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Taoiseach in attack on illegal immigration

Taoiseach’s surprise focus on Albania and Georgia

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Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Georgian and Albanian migrants travelling to Ireland with fake documents are the “big driver” behind what he says is a rise in asylum seekers coming to this country.

In an unexpected intervention, as a protest against asylum seekers in direct provision continued on Achill Island, Co Mayo, last night, the Taoiseach said there are many ways to enter Ireland legally with a visa or work permit but insisted the country “cannot tolerate illegal entry”.

Mr Varadkar said there has been a 60pc increase in asylum seekers in recent years but said we are not being “swamped or flooded”.

He added that there are still far fewer asylum seekers coming to Ireland than 15 or 20 years ago.

“There are, however, a lot of people from Georgia and Albania coming in with fake documents and that is the big driver of the increase,” he told the Sunday Independent.

“There are lots of ways to enter Ireland legally with a visa or work permit so we cannot tolerate illegal entry.”

The Taoiseach said the Government is tackling the rise in people entering the country illegally by “stepping up controls at the airports to stop them coming in and we’re making the airlines take them back”.

He added that the new customs controls are “having an effect” and suggested passengers may have noticed people being checked as they are getting off planes rather than in the airport itself.

Mr Varadkar said the Government is also working with “source countries to step up voluntary returns” of people who have travelled here illegally. The Government is also working with the Peter McVerry Trust, Saint Vincent de Paul and other housing charities to find accommodation for those in direct provision centres who have been given legal status but have nowhere to live. The move would free up spaces for other asylum seekers.

The Taoiseach revealed that the Government is also examining the possibility of constructing purpose-built accommodation centres for asylum seekers.

However, Mr Varadkar said "this will raise the same issues and may still give rise to local opposition".

"It will never be possible to provide free houses and apartments to everyone who enters the country without notice nor would it be a good idea.

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"So, alternatives to direct provision are limited and in most European countries involve camps, containers and tents. I don't want us to get to that point," he added

The Taoiseach's intervention comes in the wake of a spate of demonstrations in rural towns against asylum seekers moving to the local communities.

A plan to convert a hotel in Oughterard, Galway was abandoned after local protest.

Meanwhile one of the country's top bishops is urging the government to consult with local people in Achill on its plans to accommodate asylum seekers.

Archbishop Michael Neary says the people of Achill are known internationally as welcoming people and says they are "morally obliged to welcome the stranger".

But in a statement released this evening, Dr Neary claims many local people have been kept in the dark over the Department of Justice's plans.

He believes there may be some "misunderstanding" among local people.

"It is important that effective advance planning be undertaken by the State including a full and transparent consultation with local people. Such preparations should go some way to allay fears and misunderstandings while, at the same time, enabling this important human-centred initiative to work sustainably for the whole community," he said.

Mr Flanagan said protests against direct provision and asylum seekers were "misguided" and insisted Ireland is "morally obliged to offer protection to people who come to our shores without notice".

Last week, Sinn Fein TD Martin Kenny's car was burnt out in front of his family home after he spoke out against people protesting at asylum seekers being moved to a property in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim.

The attack on Mr Kenny's car was widely condemned across the political spectrum and is now being investigated by gardai. Days before the attack, the Leitrim-based TD made an impassioned speech in the Dail in support of asylum seekers being accommodated in his constituency.

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