I joined Newstalk just over five years ago, and one of the main issues that has come up time and time again when I’ve been reporting is immigration.
For the last few years, in different parts of the country, pockets of people have been protesting and raising concerns about asylum seekers and refugees being moved into hotels, B&Bs, empty apartment blocks or vacant buildings in towns and villages – at times without any Government consultation.
People told me they have concerns because they do not know where these asylum seekers - often mostly men - are coming from.
They have also raised concerns that their village or town does not have the facilities for such an influx of people coming into their area.
The response has been to simply ignore these concerns and brand anyone who raises them as ‘far right’ – but only recently, the Taoiseach himself said the State’s approach to accommodating refugees and asylum seekers must change.
Leo Varadkar told the Dail that there is a limit on Ireland's capacity to provide for people fleeing the war in Ukraine and international protection applicants, adding that, “we’re very much at that currently”.
The Taoiseach also said the Government did not know if it would be in a position to provide accommodation supports for another 50,000 people, “if that number arrived over the course of the next year”.
He was simply echoing what many people have been saying for over a year.
The Government has admitted there’s an issue, but as of yet it’s unknown how they are going to address it.
And anyway, can all these hundreds of people in counties Donegal, Leitrim, Galway, Clare, Westmeath, Kerry, Wicklow, Wexford, Kildare and parts of Dublin who have protested about immigration all be branded far-right racist fascists?
I’ve been to all of these counties and I did something that I don’t think many other people in the media have done – I listened to their concerns.
Some of the things people said were sometimes misinformed, but they certainly were not right-wing fascists.
For the most part, it was people who had suddenly found out that dozens of male asylum seekers were moving into an empty hotel or building next to their homes, and they were told absolutely nothing about what was going on.
Since the start of the year, a total of 11,739 international protection applications have been made in Ireland.
Meanwhile, 13,600 international protection applications were made here last year – a 415% rise on 2021.
Since the war in Ukraine broke out, meanwhile, Ireland has also taken in around 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.
In fact, the rate of increase of Ukrainians arriving in Ireland over the past 12 months was 10 times higher than the average increase in numbers fleeing to the EU from Ukraine over the same period.
This is not sustainable.
Meanwhile, figures from the Department of Justice show that 77% of those claiming asylum in 2023 to date did so by turning up at the International Protection Office, instead of at the airports or at a port or elsewhere.
Surely people have a right to question this?
Why are so many international protection applicants who come to Ireland bypassing immigration at Dublin Airport or travelling to the International Protection Office on Mount Street in the capital via Northern Ireland?
Over the last few months, I’ve met and spoken to many asylum seekers living in Direct Provision centres who openly told me that they lived in the UK or Germany for years before coming to Ireland to claim international protection.
They know the system is broken, that’s why they came here.
I’ve spoken to a number of Direct Provision Centre managers who say that the system is being played and many of their residents are not genuine; they were rejected for asylum in another country and they came to Ireland because they know it’s easy to get in.
Once they are here, the likelihood of them ever being deported is slim to none. These are people who work in the system and they also say it’s broken.
Having an almost open-door system where almost no one is deported, again, is unsustainable.
Consultation on immigration
On top of that, many asylum seekers are moved into different towns or villages in the dark of the night with little consultation with locals.
We can point the finger at far-right agitators and blame them for ramping up people’s fears, but the government are allowing this to happen by not engaging with communities – and it’s been going on for years.
Our immigration system is broken and unsustainable, it has been for quite some time, and to be quite frank, this Government has done and is doing very little about it.
The longer the Government ignores people's concerns, the chance of a viable right-wing party becoming an election option here becomes more and more likely.
I don’t know who or what that party may look like, but Ireland isn’t any different to other European countries.
Just look at recent elections in Sweden, Finland, Italy and the Netherlands - Ireland is not immune to this.
Geert Wilders used to be seen as a pariah in the Netherlands - and still is by some - but now he’s leading the biggest party in the country.
Dutch people voted for the extreme right-wing Party of Freedom because their immigration concerns were constantly ignored.
Why could the same not happen here?
I’ve spent the last number of weeks covering politics in Leinster House and every TD I speak to tells me the same thing - the number one issue being raised with them locally is immigration.
Meanwhile, recent opinion polls here show 75% of people here think Ireland is taking in too many refugees.
Our politicians know this is a burning issue.
Immigration needs to be debated openly and free of misinformation.
Engaging in thoughtful discussions on immigration management, with the goal of ensuring a sustainable and mutually beneficial future in Ireland, does not automatically align with far-right ideologies. Given the challenges faced in areas such as housing and healthcare, it is…
— Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri (@DrUmarAlQadri) November 29, 2023
The Chief Imam of the Islamic Centre of Ireland, Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri this morning tweeted ‘Engaging in thoughtful discussions on immigration management, with the goal of ensuring a sustainable and mutually beneficial future in Ireland, does not automatically align with far-right ideologies.
Given the challenges faced in areas such as housing and healthcare, it is prudent to address this topic and prevent its exploitation by radical right-wing groups’.
He’s 100% correct.
People’s concerns need to be addressed, because if the Government and the opposition - I have no idea what Sinn Féin's immigration policy actually is - do not address these concerns, then they’re going to create a vacuum.
They will create an opportunity for a right-wing party to emerge here and make electoral gains - because you can only ignore people's concerns for so long.