By Rebecca Black, PA
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has called for public anger to be directed at the Government instead of refugees.
She was speaking after a poll in the Irish Independent found that 56 per cent of the public believe Ireland has taken in too many refugees in the past year, while 30 per cent disagreed and 14 per cent were unsure.
Protests have been held in Waterford, Cork and areas of Dublin in recent weeks where refugees or asylum seekers have been accommodated.
Gardaí are also investigating an alleged assault at a campsite in Ashtown, Dublin, where migrants had been living for months and a suspected arson attack on a disused school in Dublin that had been rumoured to be used for migrants.
RTÉ radio’s This Week programme obtained figures showing the number of staff working on processing asylum appeals fell by 8 per cent in 2019 despite a significant surge in applications and a backlog of hundreds of cases.
According to the figures, obtained from the Department of Justice, there are 850 appeals cases pending before the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT), and just 46 staff working with the tribunal.
Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Minister of State Pippa Hackett said space could be found for 76,000 more refugees, insisting: “We have a lot of space in Ireland.”
She said Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman has written to colleagues asking for help identifying empty building, and an all-of-Government approach.
“I believe they really will pull out all the stops here now, this is a crisis,” she said.
Ms McDonald blamed a “very small fringe” for whipping up anger against refugees, adding that it should be directed against the Government.
“We have a situation where the Government have really handled so many situations so badly, we’ve had a housing emergency for many years, lots of people across Irish society have direct experience of this crisis, they’re living in overcrowded circumstances, they’re paying exorbitant rents, if they can get a place to rent, and they have had Government inaction,” she told RTÉ radio’s The Week.
“There is huge frustration and anger, actually, I think sometimes people haven’t been angry enough with Government on that issue.
“Therein lies the kernel of the issue. I understand all of the frustration, I understand all of the anger, and I know for sure that anger needs to be directed at those in power, those that have the capacity to change things for people.
“It is really a matter of concern that a small group – and I think we need to be careful in understanding that it is a small group of very, very nasty individuals, who are trying to foment this view of aggression and negativity towards people who are weak, who have very few resources.
“The Irish instinct fundamentally is an instinct of decency, Irish people are decent, Irish people are welcoming, but I also know that people have struggled long and hard for years with a Government that has failed rural communities, left town after town without services, without opportunities, and an inability to source accommodation, and that has driven righteous, correct anger.
“There is a move by a small number of people to exploit that and direct that at the wrong people.
“We need a Government with a plan for housing, social development and regeneration, and we also need to have a clearheaded view from Irish people in apportioning blame where it rightly lies, and it does not lay at the feet of any refugee, anybody seeking asylum in this country.”