Mr O’Brien also acknowledged that communication “could have been better in many cases”. He said 150 emergency accommodation centres had been opened since January last year and the majority of them have worked well, and communities have accepted them.
“Some have said here that there’s no communication with communities by Government. That’s not wholly true, I expect it could be better,” he said.
Mr O’Brien said the Government didn’t want to share “the full information about an accommodation centre until we know that it’s actually coming online”.
He said when a contract was signed with a provider, information is finalised and it was at that stage local TDs were emailed with that information.
“The problem arises with the situation that we have at the moment that we have a centre that’s ready to go. We have 200-300 people who are unaccommodated and the timeline between the two of them needs to be tight,” he said.
“We would like it to be longer in some cases. We have had a decent lead-in time of a few weeks, it hasn’t happened properly in other cases and that’s why to some extent, the communication hasn’t been great.”
Mr O’Brien said the reality was there was also “bad faith actors seeking to infiltrate communities and prey on people’s fear of the unknown”.
“These actors are intent on sowing division and hatred in communities,” he said. “The vast majority of communities have been resolute in not accepting this hateful rhetoric and dangerous actions that emanate from such rhetoric.
“However, while it is of course incumbent on us in Government to do what we can to prevent and escalate tensions in our communities, I must emphasise that leadership must be shown by all of us.”
The junior minister added the Government was committed to the White Paper on Direct Provision but it had taken a setback over the last year.
“The structures have been put in place to start that process,” he said.
Mr O’Brien said he wanted to express solidarity with other members of the Oireachtas, who were either personally or members of their families, threatened or harassed “because of standing up for what is right”.
Minister of State for Community Development, Integration & Charities Joe O’Brien is last up on statements. Mr O’Brien said his department is continuing to proactively secure shelter when it comes to accommodating those fleeing war from Ukraine and international protection applicants.
The Green Party TD said it has been extremely challenging to adapt existing systems to help meet the needs of those people arriving in Ireland in a vulnerable position and needing supports.
“The Government acknowledges that elements of the response have been imperfect, the same is true of countries across Europe,” he said.
Independent TD Joan Collins said there were 250 asylum seekers living on the streets now according to the Taoiseach. Ms Collins said Ireland was one of the wealthiest countries in the world and it was totally unacceptable to have any asylum seeker living on the street.
The Dublin South Central TD called for public housing to be built on public land and asked when modular homes would be built.
Independent TD Thomas Pringle said he wanted to use the opportunity to urge the public to not let the far-right use them. The Donegal TD said he had heard of community groups being established under the pretence of protecting the community.
Mr Pringle said Ireland’s population had not reached pre-Famine levels and there was “room for everyone in this country and plenty more”.
Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart said the State’s over reliance on hospitality and hotels had to end.
Mr Lahart said Citywest had become a hub but that it could not go on indefinitely and there had to be a formal hub established by the State.
The Dublin South-West TD said there had been a loss to the economy of south Dublin due to the use of Citywest in terms of jobs and employment.
Independent TD Michael Collins said the gates had been opened “too far” with people sleeping rough on the streets now.
Independent TD Danny Healy Rae said there had been an additional 400 people in Killarney, Co Killarney “without one extra doctor”.
The Kerry TD said the Government had to call a halt until there was sufficient accommodation and services for asylum seekers.
Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane said Ballaghaderreen was the one of most economically deprived towns in Co Roscommon.
She said the town had seen an increase from 2017 onwards of about 400 refugees and internal protection applicants and had gotten “zero supports” from the Government. She said this was not fair and rural towns were frustrated they were not getting resources.
Ms Kerrane said there had to be a cross departmental approach from Government to avoid anger and frustration among such communities.
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said not one modular home was in place today despite promises from the Government last year that 500 would be by October 2022.
He said there were cases where asylum seekers and displaced Ukrainians were settling well into communities and integrating well, but were often uprooted to elsewhere which was illogical.
Mr Tóibín said the State had domestic as well as international responsibilities.
Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly said the Government had pledged to end direct provision but instead numbers had risen.
She said communities were looking for information not a “veto”, and there were some people seeking to sow division when such an information vacuum arose.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Government had set asylum seekers and refugees up for much of the targeting they had experienced by the way they had treated them.
