Refugee centre gatherings not protest but ‘intimidation’, Minister says

Simon Harris warns against letting people ‘hijack’ viewpoint of community

People travelling around the country to gather outside refugee accommodation centres, an act which intimidates people inside including women and children, are not protesting, Minister for Justice Simon Harris has said.

Speaking in Dublin on Wednesday, Mr Harris warned against “allowing anybody to hijack the viewpoint” of a community.

“It is a statement of the blindingly obvious that there are certain individuals who travel from one part of our country to the next part of our country, to the next part of our country [to demonstrate],” he said.

The Minister said there was a need to be “very careful calling these protests – in my mind that’s not what they are”.


“When people turn up outside a building that is providing temporary shelter to people including women and children and start saying things like ‘shout to get them out’ and ‘out, out, out’ – that’s not a protest in my view.

“In my view that’s intimidation, in my view that is not in any way, shape or form reflective of the communities in which these facilities and accommodation facilities are in,” he said, adding that his role as minister for justice was to ensure the safety of all individuals in the State including those seeking refuge.

‘Legitimate challenges’

“There are of course real, legitimate challenges caused by a war on this continent, not just on this country but right across the European Union,” he said. “[But] I believe the overriding values of this country are ones of wanting to support people, wanting to absolutely respect people – and when we hear, as we heard this week, young children talking about how this so-called protest makes them feel, that concerns me and I share the Taoiseach’s view in describing it as concerning.”

Mr Harris was speaking at the announcement of a €20 million investment in the expansion of TU Dublin’s Grangegorman campus into Cabra West to accommodate 1,500 students in green skills and construction.

Speaking at the same event, Fianna Fáil Senator Mary Fitzpatrick was forced to explain remarks she made about Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s “road-to-Damascus-type interest in the housing crisis that he presided over for whatever the 10 years that he was there”.

Ms Fitzpatrick told reporters that it was a ”spontaneous comment, late at night” and “a bit flippant”.

“The interviewer was pushing me on whether there was some sort of a dynamic here, was it about the optics – I responded instinctively, probably not as diplomatically as I could have. What is really important is that it’s clear and obvious to everybody that housing remains as the top of the Government’s priorities,” she said.

Asked if she would apologise to the Taoiseach, who leads a party which is in government with her own, she said: “If he wants, absolutely. I wasn’t aware that he was upset about it but of course I didn’t mean to upset him.”

Hospitality industry

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe, who was also present at the event in his Dublin Central constituency, said the future of the lower 9 per cent VAT rate for the hospitality industry would be decided at the end of February – and would be led by his successor in the Department of Finance, Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath.

However, he said the situation facing the industry was very different to the context in which the tax break was introduced.

“The reason the VAT rate was lowered to 9 per cent was to help the hospitality sector recover from an employment perspective, and by any measure they have now done that and we are seeing a tourism sector, in terms of employment and interest and demand for their services, that is in a completely different place than where we were in 2020,” he said.

Mr Harris said controversy surrounding British-American social media personality Andrew Tate, who was arrested in Romania late last month on charges of forming an organised crime group to sexually exploit six women, had prompted conversations between parents and their children, particularly teenage boys.

“This is a very serious issue. I’ve heard from a number of parents of teenage boys in particular in recent days as the Andrew Tate issue came in,” he said. Mr Tate, who has gained noteriety for mysogynistic remarks and hate speech, came to the attention of many after a social media exchange with climate activist Greta Thurnberg over the Christmas period, following which the former professional kickboxer was arrested on the human exploitation charges.

“I am really worried and it shows what happens when the State doesn’t step up to its responsibilities… We need to be much better at providing age-appropriate information around sex education, around gender equality,” Mr Harris said.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times