Government efforts to accommodate refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine and the sharply increased numbers of people seeking international protection in this country are floundering. It is sometimes said that Ireland is bad at long-term planning but good at reacting when a crisis hits. Well, this is a crisis and the response needs to step up significantly.
Nobody should underestimate the scale of the challenge. More than 62,000 people fleeing the Russian war have arrived from Ukraine, with the number expected to rise to 72,000 by the end of December, as the intensifying bombardment decimates the country’s energy infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the numbers of people seeking international protection in Ireland have also jumped hugely. This week, the ESRI reported that in the first six months of 2022, a total of 6,494 applications for international protection were lodged, an almost 200 per cent increase compared with the same period in pre-Covid 2019.
In the teeth of a housing crisis, the State is engaged in a mad scramble to find accommodation. An urgent appeal has been issued for holiday homes for Ukrainians, without any great confidence that this will close the gap between what’s needed and what’s available. And vacant office blocks are being hastily converted into temporary accommodation for asylum seekers.
The arrival of asylum seekers to a converted office block in East Wall in Dublin led to protests this week by residents in the area. Some of the protests were attended by far-right activists. Local and national politicians warned that they were seeking to exploit genuine local concerns to promote a racist and extreme agenda.
The arrival of so many Ukrainians and asylum seekers in a relatively short period of time has not just piled pressure on public services and available accommodation, on central Government, local authorities and public agencies. It presents a significant challenge for politics more broadly.
Ireland has escaped the growth and mainstreaming of far-right parties that has occurred in many European countries over the past decade. While all parties deserve credit for this, Sinn Féin has worked especially hard.
Drawing significant support from nationalist working-class voters which have been the bedrock for far-right parties in some other countries, Sinn Féin has firmly eschewed any appeal to xenophobia or anti-immigration messages. It was noticeable that some of the East Wall protesters targeted their ire at the local TD Mary Lou McDonald.
Ultimately the best way to outflank the far-right is to address the genuine concerns of people about pressures on resources, public services and the supervision of such facilities. If that is done effectively, it would leave the racists and the far-right fringe with nothing to hide behind.