Independent TD for Laois-Offaly Carol Nolan and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien clashed in the Dáil during Leaders Questions on Wednesday on the issue of accommodation for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.
Ms Nolan had asked if the Government planned on conducting an assessment of 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 said that Ms Nolan was effectively calling for a cap on the number of refugees and described her comments as “a threat to social cohesion”.
In March Ms Nolan had called on the Taoiseach to clarify if the Government had conducted an assessment on the impact on disability respite services here following the commitment to provide disability-specific accommodation to citizens fleeing war-torn Ukraine. “I did not receive an answer three months on,” she said.
Ms Nolan added that she understood the numbers arriving in Ireland were now at the rate of 1,500 every month.
“I am conscious that this is a difficult and sensitive issue and that we must tread carefully here if we’re to avoid blame being targeted at those who least deserve it but I’m also absolutely convinced that if we do not learn to find some way of exploring in a grown-up, pragmatic and constructive way the links between unsustainable levels of inward migration or asylum into this State and housing then we are never going to find a meaningful solution to what is already an overwhelming crisis.”
Mr O’Brien said the Government had been very clear in its response “to our friends from Ukraine that we will take in as many Ukrainian citizens fleeing a brutal war vested on them through no fault of their own. We will not bring forward any caps in that regard. Our housing response [for Ukrainians] is in addition to [the Government’s housing policy] Housing for All. There is no blurring of the lines here.”
The Minister asked Ms Nolan did she support providing refuge and safe harbour to citizens from Ukraine.
Ms Nolan said Government policies were “utterly meaningless” if the immigration and asylum system was not made more robust and fairer “to everyone, citizen and non-citizen alike.
“Ireland’s capacity to provide even the bare minimum of emergency accommodation and shelter to its own citizens and those genuinely fleeing war is being severely undermined. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand when it comes to these issues. Our political system must find a way of talking maturely and openly about these issues and without fear.
“You are aware that in May the Government was warned that the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees posed a risk to social cohesion and integration, particularly among deprived communities. That risk will be massively increased and will continue to grow and become widespread unless we seek to ensure that our barely functioning immigration system is brought under control.”
Mr O’Brien said Ms Nolan was walking a very fine line.
“What you’re calling for effectively is a cap on immigration and a cap on asylum into this country. Let’s be clear, that’s what you’re calling for. We will not support that, we will not support a cap on Ukrainians coming in here who are fleeing a war. Most parties support that approach with the exception of you. Does it provide challenges? Of course it does. Do the Irish people realise that? Yes, of course they do.
“This is a welcoming country. We’ve known over our history as a people where we’ve had to seek safe harbour all across the world, where we were treated very badly, we’re not going to allow that to happen here. Do you want to draw a distinction between who comes in here? Is that what you’re asking to do? We won’t go down that line.”
Ms Nolan said the Minister’s comments were outrageous.
“Are you saying we welcome everybody in only to sleep for years on hotel floors? Because that’s what you’re saying over there. How dare you misconstrue what I have said. We have a housing crisis here. We have a situation which is at an unsustainable level. It would be lovely to be able to give everybody a house, are you suggesting that we can do that? Are you suggesting that it’s fine to have people sleeping on hotel floors for years?
“You need to come down off your high horse and face the reality and face the facts.
“I want to clarify that I do not want to see anyone fleeing war sleeping on a hotel floor for years. Neither do I want to see families in Laois Offaly left without accommodation and left languishing on a housing list for 10 years. How dare you misconstrue me. You are failing your own people and failing the immigrants as well.”
Ms Nolan was elected as a Sinn Féin TD but resigned from that party in 2018 over its stance on abortion.