The Dún Laoghaire TD said the State had to recognise its failures and put resources and support into communities to allow integration to happen successfully.
Mr Boyd Barrett said there wouldn’t be so much space given to the far-right if the country didn’t have such a severe housing crisis.
Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy said he wanted Minister O’Gorman to double-check that contracts between hoteliers and providers with the State were not being under-utilised.
“When I say that I mean that no hotelier or private occupier out there, who are getting paid for rooms, that are not being used,” he said.
“I would have a worry and a concern that there could be instances of that and that’s something that needs to be addressed.”
Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said Minister O’Gorman, “one minister, one department”, had been left with the sole responsibility of accommodating asylum seekers.
“I know the Taoiseach is eager to say there is a whole of Government response, but there’s no evidence of that,” she said.
“While I acknowledge the distinct pressures the minister is facing, that can’t justify asylum seekers being left to fend for themselves on the streets.
“Given no alternatives, people had to pitch tents outside the international protection accommodation services and then in a truly disgusting scene, a small group attacked the camp less than two weeks ago.
“The Government has failed in its duty to protect these people.”
Ms McDonald said she wanted to bring “a bit of a reality check to this discussion”. She said any form of racism had to be called out, “but we also need to understand that finger pointing or ignoring communities that have been left behind, communities that are also under pressure, isn’t part of the mix of an Irish welcome”.
“We need to listen, we need to hear, we need to meet, we need to share information, give assurances and when the assurances are given Government needs to be as good as its word,” she said.
The Sinn Féin leader said members of the East Wall resident’s association were in the public gallery and had been looking to meet Mr O’Gorman for quite some time.
Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald has said all forms of bigotry, racism, xenophobia, intimidation and abuse should be condemned.
Ms McDonald said there had been no acknowledgment in the minister’s speeches of the things that Government had gotten wrong - in particular around communication and consultation with communities.
“You have to talk to people, you have to give them notice,” she said. The Dublin Central TD said she welcomed the €50 million community recognition fund announced recently but that the country was months into this crisis.
“Who thought for a second that you could simply grow populations in neighbourhoods or villages and towns and not frontload community support and investment,” she said.
“That was simply wrong and it needs to be acknowledged. So I would say welcome to that funding and give you notice that more will be required undoubtedly.
“There’s been a lack of recognition of the pressure and access to services. In some of the areas that I represent, we have the lowest proportions of general practitioners in the State. You cannot see a doctor for love nor money.
“Now, the newcomers of course have to have access to medical care, we all want that but how does that work when the system is already under so much pressure and how does Government not see that and deal with that?”
Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins said accommodation was a massive challenge but those arriving into Ireland would help with the country’s other challenges, such as the hotel and construction industry’s staffing problems.
Ms Higgins said information was key to ensuring there was no vacuum and to prevent the spreading of misinformation.
Labour TD Duncan Smith said what was seen last week in terms of tents being burnt down in the south inner city was a turning point and one of the most despicable acts he had ever seen.
“There are no other words to describe it than a fascist act on Irish soil,” he said.
Mr Smith said the language used by TDs and Government needed to be backed up “by pushing back on this far-right on the streets”.
“We cannot allow facism to take hold,” he said. “We cannot allow the far-right spread misinformation and harness negative sentiment.”
Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said protesting outside where someone lives was wrong, whether it was outside someone’s home, outside a reception centre or a tent on a street. He said there was no justification under any circumstances for such activities.
Mr Ó Broin also said the stopping and blocking of buses was also wrong and the message needed to go out that such activities were not accepted.
He said while he defends the right of people to protest, if people were unhappy with the policies of Government or Opposition, protests should happen at the Dáil or Government Buildings or other locations.
Sinn Féin TD John Brady said violence and intimidation towards asylum seekers was totally unacceptable and cannot and should not be tolerated in any shape or form.
He said the intimidation witnessed recently against asylum seekers was wrong and must be condemned.
Mr Brady said the whole of Government had a hand in creating the “current mess”.
“The Government has failed vulnerable people. It has failed local communities and it has actually failed the gardaí,” he said.
The Sinn Féin TD said the only people who would appear to be satisfied with the Government’s performance was far-right groups “intent on creating chaos”.
He said while such groups were small, they should not be underestimated.
