Taoiseach: Criticising illegal immigration should not be controversial

But Varadkar says people need to ‘to call out the scaremongering’ on housing asylum seekers

The Taoiseach spoke about his own background growing up as the son of an Indian immigrant and “a person of colour” in west Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

The Taoiseach spoke about his own background growing up as the son of an Indian immigrant and “a person of colour” in west Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said it “should not be a controversial thing” to speak out against illegal immigration, stressing that the Government stands firmly against it.

Speaking at an Immigrant Council of Ireland conference, Mr Varadkar urged people “to call out the scaremongering” surrounding the accommodation of asylum seekers, while also defending the Government’s policy on direct provision.

The Taoiseach referred to remarks he made at the weekend saying migrants from Albania and Georgia with fake documents were behind a rise in the numbers seeking asylum in the State.

His comments were criticised as “very dangerous” by migrant rights campaigners.

“We stand firmly against illegal migration. It shouldn’t be a controversial thing to say, although it apparently is sometimes, that you support and welcome legal immigration and you don’t support illegal immigration,” Mr Varadkar said.

“We will continue to step up our efforts to stop people being trafficked illegally in Ireland by gangs and also those who seek to enter Ireland unlawfully as individuals no matter how small that number might be.”

The Government believes people in need of international protection should seek it in the first country in which it is safe to do so, Mr Varadkar told the conference on migrant integration and inclusion in Dublin.

He defended the Government’s system of direct provision that, for almost 20 years, has housed asylum seekers entering the State in search of international protection.

“Direct provision is an imperfect system but I don’t believe it is an inhumane one. We have yet to come up with a better system but we are open to finding alternatives that are viable and affordable,” he said.

Against the backdrop of local protests against some new direct provision centres, Mr Varadkar said “people “need to call out the scaremongering of those who seek to exploit local concerns for their own political, personal and, in some cases, racist reasons”.

He acknowledged the disquiet in some communities about the arrival of migrant accommodation centres and talked about the importance of the Government’s need to rebuild trust in communities.

The Government had to “communicate better than we have in the past” and engage with communities to show “how their own or village or parish will be enhanced and not diminished by the arrival of newcomers”.

“It is never said but I think it is worth saying: there are no protests in communities that already have accommodation centres,” he said.

The Taoiseach spoke about his own background growing up as the son of an Indian immigrant and “a person of colour” in west Dublin, and talked about how migration was “a good thing for Ireland and enriches our society”.

“We all benefit from diversity and together we will be stronger for it. Migration makes our economy stronger, our public services sustainable and our culture and society richer,” said Mr Varadkar.

The State’s public services “simply would not function without migrants to staff [them],” he added.

Greater efforts should be made to include more people of migrant backgrounds and people of colour in the civil service, the Garda and the Defence Forces, he said. Additional funding should also be made available to political parties that encourage people from migrant backgrounds to stand as candidates in local elections.

The next “regularisation” scheme to allow undocumented migrants to gain legal status should be for children who “essentially grew up in Ireland” and have only ever known Ireland as their home, he said.

However, he supported the EU pact not to support a general amnesty that might compromise free travel for Irish citizens abroad or the freedom of movement in the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK.

Speaking to The Irish Times after the Taoiseach’s address, Brian Killoran, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said that there was “a danger” in elected representatives conflating illegal migration with people seeking protection, and that they “need to be careful” in their remarks to avoid confusion.

“Somebody coming into the State undocumented or in an irregular manner is a very different thing from somebody seeking protection in the State,” he said.

The Taoiseach’s remarks were, he said, “on the money” in talking about the positive message the State needs to send about migration while reflecting concerns the Government has, which are shared by the public.

“It is a finely balanced conversation we need to have and I think it is okay for him to position himself in that way,” he said.