No plan to cap refugee numbers, as Taoiseach says Co Clare blockade ‘not necessary’

Leo Varadkar addressed the immigration crisis as he arrived in Reykjavik for the fourth summit of the Council of Europe since its creation in 1949

There are no proposals to place a cap on the number of refugees entering Ireland as the Government does not want to tell other European countries that the immigration crisis is “their problem”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar also said that a protest in Co Clare – where road access was blocked at a hotel housing asylum seekers – was not “necessary” as he pledged further engagement with the local community.

“I’d very much echo the comments of the Tánaiste earlier today [Tuesday] in that I don’t think the blockade is necessary. What we do need is engagement with the community. I know Minister [for Integration] Roderic O’Gorman is going to meet with representatives tomorrow to do exactly that. But we are facing an unprecedented situation.

“Nearly 100,000 people from other parts of the world, mainly Ukraine, have come to Ireland seeking refuge, seeking shelter. We have to provide for them with whatever accommodation is available and it isn’t always going to be perfect, but it is the best we can do,” Mr Varadkar said.


Asked if the Government could do better in terms of engagement with local communities, he said they are “dealing with it as well as we can.”

The Taoiseach also shot down any suggestion of a cap on the numbers of refugees arriving into the country.

“There are no proposals to do that. We are part of the European Union and under the Temporary Protection Directive, no country in the European Union has imposed a cap and I can’t imagine us being the first ones to try and do that.

“You’d essentially be saying to other European countries that have shown enormous solidarity with us‚ and particularly countries to the east of Europe who’ve taken in many more Ukrainians than us per head of population, that it’s their problem, not ours, and we’re not willing to share it. I don’t think that’d be right. So there are no proposals to cap the number of Ukrainians coming to Ireland.”

Last week, a homeless asylum seekers camp in Upper Sandwith Street was destroyed by fire amid anti-immigrant protests. This led to a tense standoff between a large group of pro- and anti-immigration protesters on Friday evening.

The Taoiseach said he could not set any deadlines to resolve the situation of having asylum seekers sleeping on the streets.

“It’s never possible to set a deadline of that nature because we can’t predict the number of people who will arrive in Ireland from Ukraine or from other parts of the world at any given week. There has been a significant slowdown in the numbers coming in. But we can’t say for sure if there could be another increase for some reason.”

The Fine Gael leader was also asked about the issue of policing and Garda numbers given recent protests and rising tensions. Mr Varadkar said he wants to see another 1,000 gardaí on the streets.

“But that’s not to say that I think there are enough gardaí, there aren’t. If I thought there were enough gardaí we wouldn’t have authorised the recruitment of 1,000 gardaí this year and hundreds of garda staff for frontline duties. And we’re determined this year to see the number of gardaí increase from the 14,000-odd it is now ... and that is because we believe that we do need more gardaí on our streets to deal with these issues and many other issues too.”

The Taoiseach was speaking after he arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland, for the fourth summit of the Council of Europe since its creation in 1949 as a European human rights organisation.

Mr Varadkar joined around 40 other leaders, including German chancellor Olaf Scholz, French president Emmanuel Macron and British prime minister Rishi Sunak, at the meeting. The leaders are attending the two-day summit where the focus will revolve around how to hold Russia to account for its invasion of Ukraine. The Council is aiming to build the outline of a system so that Moscow can be held liable for compensation and damages.

The Taoiseach, upon arriving, pledged additional funding of €325,000 to the Council of Europe when he met the Council’s secretary general Marija Pejčinović Burić.

The funding will go towards the European Court of Human Rights, to the Human Rights Trust Fund, to support the Belarus Contact Group engaging with that country’s opposition.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times