Minister ‘finger wagging’ over Dáil question on services for refugees, McGrath says

Darragh O’Brien describes as ‘reprehensible’ comments about social housing and immigration

Comments regarding the State’s ability to provide housing “to its own citizens” in the context of refugee needs and immigration are “reprehensible” and cross a line for political reasons, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has said.

In the Dáil on Wednesday, Independent TD Carol Nolan asked if the Government planned to assess the State’s capacity “to deliver housing to its own citizens in light of the enormous rise in inward immigration, international protection and asylum applications”.

Mr O’Brien criticised the comments in the Dáil and reiterated his position on Thursday, saying: “We are a humanitarian country. We have our international obligations which we will meet. What was called for yesterday was effectively a cap on immigration and a cap on asylum. I thought it was reprehensible, frankly.”

However, Independent TD Mattie McGrath condemned what he called the Minister’s “condescending” manner and “finger wagging” to the “earnest question” from Ms Nolan.

The Minister’s response had been an attempt to “demonise” Ms Nolan and to portray her as being “bordering on racist” when “nothing could be further from the truth”, he told RTÉ Radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

Mr McGrath said the Irish public had been very generous and welcoming in their response to people fleeing the war in Ukraine “but does that mean if your neighbour comes and helps, that you give him the keys of the house?

“Do you give him the keys of the house, give him our car and give him our bank card? People are doing this, but the Government have no plan.

“Just tell everyone we have open borders here — we’re like a magnet attracting people from everywhere and then the systems can’t function. Social welfare, health, all the different systems, speech and language therapy people on lists for four years, you name it, we’re already in a mess. I want to see the people being properly looked after, a proper welcome with proper services, not hand it over to too many and then we’re not able to deal with them.”

When asked if he wanted to see limits on the numbers of refugees, Mr McGrath said he did. Ireland should “cut our cloth according to measure as we would have to do with a household — we can’t just have open borders and the Taoiseach running over to Europe being a good boy every time — cheerleading to cut off Russian gas; cheerleading that we have open borders.

“Other countries have learned the lessons here and we’re just blindly running down a cul-de-sac and we’re going to be in huge trouble,” Mr McGrath said.

Speaking to reporters at a Threshold housing charity event in Dublin on Thursday, Mr O’Brien said no competition existed between the need to provide social housing generally and the need to give shelter to those fleeing war zones.

Evoking historical lessons from Ireland’s experience with, and reliance upon, emigration, Mr O’Brien said the public knows the State is responding appropriately to the needs of refugees.

“We will still [address the broader housing crisis] while rising to the challenge of doing the right thing by supporting people who need safe harbour fleeing a brutal war by a brutal dictator,” he said, adding that comments such as Ms Nolan’s “do a lot of damage and take great risks with the social cohesion that we have here”. A line was crossed “for political reasons”, he believed.

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, Ms Nolan said the Minister’s comments were outrageous. “Are you saying we welcome everybody in only to sleep for years on hotel floors? [...] You need to come down off your high horse and face the reality and face the facts.

“How dare you misconstrue me. You are failing your own people and failing the immigrants as well,” she said.

Mr McGrath said Ireland should look after people fleeing war properly. “Not sleeping on floors as we’ve seen with migrants from other countries and hoteliers being paid a fortune — it’s a ham-fisted, dysfunctional system.

“Pious platitudes won’t put food on the table and won’t look after our newcomers, as I like to call them,” he said.