Mr Harris said he wanted to condemn far-right attacks and had met the Garda Commissioner in relation to the issue.
He said he was mindful of the threat posed by the far-right and that “we should not overstate the threat” but cannot and should not in any way, shape or form “tolerate it”.
Minister for Justice Simon Harris said the State was experiencing an unprecedented situation in relation to the accommodation requirements of those seeking protection which has posed significant challenges.
Mr Harris also said we live in a country where there are “a small number of bad actors on the far-right” who are travelling from community to community across the country “whipping up fear, preying on people’s fears” and weren’t there to represent the needs of communities.
The Fine Gael TD said they were there with criminal intent and to divide and weren’t looking out for the interests of local people in communities.
“They want to exploit these concerns for their own ends,” he said. “They use divisive rhetoric, they use misleading information and they target those people that have come to Ireland to seek protection.”
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the State needed to help new arrivals into Ireland, and they were people coming here seeking a better life for themselves and their families and many were fleeing conflict and persecution.
He said the Temporary Protection Directive was put in place many years ago, following the outbreak of conflict in the Balkans, and was intended as a mechanism for dealing with large scale movement of people displaced by such conflicts.
The invasion of Ukraine last year led to the activation of that directive and over the last 14 months, it has provided a useful framework to the EU and individual Governments, he said.
“For example, the activation of the directive enabled me, as minister with overall responsibility for planning matters, to introduce new regulations that facilitate the putting in place of reception and accommodation facilities on an emergency basis, temporarily setting aside certain the usual requirements of the planning system,” he said.
The minister said these regulations were the foundation of a number of aspects of the humanitarian response including his department’s refurbishment programme.
The objective of the Refurbishment Programme is to bring multi-occupancy buildings that are vacant back into use as accommodation.
“I think everyone here will agree that refurbishing and re-purposing older buildings to today’s standards is not always straightforward…Owners of private buildings can and do change their minds, withdrawing buildings from the refurbishment programme for whatever reason,” he said.
“Other buildings are not at all suitable and this can oftentimes only be found out once the building is under active consideration.”
Mr O’Gorman concluded his statement by stating that Ireland’s deep history of emigration “means we have an instinctive understanding of the plight of those seeking to make a better life elsewhere”.
He said his department would work to expand its communications and engagement efforts, as well as working with the Department of the Taoiseach on the cross-Government communications plan.
Mr O’Gorman also said his department and the Department of Taoiseach were working to expand capacity and improve community engagement.
“The reality is, however, that while that work is ongoing, we will continue to need to accommodate people at short notice,” he said.
“Whatever concerns may exist locally, I do not believe that a blockade of accommodation is appropriate. All that will achieve is to keep a vulnerable person on the streets longer.”
The Green Party TD said it had to be clear that masked men, filming and intimidating those going into and out of accommodation centres are not concerned locals.
“They are far right, peddling lies about vulnerable people in order to further their own particular agenda,” he said.
“This has been an increasing theme over the last six months. We’ve seen the emergence of an insidious thread of racism, xenophobia and unfounded rumours.
“There has been misinformation and outright lies spread on social media and in communities across the country.
“The vilification of men, in particular, who come here seeking international protection, some of these men who have been tortured, exploited and come here seeking refuge, denigrated as something other, something to be feared.”
Statements on the accommodation needs for new arrivals to Ireland have just begun in the Dáil on Tuesday afternoon.
Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman has said since February 2022, more than 85,000 people have fled to Ireland following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He said people were coming to Ireland seeking shelter and safety.
Mr O’Gorman said over the last year he has have held dozens of meetings with TDs, senators, councillors and community groups in relation to accommodation centres.
“I have heard concerns raised, and sought to work with local authorities and public representatives to address concerns where possible,” he said.
“We also have to honest about the challenges about engaging on issues like this. Where information has gone public prematurely, or indeed misinformation about the use of a buildings, accommodation providers have faced threats and in some cases arson.
“The nature of this crisis means that we do not always get to do the level of engagement we would like. The need to get vulnerable people off the streets and into accommodation dictates that moves have to happen faster than a full information campaign can. This is not ideal, but in a crisis, things are rarely ideal.”
