People have a right to protest – not to bully and intimidate people, the Housing Minister has told Newstalk Breakfast.
Darragh O’Brien was speaking after protests in parts of Dublin descended into racist chants this week – with people heard shouting things like ‘burn them out’ and ‘get them out’.
Meanwhile, the Taoiseach this week told Newstalk that an assault on a migrant camp in Dublin last weekend had the ‘the feel and look of a racist attack’.
Yesterday, Leo Varadkar said the scenes of racism in Dublin and elsewhere are “not acceptable and it is not the Irish way”.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Housing Minister O’Brien said some of the scenes in recent weeks have been ‘reprehensible’.
“First and foremost, what I saw in Finglas this week and what I have seen across the country with some of the protests has to be condemned outright,” he said.
“People have a right to protest and have their view, even if I don’t share their view.
“They don’t have a right to intimidate people. They don’t have a right to bully people. Some of the activity we have seen is reprehensible.”
'If they want to protest, protest outside the Dáil'
Minister O'Brien said the protests have been ‘hijacked’ by far-right agitators who don’t care about communities and are simply ‘hitching their wagon’ to the crisis.
He stopped short of calling for exclusion zones around asylum seeker accommodation – but urged protesters to take the rallies away from people’s homes.
“What I would say to people is that, regardless of one’s view on this, we have kids and we have families fleeing awful situations,” he said. “And you can imagine, if you put yourself in the mind of a child … 99% of your listeners get that.
“Those who are protesting need to have a think again about what they’re doing. If they want to protest, protest outside the Dáil.
“That is the place where most people do it – your message can be heard and it will be respected if it is done respectfully.
“We don’t need to agree with it and we are going to continue what we need to do as a country – and that is to help those that need our help.”
Minister O’Brien rejected the suggestion Government has ‘lost control of the situation’.
“I think, firstly, we’ve got to look at what we’ve been able to do as a country since last February or March,” he said.
“We have accommodated about 70,000 Ukrainians in this country through a mix of responses – private sector, refurbished buildings and various other things.
“So, the response, whilst not being perfect, I think by any fair assessment, has been very effective.”
He admitted that challenges remain – and it remains to be seen whether Russia will launch a spring offensive in Ukraine.
“Certainly, there have been bumps along the road on this,” he said. “We need to improve the response and we’ll continue to do that, but I would say we haven’t lost control of it – I would say that to people.
“The reason we haven’t is because Irish people and communities right across the county have been incredible in their response to this.
“They understand that these are people who are fleeing war and are facing a terrible situation not of their making – families and friends murdered and gone by Russian forces.”
Last week saw a rising number of newly arrived asylum seekers forced to sleep on the streets after the Citywest Reception Centre closed to new arrivals.
Recent polls have shown that nearly half the population is not happy with the Government's handling of the crisis – amid growing concern the situation is fuelling the rise of far-right violence and misinformation.
You can listen back to Minister O'Brien here:
Main image shows a split-screen of Darragh O’Brien and a protest at Finglas Garda Station.