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Ask Ukraine about the value of Irish ‘solidarity’: it is €38.80 per week

Disjointed responses to different humanitarian crises are dictated by their distance, our convenience and political opportunism

Amid unspeakable tragedy, first in Israel on October 7th and subsequently in Gaza, a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding. At home, on university campuses, there is outrage about the plight of Palestinians. Nearby, on the streets of Dublin, the desperate of Earth – including some from the Middle East – huddle in tents before the Government uproots them to other accommodation.

This is the same Government that just recognised the faraway state of Palestine. And it’s the same Government that just announced a cut in the allowance for Ukrainians living here. Having already reduced payments to new arrivals from €232 to €38.80, two weeks ago the Government decided that 27,000 Ukrainian refugees who benefit from temporary protection will receive reduced payments too. If you are Ukrainian, haven’t found an Irish home to take you in or aren’t working, you are trapped on a pittance.

The messages are mixed, but what matters most for a Government on its uppers two weeks out from local and European elections is to be seen to get tough. It might work. If the worst is staved off for Fine Gael, then Simon Harris has justified his election as party leader. It certainly deprives Sinn Féin and others to its left of exclusive use of the Palestinian flag and keffiyeh. (It fascinates me how that headscarf replaced the black beret as the millinery choice of right-on revolutionaries.)

States, however, have long memories. It is only last year since we festooned the Kyiv underground with posters of Ireland, in solidarity with a city being bombarded above ground. Ukraine was the first European country since the second World War to be invaded, and Ireland’s solidarity was immediate. We could not send military aid, but we would stand with the Ukrainian people – just like we are standing with Palestine now. Ukrainians would be welcomed on the same basis as EU citizens, which we hope they will become. Now, many of them are being pauperised.


Eighty-five years ago, Ireland stood on the sidelines not just of world war, but of the humanitarian catastrophe that became the Holocaust. Ireland was full then, and that was amorality that left an indelible stain. When the history of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is written, Ireland’s role will be firstly of vainglorious engorgement of the little we did, and the subsequent abrupt abandonment of that. Ukraine knows the value of Irish solidarity: it is €38.80 per head per week. The future of Europe may be at stake but we have second-rank elections to think about.

Palestine is recognised, but Palestinians are instrumentalised in our political drama. Ireland has become a cold house for Jews

Our instinct is not solidarity; it is charity, except it is a charity that stops at home. The notion that Palestinians from Gaza would in any numbers be welcome here is risible. We are not as cosmopolitan as our demographics suggest.

Profound decisions with long-tailed consequences are being taken by a Government under pressure, and in knee-jerk mode. This is the same Government that resolutely refused to act with collective responsibility, to deal firstly with significant numbers of Ukrainians and now with still modest but growing numbers of international protection applicants. The failure to prepare across Government, and the insistence that all this is overwhelmingly a matter for the Department of Integration alone, have let the political genie out of the bottle on immigration.

It cannot be stated often enough how modest our numbers of asylum applicants other than Ukrainians are, in relation to our population, and how poorly we prepared for our responsibility. This is the first year in which numbers that may exceed 20,000 put us above the European average compared to our population size. The last two years saw numbers of just below 14,000. Historically, numbers were much lower.

We have hardly spoken about, let alone come to terms with, an economic model that since the late 1950s is dependent on foreign investment and, since it exponentially expanded in the 1990s, on foreign labour. If our numbers of asylum seekers are modest, the scale of inward migration is not. From 2002 to 2022 our population increased by 1.2 million, around 1,180 people a week, which puts 20,000 asylum seekers in context. Of our 5.1 million people, 631,785 in 2022 were non-Irish. To put that in perspective, 710,996 people identify as protestant in Northern Ireland. Ireland is no longer a binary choice between green and orange.

Some are uncomfortable with the scale and speed of change. The average proportion of non-Irish people across the State is 12 per cent. If half the development we promised ourselves happens, that is only a staging post. But the bigger State we are careening towards is poorly served by our political and administrative capacity. An entirely avoidable political crisis over refugees is one reflection of that. The fact that the only change in gear we have executed in response to every challenge since 2016 is more spending, exposes our real vulnerability. Disjointed responses to different humanitarian crises are dictated by their distance, our convenience and political opportunism.

Palestine is recognised, but Palestinians are instrumentalised in our political drama. Ireland has become a cold house for Jews. All complexity is drowned out. Ukrainians who were invited here with open arms are now offered a closed hand. Ireland has fundamentally changed but our public imagination of who we are is a generation out of date. We do not recognise ourselves in the mirror. Unwilling to talk that through, our heroic gestures seem more bravado than brave.