Subscriber OnlyPolitics

Leo Varadkar did not push hard enough for beds for asylum seekers, says Green Party Minister

International protection applications from Nigeria to be subjected to accelerated process from Tuesday

Former taoiseach Leo Varadkar did not put enough pressure on Government departments to find beds for asylum seekers sleeping rough, a Green Party Minister has said.

Minister of State Joe O’Brien, who has responsibility for aspects of integration policy, said: “I’ve been in the Cabinet subcommittees that were chaired by taoiseach Varadkar and I didn’t see anyone pushed very hard to look very hard and say ‘will you all identify a building, please?’”

The Dublin Fingal TD said Government departments had looked for alternative buildings to accommodate male asylum seekers without housing - of whom there are currently 1,780 - but “I’m not sure they have been pushed to look very hard”.

Calling for a renewed effort to find accommodation, he said: “I’m not convinced that every central Government department that [Minister for Integration] Roderic O’Gorman wrote to last year has shaken their tree very thoroughly, or has looked very thoroughly at their portfolio,” he said.


Mr O’Brien said those sleeping on the streets were vulnerable to racially motivated attacks.

“I don’t really care if I put a few noses out of joint by doing this, because if I don’t do this, if I don’t say this, I’ll be going ‘someone was killed and I could have pushed it harder’. So everyone really needs to look harder,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said a working group had been established to manage refurbishments and that Government departments including Education, Justice and Social Protection had been providing services. “Every department was expected to do their bit including the Department of Integration, which is responsible for receiving and accommodating new arrivals until their status is determined.”

Mr O’Brien also raised concerns over perceptions of how the gardaí were policing anti-immigration protests, including at Mr O’Gorman’s home last week. He said the gardaí have taken “a good approach in a lot of these situations”, but that there was a problem because it looked like they were “standing back in some situations”. He said while videos had to be taken with a “pinch of salt”, the “problem is there is a perception there”.

“[The garda] need to say exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing, because it’s not clear to everyone and some people are asking legitimate questions.”

He also complained that a communications plan promised by the Government on migration had not yet been developed. “It’s been floating around the ether for 12 months that there’s going to be a communications plan on immigration from the Department of the Taoiseach. It hasn’t been moving and no one has got a good explanation as to why.” He said he had raised it several times and senior Ministers had done similarly at a Cabinet subcommittee meeting.

Meanwhile, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will bring a memo to Cabinet that will see international protection arrivals from Nigeria subjected to an accelerated application process.

At Cabinet on Tuesday, she will tell her colleagues that, starting immediately, international protection applicants from the country which has had the highest number coming to Ireland over the previous three months will go into what is called an accelerated process.

Under that process, they will have their cases decided upon within 90 days.

At the moment, the country whose citizens will qualify for this faster processing is Nigeria.

The top country over the past three months will be assessed on a rolling basis every quarter.

At Cabinet, Ms McEntee is planning to tell her colleagues that fast processing works, as it gives fast protection to those who need it, while “concentrating the minds” of those who don’t.

At present, accelerated processing is being undertaken in regard to safe countries of origin – the current designated ones being Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Georgia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and South Africa.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

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

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times