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Michael McDowell: We are in crisis. There is no time for consultation on housing refugees

We need emergency legislation to empower a specialist agency to acquire property

In the middle of a crisis, there is very little sense in attacking the Government for failing to consult local communities about the selection of places to accommodate refugees or asylum seekers. Who in the community would you need to consult if you were minded to use, say, the disused Baggot Street Hospital or the vacant Jurys hotel for that purpose? Local traders? Local public representatives? Residents or community associations?

If there were no such crisis, it would be nice, respectful and sensible to conduct a relaxed prior consultation with all of those categories. But we have a crisis on our hands. Finding emergency accommodation is no easy task. And it is not going to be any easier as we approach the tourist season and entire regional economies need hotel accommodation for tourists to sustain restaurants, bars, music venues and festivals. Livelihoods are at stake if tourism dries up.

Added to our underlying shortage of domestic accommodation, high rents, stuttering home-building, planning disputes, gross underprovision of social and affordable housing by housing authorities, the Ukrainian refugee wave and increased non-Ukrainian asylum-seeking reaching record levels, we have a perfect storm.

The war in Ukraine is not likely to end soon. A mass return of Ukrainian war refugees is a long way off

It is now accepted that we cannot end direct provision in present circumstances. In fact, one problem with direct provision is the inability of people with leave to remain leaving their direct provision accommodation.


The war in Ukraine is not likely to end soon. A mass return of Ukrainian war refugees is a long way off, as best one can judge.

The Government can do some things to avoid having a semi-permanent situation of people forced to live in the streets, in tent camps, or in field hospital-style accommodation in halls, arenas or warehouses. We need emergency legislation to empower a specialist agency to acquire, lease, or take on compulsory licence property such as Baggot Street hospital, disused hotels, underused religious institutional buildings, vacant buildings and the like.

We also need to face up to the failures being encountered in the administration of the International Protection Act 2015. Ireland is not alone in buckling under the strain of migration posing as asylum-seeking. We need clarity in this area.

Delays in adjudicating on claims for asylum have not been dealt with since that Act was commenced. The Cabinet was told that Gardai have resumed a skeleton spot-check twice weekly to attempt to deal with asylum seekers boarding flights to Ireland from safe countries and claiming to have lost or destroyed their ID and passports when presenting at immigration.

The excuse offered for this is that asylum seekers might want to protect the identities of people supplying them with such documentation. That cannot be allowed in the real world, except in the most limited of cases. It massively delays any fair adjudication of the great majority of cases of missing documentation. And that is no accident. Garda checks carried out randomly twice a week are not the answer.

We were told that such checks were discontinued after Charlie Flanagan left office. Why? And why are they only now being reintroduced? I suspect that it was thought to be pointless in the context of an ongoing obligation to deal with all missing documentation cases.

Some 40 per cent of asylum seekers from places such as Georgia and Albania arriving undocumented demonstrates that the system is broken and is being abused. Georgians have visa-free access to EU states. Georgia and Albania are “safe countries”.

We are not told what percentage of all asylum claims are successful at the end of the long process. We need to know that figure

Why do Georgia and Albania account for 20 per cent and 13 per cent respectively of recent asylum claims in Ireland? Why are they not dealt with by a summary process and returned if they fail to produce immediate and cogent evidence of a real likelihood of state persecution?

We are not told what percentage of all asylum claims are successful at the end of a process that is now taking two and three years in ordinary cases. We need to know that figure. And we need to know by country where applications are succeeding.

This paper reported that a “fast-track” procedure commenced in November to deal with safe country cases, resulting in 352 interviews having occurred. That is not really a fast-track at all.

Even if the Government’s stated intention is to reduce the period for “safe country” adjudications from two years to three months, it will be ineffectual if applicants simply disappear at the end and avoid deportation.

Apart from Ukrainian refugees, we are now heading back to the records levels of asylum seeking that we witnessed 20 years ago.

Ireland needs migrants and we should warmly welcome them when they come here legally. They have made a large contribution to our society in many, many ways.

Dealing fairly and effectively with migration posing as asylum-seeking is difficult. But it must be done if we are to avoid playing into the hands of political extremists, for whom failure to do so is manna from heaven.