Thursday 17 October 2019

Editorial: 'Ill-advised ideas will thrive in a vacuum'

'In a country with a population of 4.8m, the number in direct provision as of January this year was a relatively minuscule 6,355; indeed, it is also relatively small in relation to the overall numbers in receipt of social welfare benefits' (stock photo)
'In a country with a population of 4.8m, the number in direct provision as of January this year was a relatively minuscule 6,355; indeed, it is also relatively small in relation to the overall numbers in receipt of social welfare benefits' (stock photo)
Editorial

Editorial

The recorded remarks of a national politician at a public meeting to address concerns in relation to the location of a direct provision centre for asylum seekers in Co Galway are deeply disquieting and should be immediately withdrawn.

Reference to "spongers" is one thing, wrong in itself; but allusion to the religious or ethnic backgrounds, as though either the faith or skin colour of the intended residents at such centres should be on a scale of acceptance, has no place in a modern republic, or within any progressive society minded toward the well-being of fellow mankind.

This has not been the first time such comments have been made - they are commonplace on social media - but it is disappointing in the extreme that they should come from a long-standing national politician who is supportive of the Government. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, is absolutely correct to say the remarks at a minimum should be withdrawn.

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To call for the remarks to be withdrawn is proper, but to look at some of the causes behind the issue is also illuminating. For example, available accommodation within direct provision has been decreasing since 2016, owing to several related factors, such as the expiry of contracts with property owners and the ongoing housing crisis which is reducing available accommodation. This has led to a severe shortage of accommodation for people who have received international protection status, particularly in Dublin.

The effect is that an increasing number of people are unable to move out of direct provision and acquire alternative accommodation on receipt of refugee, subsidiary protection or leave to remain status. In short, the occasional outburst of local opposition to the arrival of large numbers of asylum seekers at a centre in their towns and villages is, in its own way, another manifestation of the housing crisis.

Furthermore, while the provision of accommodation is always of primary importance, the apparent lack of consultation by the authorities with the residents of those towns and villages is also compounding the issue. The true function of a national or local politician can be found as a go-between in this space.

However, neither should the public run away with a view that there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers seeking asylum in Ireland. In a country with a population of 4.8m, the number in direct provision as of January this year was a relatively minuscule 6,355; indeed, it is also relatively small in relation to the overall numbers in receipt of social welfare benefits.

Furthermore, as of January 2018, subject to eligibility criteria, asylum seekers can apply for permission to work, which many have done and, therefore, contribute to society rather than "sponge" off the State as was claimed. Politicians would also be well advised to be aware that, while the concerns of their constituents are, of course, important, there is a reassuring pattern in this country that those who mine for votes in this area, although they may attract attention and support from the extremes, have never won sufficient support at the ballot box, and long may that continue.

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