Withholding information on arson attacks makes people ‘as guilty as the person who lights match’, says McEntee

Justice Minister’s remarks come after spate of attacks on buildings earmarked for asylum seeker accommodation and some wrongly rumoured to be destined for use as refugee housing.

People with information on arson attacks “are as guilty as the person who actually lights the match” unless they come forward, Justice Minister Helen McEntee has said.

She also said the maximum sentence for arson is life in prison and “you can’t get any tougher than that”.

Her remarks come after a spate of arson attacks on buildings earmarked for asylum seeker accommodation and some wrongly rumoured to be destined for use as refugee housing.

There have been some arrests in relation to a small number of incidents but no convictions so far.


Fine Gael TD Ms McEntee said gardaí are working “painstakingly” on the issue but added: “It can be difficult particularly when you don’t have witnesses, where you don’t have don’t have CCTV.”

Ms McEntee told RTÉ's The Week in Politics: “There are people across the country who know people who are responsible for this, and by not coming forward you are absolutely complicit.”

She continued: “We could have a fatality if this continues and it’s not to say that gardaí are not doing everything in their power but you have a situation where in a matter of a day there might be a rumour spread that a building that’s vacant, that has nothing to do with anything other than a vacant property, is suddenly set alight.”

She said trying to respond to this is “an enormous task for gardaí” and “they’re absolutely committed to it.

“But there are individuals here who have to take responsibility and those who the have information as well they have to come forward, otherwise they’re as guilty as the person who actually lights the match.”

Earlier she said there are tough penalties in place, saying: “arson is up to life in prison ... you can’t get any tougher than that.”

She said property damage convictions can see prison sentences of up to 10 years.

On the same broadcast Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns criticised the Government for not yet opening six recommended reception centres for refugees.

She also raised questions about the decision to add Algeria and Botswana to a list of so-called safe countries.

There is accelerated consideration of international protection applications from people coming from safe counties amid concern that many of the applicants have travelled for economic reasons.

Ms Cairns said: “Often times, people are fleeing a situation where it might not be safe if you’re gay in a country, if you’re an activist, if you’re a member of a trade union.”

Ms McEntee later responded to this by saying: “If you are from a safe country, we’re not saying that you can’t get asylum.

“The reason that I’ve introduced the accelerated process is because we have looked ... at a number of countries in the last two years and we have seen that the vast majority of people coming from those countries have been refused ... for economic reasons.”

She said there are “legal pathways” for people who want to come to work in Ireland and that the economy would “cease to function in the way it does now without immigrants in the workforce”.

The latest Irish Times/Ipsos B&A poll shows that 59 per cent of voters favour a “more closed policy” on immigration with 16 per cent backing a “more open” policy.

A majority of those who expressed a view (48 per cent) believe that immigration has been a positive for Ireland, with 35 per cent saying it has been a negative.

Labour TD Duncan Smith says immigration is coming up on the doors as politicians canvass before upcoming elections and it is something that needs to be tackled “head on”.

He said politicians must “myth-bust” when they come across myths “being propagated by the far-right”.

He said: “People aren’t losing out on medical cards [because of immigration], people aren’t missing out on GP appointments, people aren’t losing out on housing.”

Mr Smyth added: “The accommodation that we are putting in place – to our shame it must be said, we’re ill-prepared for immigration – is emergency, it’s repurposed religious homes, we all know what they are, derelict buildings, derelict sites, that’s the emergency level with which we’re responding. They’re not roofs or homes.”

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Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times