Council’s ‘à-la-carte’ relationship with Government ‘not tenable’, says Varadkar

Taoiseach hits out at Mayo councillors over anti-refugee motion as Opposition deputies criticise Government in Dáil over management of refugee crisis

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday hit out at councillors in Co Mayo for passing an anti-refugee motion earlier this week, as the Government sought to defend its management of the influx of refugees and asylum seekers in the face of sharp criticism.

“It’s not the case that you [the council] can have an à-la-carte relationship with Government departments, refuse to co-operate with some when you’re asked to do something and then apply for funding from five others,” Mr Varadkar said.

“That’s not a tenable position.”

On Monday a motion was passed at Mayo County Council calling on local authority staff to immediately cease co-operation with the Department of Integration in relation to housing refugees and asylum seekers.


At Leinster House, where the Dáil returned after its Christmas break, there was fierce criticism of the Government from Opposition deputies for its management of the refugee crisis, with reminders that many of the 600 men seeking asylum here who have not been provided with accommodation were now sleeping in tents in freezing cold weather.

People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said protesters in Roscrea and at other venues intended to house migrants were blaming refugees when they should be blaming the Government for the shortage of housing.

But Ms Smith had her knuckles rapped by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl when she attacked rural Independent TDs who she said were echoing the “lies” of “Nazi supporters” about immigrants and asylum seekers.

The Government’s failure on housing, she said, had led to anger from ordinary people while the far right, who she described as “Nazi supporters”, whipping up lies and wanted to blame “refugees and people of colour”.

“We have echoes of those Nazi supporters’ lies in this chamber and those echoes, which come from rural Independents and others across this House, which blame refugees for the problems that we have, actually do make a difference to how people think,” she said during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil.

The Ceann Comhairle said while he was in favour of very robust debate, it was not fair “by any stretch of the imagination” to equate any member of the House in any way with Nazism, “not in any way, not by any stretch of the imagination”.

“You diminish the appalling nature of what Nazism is to do so,” he told Ms Smith.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys strongly defended the Government, saying that it was dealing with an emergency, and that a new plan would be brought forward in the coming weeks.

“The deputy cannot blame the Government for people carrying out violent actions,” she said.

The Government also faced strong criticism from the Independent Tipperary TD Michael Lowry, habitually a supporter of the Coalition in Dáil votes.

Mr Lowry said the Government was “on the run on immigration policy and making it up as you go along”.

Mr Lowry said the Government had ignored the legitimate and genuine concerns of people in Roscrea and the influx of asylum seekers to the town accounted for up to 20 per cent of its population.

“Any sensible, reasonable, logical or sustainable criteria you would have to conclude that Roscrea had already exceeded his capacity,” he said.

Outside Leinster House there was a small protest by far-right activists, but it attracted only a few dozen supporters.

Meanwhile Longford County Council confirmed that a building set on fire in Lanesborough earlier this week had been earmarked for use by Ukrainian refugees.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin condemned the arson attacks on the former convent and on other premises around the country – estimated now to exceed more than a dozen – as a very worrying development which was completely inimical to the values of Irish people.

“It is not something that is in tandem with our values as a people,” said Mr Martin.

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Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times