Varadkar says there will be arrests over recent arson attacks on asylum seeker accommodation

Taoiseach insists that Ireland is not a racist country and that the political climate around migration has changed

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said there will be arrests in relation to the recent spate of arson attacks on properties linked to asylum seekers in Ireland.

There have been almost 20 attacks or threats of violence on accommodation for asylum seekers in total since 2018, with about half of them having occurred in 2023.

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr Varadkar also insisted that Ireland was not a racist country or that the political climate had changed in response to the arrival of more than 100,000 refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine.

“There are a number of Garda investigations under way [into the attacks] and there have been people questioned and searches have been carried out,” he said.


“The gardaí have told me that they anticipate there will be arrests in relation to arson attacks around the country,” Mr Varadkar said.

“Arson is a serious crime and comes with a sentence of up to 10 years and I have a real worry that an arson attack might occur in a building with somebody inside it,” he said.

Mr Varadkar’s comments come following increasing tensions and arson attacks on proposed accommodation centres for asylum seekers.

On Thursday, it emerged that a disused convent in Co Longford will no longer be used as a centre for Ukrainian refugees following an attempted arson attack this week.

Lanesboro Convent was targeted on Tuesday night by suspected anti-immigrant protesters who used accelerant to start the fire.

Longford Fire Brigade doused the flames quickly and there was little damage done to the convent, which is in the middle of the town.

The Longford attack is the latest in a string of attacks and vandalism on accommodation centres. At the beginning of the new year, arsonists destroyed the disused Shipwright pub in Ringsend, south Dublin, after it was falsely linked to asylum seekers.

Two weeks earlier, Ross Lake House hotel in Rosscahill, Galway, which had been earmarked for asylum seekers, was largely destroyed by a fire. During the riots in the capital in November, two premises previously used to house asylum seekers were attacked.

Asked if these attacks or the recent riots in Dublin had tempered the appetite, among business leaders, for investing in Ireland, the Fine Gael leader said the topic had not been raised with him in Davos.

However, he acknowledged there was rising concern about migration in Ireland.

“Some of that is understandable and [involves] legitimate concerns, that shouldn’t be dismissed ... in somes cases it’s not, in some cases, there’s an element of racism to it, quite frankly,” he said.

He also denied political climate around immigration had changed, saying “this issue has been rising for some time and it’s not something that’s just changed overnight”.

“I don’t think by any means Ireland is a racist country, the vast majority of people in Ireland are willing to judge people by the content of their character, to see them as individuals, not as a group,” he said.

Mr Varadkar is due to speak on a panel about the potential and risks associated with artificial intelligence (AI) while meeting various political and business leaders.

On Wednesday night he gave the keynote address at an IDA-hosted dinner and was seated beside Sam Altman, chief executive and founder of ChatGPT company OpenAI.

Mr Varadkar said it was very nice to meet Mr Altman but would not disclose the content of their conversation.

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Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times