Close watchers of politics will recall that a donation from businessman Michael Stone to Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe was not declared during the 2020 general election campaign, leading to some pressure on the Minister.
Mr Stone left his role as chairman of North East Inner City Implementation Board in the wake of those reports, but his replacement has a track record of success: Jim Gavin, the manager of the six-in-a-row Dublin All-Ireland-winning team.
In a story that is developing in Luxembourg but with major ramifications for the State, Apple, the European Commission and Ireland face off today in a court case related to a tax bill worth billions.
Dominic Coyle and Joe Brennan explain why it matters here.
Meanwhile from Cabinet, Jennifer Bray reports that plans to excavate the site of the former mother and baby institution in Tuam have moved a step closer after Ministers on Tuesday approved two key appointments.
Daniel Mac Sweeney, who worked for International Committee of the Red Cross including as a missing persons envoy in the Caucasus, was appointed the director who will oversee the excavation and exhumation, while Sheila Nunan, a former trade union leader, will lead negotiations with religious bodies.
It is expected that work will begin on exhuming remains at the site later this year.
Outside the chamber, committees are under way on Tuesday. At the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ireland’s cyber security chief is due to say ransomware attacks remain the “most pressing risk to services” despite advances in artificial intelligence.
Richard Browne, director of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) will, however, say that AI is “at least the single most important technological development since the internet, and it may well turn out to be more important that that”.
The NCSC will have guidance on AI available for public servants in the coming weeks.
Read the full report by Cormac McQuinn here.
Rural Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae raised the issue of planning permission and claimed the Government was preventing people from building their own homes.
The Kerry TD also said the Government had to do something about anonymous objectors. He said they should be charged between €500 to €2,000.
In response, Mr Varadkar said the number of new homes which started construction in April was 10 per cent higher than in April of 2022. He said house prices have been falling for the last six months in Dublin which was encouraging.
Mr Varadkar also spoke about the importance of the vacant home grant and encouraged people to take it up.
Independent TD Joan Collins has raised the issue of the State pension in the face of the cost of living crisis. She said the number of older people at risk of poverty rose by 55,000 last year.
Ms Collins said it was time to see a rise in the State pension.
In response, Mr Varadkar said there will be an increase in the weekly pension in the Budget but that “the exact amount has not been decided yet”.
He said older people in Ireland are less likely to be experiencing poverty than people of working age.
In response, Mr Varadkar too said he wanted to condemn such attacks. He said the State was facing a major refugee crisis, as was the rest of Europe.
Mr Varadkar said around 100,000 people had fled from abroad to Ireland and the State was “struggling” to deal with the situation.
The Taoiseach said €50 million of funding had been announced to help communities and there would possibly be a similar fund in a few months’ time.
He said in the vast majority of places communities had accepted newcomers but “things had fallen down in some places” and “we all need to do better in that regard”.
Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said she wanted to condemn the intimidation and aggression seen outside asylum seeker accommodation in recent weeks.
Ms Cairns said the scenes being witnessed were frightening and there were fears about it escalating. She said tropes about the dangers posed by people who “aren’t local” are now becoming alarmingly commonplace.
She said everyone in the Oireachtas had a responsibility to show leadership on the issue. Ms Cairns said there had to be communication between communities welcoming asylum seekers and the Government.
She said there was currently a void which was being filled with misinformation.
Ms McDonald asked the Taoiseach had he contacted retailers and what were the Government doing to end price gouging by the big food retailers.
She said what the Government was doing to confront energy companies and ensure that prices come down.
In response, Mr Varadkar said electricity prices had gone up over the past year but that the Government had taken action.
He said there had been energy credits for households, a reduction in VAT on electricity and gas, taken a special dividend off the ESB, approved the extension of the TBESS scheme for businesses and there was a windfall tax being developed.
He said ministers Simon Coveney and Neale Nichmond were taking the lead in relation to food prices and Mr Coveney would meet the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) over the coming days.
Leaders’ Questions have just begun in the Dáil on Tuesday afternoon, where Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has brought up the latest CSO report on wholesale electricity costs.
The Dublin Central TD said wholesale costs fell by 57 per cent while bills have “soared” by 63 per cent since March 2022.
She said it was very clear from the report that savings were not being passed on to customers. Ms McDonald said not one energy company had reduced their prices.