Racists trying to spread and exploit fear over asylum seekers - Varadkar
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.
His statement came as the chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland warned the country was at a "crucial junction".
Brian Killoran said while the majority of society is welcoming, there is a need for stronger political leadership.
He noted how seven years ago, then-UK home secretary Theresa May vowed to create a "hostile environment" for certain migrants there.
"Little did she know the hostility and hatred would spill into Westminster and infect politics to the extent it has," he said. "Sadly, there is a minority here in Ireland watching and learning and we're starting to see initial signs of outward hostility towards migrants within our communities."
In a hard-hitting speech at a conference hosted by the Immigrant Council of Ireland yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he understood why some towns feel their identity is threatened when plans are instigated to house asylum seekers.
But he said: "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 diversity in our society," he said. "There are many countries in the world that people want to leave. Isn't that a great thing that we live in a country that people want to come to?"
His comments come amid a 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 there.
Speaking in Achill, Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring said he was annoyed that he wasn't informed of the plans before they became public.
"We need to have a national debate in relation to asylum seekers and direct provision" he said.
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 or parish will be enhanced and not diminished by the arrival of newcomers."
He told the conference that diversity helps our health service to work.
"I'm absolutely convinced that our public services simply would not function without migrant staff, and we need to be aware of that," he said.
He said the Government hopes to encourage more migrants into the public service, noting there is a lack of diversity in An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.
The Taoiseach also defended the use of direct provision. "Direct provision is an imperfect system but I don't believe it's an inhumane one," he said.
He said the "sad reality" is that the alternative right now is "camps and containers".
But he added the Government stands "firmly against illegal migration". "It shouldn't be a controversial thing to say, although it apparently is sometimes, that you support and welcome legal immigration and you don't support illegal immigration," he said.