The country cannot guarantee accommodation for “everyone who comes to the country unannounced”, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil.
Leo Varadkar has insisted that Ireland will not turn anyone away but said accommodation is not necessarily available.
He highlighted a refugee crisis across Europe, “the likes of which we have never seen in Ireland”. It meant the Government had to prioritise “and we will be prioritising people coming from Ukraine”.
“We will certainly not turn anyone away, but we will say to people that if they are thinking of coming to Ireland and if they are in a safe country, if they are in a safe place, and if they have accommodation, they need to be aware of the fact that accommodation is not necessarily available in Ireland,” he said.
Last year, Ireland welcomed almost 100,000 people to Ireland from Ukraine and from other parts of the world, he said.
“We provided them with shelter, food, heat, light, education for their children, healthcare and, in many cases, employment. I think we can be proud as a society of what we have done in the past year,” the Taoiseach said.
“Yet, we cannot guarantee accommodation for everyone who comes to the country unannounced.”
Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had praised in a Dáil speech last month Ireland’s great reception for those who came seeking sanctuary.
But it had been announced that accommodation will not be provided to people who come here seeking international protection.
“People have a right to pursue asylum,” Mr Gannon said. “It is not fair for the State to say it will not be in a position to accommodate those people.
“That will mean refugees will be placed on the streets at a time of incredible tension and, I would say, unprecedented aggression. The State needs to do better.”
Mr Gannon said he understood that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is using refugees as a tool in his war,” but the State could not neglect its responsibilities.
“We cannot say to communities already under massive strain and pressure that they can deal with it themselves,” the TD said.
Mr Varadkar said there was no lack of compassion from the Government or from the Irish people, “but there is a lack of capacity”.
“We are doing all we can at the moment to source more accommodation. In the meantime, we have to prioritise and we will be prioritising people,” he said.
People coming here are of all sorts of different status, the Taoiseach said.
“We issue 40,000 work permits every year to people of every colour, race and religion who come here legally. They are allowed to do that and they are extremely welcome. We need them to power our economy and run our public services. It does not matter what their race, religion or colour is.
“People who come here from Ukraine are beneficiaries of temporary protection under EU law – which is above national law – and have a particular status. Programme refugees, including those coming from Syria, for example, have a particular status. Those who are seeking international protection also have a particular status, but it is a different status.”
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said the Government was engaged in refugee discrimination.
“Why is a person from Ukraine more entitled to be accommodated than a person from Yemen or Syria, when both are fleeing similar conditions?” he asked.
“It is a political decision of the Government to give them such a status. Why treat them differently? Is it because one is European? Is it because one is white?
“This policy against certain refugees is scapegoating the most vulnerable in our society, in an attempt to cover up the fact that the Government’s housing policy is a complete failure.”
Those who arrived in the last day had received a €20 Dunnes voucher and were told they would be emailed when accommodation becomes available, he said.
“It is scandalous when there are over 160,000 vacant homes in the State that the Government is doing nothing about. Everyone has the right to come here and apply for asylum,” Mr Murphy said.
He warned that the policy “will see hundreds of additional men and women rough sleeping in the coming weeks”, exacerbating the homelessness crisis.