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By caving in to protests about asylum seekers, the Government has torched its own principles

Recent migrants found locked in a ship at Rosslare were Kurds and Vietnamese, people on the sharp end of global warming. This trend will only increase

The heat from the sun was fierce. There was nothing for it but to plunge, once again, into the cooling sea before flopping back down on the beach towel. A small lizard scarpered toward the shade of nearby rocks. On the dazzling horizon, a boat drifted by, as lazy as the day. This was not some exotic, palm-fringed resort in high season. It was west Clare in the second week of September 2023. The temperature was 26 degrees, daring one to entertain the blasphemy that, if this is climate change, bring it on.

The following month, the mercury rose to 23.4 degrees in the Phoenix Park, bringing Dubliners out in a rash of unseasonal shorts and skittishness. Commentators waxed covetous on the airwaves about the potential tourism dividends to be gleaned from foreign holidaymakers expected to abandon their customary continental hot spots that have sweltered during recent summers in preference for Ireland’s temperate climes.

This week, Copernicus, the EU’s Climate Change Service, confirmed that 2023 was the world’s hottest year since before the industrial revolution. It was Ireland’s hottest year, too, according to Met Éireann. Even the Atlantic Ocean on the country’s western shores had a heatwave.

Circulation of the latest global climate data has coincided with increased manifestations of the other most pressing emergency facing humankind – migration. Last weekend 14 migrants were discovered locked inside a refrigerated trailer on a ship that sailed into Rosslare, Co Wexford. Most of them were Kurdish, an ethnic people native to a mountainous region straddling Kurdistan and Iraq. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has noted that extreme high temperatures in the region have extended deserts and killed off plants.


Some of the migrants who arrived in Rosslare were from Vietnam, where 25 million people are dependent on forests for their livelihood but great tracts of these natural carbon sinks have been denuded by loggers for timber export and the manufacture of paper. Deforestation has been identified as the second-leading cause of global warming.

Media reports have stated that the people who were locked into the trailer thought they were being brought to the UK. Had they access to an Irish newspaper, they, surely, would have wished they were not coming to this country where the most popular Christmas gift seems to have been a box of matches.

Gardaí are investigating a fire at a guest house in Sandyford, Co Dublin last Sunday after it was incorrectly identified on social media as planned accommodation for asylum seekers. It is the sixth fire associated with anti-migrant sentiment since the start of last month. The other buildings were three disused hotels, a school and a pub in counties Galway, Wexford, Donegal, Dublin and Tipperary.

As ice caps melt, soil erodes, deserts expand, coastlines submerge and sea levels rise, the correlation between global warming and migration will become more entrenched. No tree is chopped down in a forest without its reverberations being felt elsewhere. An Indian summer in Bundoran or Ballybunion can mean floods, drought or wildfires in Africa or Australia. One person’s silver lining is another’s life-threatening cloud. Earth’s erratic climate events are forming patterns of cause and effect right across the globe.

When anti-migrant protesters set up their camps outside buildings designated – or rumoured to be designated – for asylum seekers, they drive to and fro, light fires and eat takeaway food, adding to the pollution that is making other people’s homeplaces in faraway lands uninhabitable. If they want less immigration, they should go home, switch off their clothes dryers, fix their leaking fridges, cancel their foreign holiday flights, eat less meat and, generally, reduce their carbon footprint.

But they won’t do that. Why would they, when they know the Government is willing to bow to their pressure? First, it caved in to protesters ensconced outside the former JJ Gannon’s Hotel in Ballinrobe, where 50 men seeking international protection had been due to reside in its 12 bedrooms. On Monday, it emerged that the Department of Integration has changed its plan and, now, the building is to accommodate families. Tánaiste Micheál Martin denied this represented a U-turn.

Two days later, there was a second Government change of heart with the announcement that 50 male asylum seekers – the same 50 men? – due to move into an old friary in Carlow town were, once again, being replaced by families. The news followed a protest outside the building.

These capitulations have sent a clear signal to protesters – and the unadulterated racists out there too – that the Government is for turning. With council elections approaching, politics is acutely local. Now is the time to turn the heat up on councillors and political parties looking for votes. Fifty men rendered roofless are reckoned to be a small price for a council seat or two. There are already more than 100 male asylum applicants with no place to stay in Ireland and no imminent prospect of finding a bed because political parties know there are no votes to be gained from that, either in the summer’s local and European elections or the looming general election.

The Government has lit a dynamite taper by rolling over for the protesters. Other communities have every reason now to expect that, if they shout “No”, the gates to their towns will be locked against people whom they deem undesirable to live among them.

Not only is the Government’s malleability shameful, it is reckless at a time when immigrants’ tents have been set on fire and Dublin is recovering from a racist riot. During his first term as taoiseach, Leo Varadkar repeatedly admitted that Ireland was “a laggard” in addressing climate change. This country remains one of the world’s biggest per-capita polluters and, as such, has a duty to less “developed” countries that suffer the consequences. As former president Mary Robinson states in her book, Climate Justice: A Man-Made Problem with a Feminist Solution, the damage we have inflicted on our planet obliges us to adopt a different way of living together. “It requires us to begin to sow the seeds of human solidarity and develop a global spirit of compassion.”

Climate-linked migration is for the long-term, necessitating long-term policies. By caving into protests for short-term political advantage, the Government has ignited its own bonfire and spurned solidarity.