Country can continue to meet challenge of accommodating Ukrainians, says Taoiseach

Micheál Martin says effort required has been unprecedented but Irish people can maintain ‘extraordinary performance’

The country can “stretch” itself more and accommodate more Ukrainians and others seeking international protection, despite the pressures on the system currently, the Taoiseach has said.

Speaking at the Women in Agriculture conference in Trim, Co Meath on Thursday, Micheál Martin defended the State’s response to date and said there had been no “lack of ability” in the effort to accommodate those fleeing from Ukraine and elsewhere.

“I think it’s been an extraordinary performance... we’ve never had to accommodate such an amount of people in such a short time,” he said, while calling for “balance and perspective” in the debate on the issue.

“I understand there are pressures, there’s no doubt about that given the sheer numbers,” he said, adding: “I think we can stretch ourselves more, in terms of accommodating more, and we’ll work with our European colleagues because it’s part of a European wide response in terms of the directive”

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He said Russian president Vladimir Putin wants “democracies across Europe to come under pressure, he wants political disturbance across Europe,” and confirmed that the cabinet would this week to sign off on measures to modify policy around the reception system which were agreed by Coalition leaders on Monday.

Mr Martin was also asked about the meeting between Jonathan Dowdall, who has been convicted of facilitating the murder of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel in 2016, and Eamon Ó Cuiv while the former Sinn Féin councillor was in prison for torturing a man.

He said Mr Ó Cuiv’s motivations in meeting prisoners have “always been very honourable” and he had been doing it for years with the knowledge of successive ministers for justice. He urged that people take his actions in “good faith”. “If he can put people in the right direction in life, that’s a positive,” he said.

Asked about the imprisonment of a prominent LGBT rights campaigner in Qatar ahead of the soccer World Cup, Mr Martin said: “There can’t be any inhibition of people in respect of sexual orientation or for any reason to travel to Qatar and attend the World Cup, it cannot be and that must be made clear to the authorities there; that will not be tolerated.”

On the then anticipated interest rate rise by the European Central Bank, subsequently confirmed, Mr Martin said it would be “very, very difficult for mortgage holders”.

“Obviously we would like to see banks absorb as much of this as they can but it is very difficult… inflation does have to be reined in on the other hand. We have yet to get inflation down.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times