Harris bullish on Coalition’s progress on housing

Ministers to consider ending visa-free travel from South Africa as Government hardens line on immigration

The Cabinet committee on migration and integration will be a closely watched one next Thursday, with a number of new proposals due to be discussed as the Government continues its efforts to tighten immigration rules.

Pat Leahy reports this morning that Ministers will discuss a possible move to end visa-free travel from South Africa.

Such a move would come less than three years after the need for visas for travel from South Africa was abolished and results from officials’ warnings that people from Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo are travelling on South African passports.

Figures released by the Department of Justice show that the authorities are currently processing the applications of 198 people who arrived on South African passports this year – just over 3 per cent of the total.


All of our recent polls in the Irish Times Snapshot series have shown that immigration is an issue that, since last year, is right at the fore of what’s on the mind of the public. The recent hardening of the Government line on immigration reflects this, and comes just weeks before the local and European elections.

Already this week we have seen moves by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to introduce faster processing times for the countries that are providing the highest number of new arrivals – at the moment that country is Nigeria.

Another immigration issue on the minds of politicians is the number of applicants for international protection (IP) – or asylum – who are coming over the Border with Northern Ireland.

Taoiseach Simon Harris has told a Dáil committee that the Government will “do more” to reduce this number.

Earlier this week, it emerged that more than 80 per cent of IP applicants have been arriving in the State via Northern Ireland.

We also carry a report today that the Government has written to church dioceses asking them to make buildings or lands available to help accommodate asylum seekers as part of a renewed push to find beds.

In 2022, the Government sought church lands to accommodate those fleeing the war in Ukraine but has now asked dioceses for assistance in helping house asylum seekers. There are currently 1,600 unaccommodated single males.

Harris makes big promises on housing

The same Snapshot series of polling shows that besides immigration, housing is another one of the biggest issues for the public.

The level of progress made to address the housing crisis – and the perception of the level of progress – will feed directly into the results of the next general election.

Given the fact a general election could very well still happen this year, the building figures for this year are extremely important.

Harris was bullish about the Government’s progress at a press conference on Wednesday, saying that targets are being met despite commentary that it wouldn’t happen. He made a prediction that the number of new homes delivered this year will be close to 40,000.

Under the Coalition’s Housing For All plan, a target of 34,500 new homes for 2024 has been set.

“This year we are likely to be closer to 40,000 homes than 30,000. It will be on the upper end rather than the lower end of that range,” he said.

The Government is under pressure to publish new revised housing targets and Harris said these would be announced in the summer, with more detail on the types of houses – such as social and affordable – due to be revealed in the autumn. Harris said in his view “to not lift our scale of ambition would be very underwhelming for people living in box rooms” across the country.

“We know we need to work to raise our level of ambition in relation to targets in the years ahead because we do have a rapidly growing population.”

But is he already backing away from his headline promise made at his first Fine Gael conference, when he promised 250,000 new homes by 2030? He has now said that 250,000 is the “ballpark figure” he expects to see delivered.

Former soldiers resume military training in Libya

On our front page today, Conor Gallagher carries a story that will give Tánaiste Micheál Martin pause for thought.

He reports that former soldiers of the elite Army Ranger Wing have resumed military training operations in Libya in apparent breach of international sanctions, despite warnings from the Irish Government.

“Irish Training Solutions (ITS), which was founded by former members of the special forces unit, now has 16 instructors training the troops of Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar under a contract worth more than €10 million. The deal is due to run into 2025.”

Earlier this month, The Irish Times published an investigation detailing a contract between ITS and Russian-backed general Haftar to train a special forces unit for his Libyan National Army in apparent contravention of EU and UN arms embargoes on the country.

The activity was condemned by Martin and referred to gardaí for investigation to determine if a criminal offence had been committed.

Martin is understood to be examining new regulations to prevent serving and former Defence Forces troops providing security services in regions subject to sanctions.

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In the Dáil, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys will kick proceedings off by answering questions on her brief at 9am. This will be followed by questions to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue. Leaders’ Questions are up at noon. Topical Issues are up at 5.35pm and the Dáil adjourns at 7.38pm.

The Seanad is not sitting today.

In the committee rooms, the Public Accounts Committee meets at 9.30am and will hear financial statements from Inland Fisheries Ireland. The Seanad Public Consultation Committee will meet at 10.30am and will discuss the future of local democracy. The Joint Committee on Public Petitions will meet at 1pm and will discuss the Kiltimagh Water Scheme among other issues.

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