Coalition decision on housing asylum seekers to deepen capacity

Government to push ahead with new refugee accommodation centres in Santry, Clondalkin and Dún Laoghaire

The decision by the Government to open new refugee accommodation centres in Santry, Clondalkin and Dún Laoghaire, to add to the controversial Magowna House Hotel in Co Clare, will add much-needed capacity to the system and will, Ministers and senior officials hope, take most or all of the asylum seekers living in tents off the streets.

Many of them are clustered around the Lower Mount Street headquarters of the International Protection Office, the Government agency that deals with people seeking asylum — or international protection — here. They are a daily reminder of the strains that the system is under, and the extent to which it is coming up short. Some 500 or so men who have claimed asylum in recent months have been told: sorry, we have no place for you.

Just four weeks ago a High Court judge told the Government it was failing in its legal obligation to house asylum seekers while their claims are being processed. The new centres, when functional, will provide enough space for all those on the streets, it is hoped. That desired outcome, however, faces two threats.

First, as events in Clare have demonstrated, local opposition can complicate the picture greatly. Officials have been reluctant to flag in advance where refugee centres are going to be opened, nervous that a local backlash would prevent the opening. There are fears that the opening of the centres could get bogged down by protests or even legal actions. But that strategy of shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later has its limits, as the situation in Co Clare demonstrates.


Why not consult and work with local communities, say activists, noting the thousands of refugees already being accommodated in towns and communities countrywide — including in several Co Clare centres.

Second, the Government is trying to hit a moving target. While the places identified and being prepared in Santry and Clondalkin (Dún Laoghaire will take longer) will house the 500 unaccommodated asylum seekers, the fact is by the time they are on stream, a few hundred more international protection applicants will probably have arrived. And where will they go?

State facing a summer of strife over migrant accommodation

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Few people question that the Government has to push ahead with the opening of the new centres. Aside from the not unimportant matter of the High Court judgment, there is also the issue of political credibility: the Coalition cannot really be seen to back down in the face of local protests. The question, as one source notes, is not so much whether they go ahead — it is the political cost of doing so.

Expanding the capacity of the system is one of two levers at the Government’s disposal. The other is more complex —influencing the demand for its services. While insisting that there has been no dilution of the essential message that people who need protection and refuge in the Republic, and who meet the requirements under international law, will receive it, senior Government figures concede they are also keen to convey that those who don’t qualify for should not come here.

This week, the International Protection Office released its latest statistics, showing arrivals in April. The downward trend visible in February and March is continuing, with 633 people arriving in the State and claiming international protection. If numbers continue to decline, this will ease the pressure on the system here. So the situation in both capacity and demand is improving — but slowly, and in a situation fraught with sensitivity, and political danger.