State Papers1992-2002

Bertie Ahern objected to 200 refugees from former Yugoslavia coming to Ireland

Cost cited as reason for opposing admission of more Bosnian refugees into the country in 1992, newly released files show

Ireland has taken in 70,000 Ukrainian refugees since the invasion of the country began in February this year, but the country was much less accommodating the last time there was a major war on the continent of Europe.

Ireland took in 178 Bosnians refugees from the former Yugoslavia in September 1992 from refugee camps in Vienna.

They were settled at the Cherry Orchard Reception Centre in Dublin. In a memorandum to government dated from that September, it was proposed to take in another 200 and to house them in Blanchardstown.

“The situation in the former Yugoslavia has continued to deteriorate and refugees continue to flee the area in significant numbers,” the unsigned memorandum stated.


The measure was opposed by the minister for finance at the time, Bertie Ahern, on the grounds of cost. He was opposed to the admission of any further refugees “other than close relatives of those already here in view of the very difficult budgetary situation currently prevailing”.

He recommended instead that the issue be looked at again when the exchequer situation for 1993 was known.

He estimated the cost of housing the 178 refugees at £1 million in 1992, with the expected additional costs being considerably higher in 1993.

An additional 200 refugees would have “significant ongoing financial implications”, as the proposed facility to house them in Blanchardstown would need considerable refurbishment.

He also “seriously questioned the wisdom” of setting an actual target of an additional 200 refugees for Ireland as he estimated that few wanted to come to Ireland in the first place. The ones who were already in Ireland were only persuaded to come to Ireland with “some difficulty”.

He proposed instead to concentrate on dealing with any applications for asylum from relatives of those refugees already in Ireland.

The minister for foreign affairs David Andrews decided not to take his views on board. Instead he stated that it would be good for Ireland to be seen internationally as making a “significant contribution” to the humanitarian efforts to relieve suffering in the former Yugoslavia.

It would also please both Austria and Germany, whho were bearing the greatest burden in terms of refugees, he added.

Mr Andrews concluded: “There is considerable domestic sympathy for the victims of the Yugoslav conflict. As the weather conditions begin to worsen on the ground the admission of these further refugees and the reunification of families separated by the conflict are likely to be well received by domestic public opinion.”

In June 1993 the government announced that it planned to take in another 200 refugees.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times