Thursday 21 November 2019

'Racists exploiting communities by spreading fear about arrival of migrants' - Varadkar

  • People 'need to call out the scaremongering' - says Taoiseach
  • Protests ongoing in Co Leitrim while another protest took place on Achill Island
  • Government 'working' to rebuild trust in communities
Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)
Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Racists are trying to exploit communities by spreading fear about the arrival of migrants, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He said people "need to call out the scaremongering", adding that our health system would not function without migrants.

In a hard-hitting speech at a conference hosted by the Immigrant Council of Ireland today, Mr Varadkar said he understands why some towns feel their identity is threatened when plans are instigated to rehouse migrants.

But he argued: "It's never said but I think it is worth saying there are no protests in communities that already have accommodation centres.

"The fear of the new evaporates, when people meet the reality, particularly the very people who are that reality."

Mr Varadkar said the housing crisis and decline in rural Ireland are not caused by migration and people should not try to claim that they are.

"Migration is a good thing for our diversity our society. There are many countries in the world that people want to leave. Isn't it a great thing that we live in a country that people want to come to."

Mr Varadkar’s comments come amid an increasingly hostile debate over the provision of accommodation for immigrants in parts of the country.

Protests are ongoing in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim where plans to house more than 100 asylum seekers have been postponed.

Similarly on Achill Island a protest led the Government to stall proposals for housing 13 women on the island.

The Taoiseach admitted there needs to be better communication between the Department of Justice and communities.

"Some feel the trust of communities has been broken. As a government we're working to rebuild that trust," he said.

"We’ll try to communicate better than we have in the past, and engaging with communities, to show how their town or village our parish will be enhanced and not diminished by the arrival of newcomers."

He told the ‘Integration and Inclusion Conference’ that diversity helps our health service to work.

"We have many challenges in our health services. But I'm absolutely convinced that our public services simply would not function without migrants staff, and we need to be aware of that. Diversity in our lives is a reality."

He said the Government hopes to encourage more migrants into public service, noting that there is a lack of diversity in An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.

Mr Varadkar said his party, Fine Gael, now has five councillors who come from migrant background.

He suggested the parties should be financially incentivised to get more migrant candidates onto the ballot paper, as already happens with women.

Finally he defended the use of Direct Provision as a method of catering for asylum seekers.

"Direct Provision is an imperfect system but I don’t believe it’s an inhumane one," he said.

While committing the Government to finding better ways of providing housing, he said the "sad reality" is that the alternative right now is "camps and containers."

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