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Asylum issue polarising Ireland

5 February 20240 comments

The arrival of asylum seekers in Ireland has sparked a toxic political debate leading to protests and several alleged cases of arson at hotels earmarked as immigration accommodation.

Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has warned that someone will be killed if the arson attacks continue and that he expects arrests and charges in the coming weeks.

Mr Varadkar said in a democracy, no one has the right to block people moving into their community, as protests continue outside several buildings across the country earmarked for asylum seekers.

He has also strongly defended his Fine Gael government’s policies on refugees and asylum seekers. He said while there had been a “step-change” in the numbers coming into Ireland, creating substantial pressures on accommodation, Government policies were robust and the response of many communities had been incredible.

Police are investigating a recent blaze at a hotel in County Donegal, part of which is used to house asylum-seekers.

All occupants of the building were safely evacuated but a number had to be taken to hospital where they were treated for possible smoke inhalation.

Another incident saw a hotel in County Galway completely destroyed in an arson attack.

In yet another incident, protests have erupted in County Mayo outside a former hotel by locals who are against asylum seekers moving in.

The protests came as reports said 457 refugees, who have recently arrived in the country, have not been offered accommodation by the Irish Government. 

The Irish Refugee Council has expressed concerns over the high number of people who will have to sleep rough in freezing weather conditions this week.

Condemning arson attacks at sites across the country, Mr Varadkar said: “Arson is a very serious crime whatever political beliefs people may have, and people are entitled to their political beliefs but nobody has the right to damage or burn down somebody else’s property.

“I want to express my concern, people vandalising buildings, setting them alight, they can’t know for sure that there isn’t somebody in that building.”

“We also need to be very clear, nobody in a free society, nobody in a democracy has the right to veto or the right to exercise a veto on who moves into their area and that doesn’t just apply to international protection applicants,” Mr Varadkar said.

The series of blazes were at hotels that were designated or rumoured to be for use as accommodation for asylum seekers.

There have been almost 20 of these attacks since 2018, but about half of them occurred in 2023.

One of the arson cases saw two local councillors questioned by police and their homes searched.

Local conservative opposition party Fianna Fáil councillors Noel Thomas and Seamus Walsh confirmed they have been interviewed by police, one saying his phone was