday Independent/Ireland Thinks opinion poll finds a majority now believe the country has taken in too many refugees.

In an interview with this newspaper today, President Higgins describes as “unforgivable” those who are “sowing hate” over the location of refugee centres and says they “must be opposed”.

And the President also called for the country to be “filled with services” to counter the growing public opposition to such centres.

Today’s poll of issues that should be prioritised finds that immigration (on 19pc) has increased by a significant 10 percentage points in a month.

It also finds that most people (56pc) believe Ireland has taken in too many refugees in the past year, with 30pc disagreeing and 14pc unsure.

The poll reveals the public to be evenly divided on opponents to the location of refugee centres: 48pc say opponents are predominantly concerned local residents, but 44pc believe they are far-right ‘agitators’.

Latest figures show Ireland is now accommodating 74,000 refugees and international protection applicants in state-funded accommodation, which includes 49,227 Ukrainians and 23,382 asylum seekers.

President Higgins, however, has accused “elements” involved in objecting to the housing of refugees at recent protests of “whipping up fear”.

He said: “What is unforgivable and must be opposed — publicly, vocally and unequivocally — are those who are trying to take advantage by sowing hate and building fear.

“We are in a position now where we have elements who are not interested in solving the long-standing problems within communities or the new arrivals.

“You mustn’t give them the opportunity. The best way of not giving them the opportunity is to fill the place with services.

“These people who are going around whipping people up and so forth, you didn’t see them previously making a case for housing, or for women’s rights, or for equal rights of any kind,” he said.

Asked if he had considered offering accommodation to refugees at the Aras an Uachtarain, he said that was a matter for the Office of Public Works. “This is where the President lives. But the whole thing is run by the Office of Public Works. Sabina and I live in the extension to the house here. These rooms are for formal purposes. I’m sure that the OPW was among the bodies that was consulted. But it isn’t my decision.”

The opinion poll also finds the public divided over media coverage of the immigration issue: 38pc say the reporting is balanced and a fair reflection of the issues involved. However, 42pc believe reporting is biased in favour of refugees and against those with concerns, while 20pc say it is biased against refugees and in favour of people with concerns.

The view that Ireland has taken in too many refugees is notably stronger among women in working-class communities, older generations, and among supporters of Aontú (89pc), Independents (76pc), Sinn Féin (61pc) and Fianna Fáil (56pc).

A minority of supporters of Fine Gael (47pc), Labour (41pc), Social Democrats (33pc), Greens (21pc) and Solidarity/PBP (16pc) are of that view.

The overall state of the parties is: Sinn Féin 31pc (down one percentage point), Fine Gael 22pc (down three points), Fianna Fáil 18pc (up two points), Greens 4pc (unchanged), Aontú 4pc (up one point), Social Democrats 4pc (up one point), Labour 4pc (up one point), Solidarity/PBP 3pc (down one point), Independents/other 10pc (unchanged).

In a ‘forced choice’ question on a preferred government, the current Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Greens coalition has a rating of 43pc, up two points, and a Sinn Féin-led alternative, excluding FF and FG, is down two points at 41pc. Meanwhile, 16pc say they are unsure.

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