By Ruadhan Jones
The Government’s handling of refugees and asylum seekers* is “a national shame”, a candidate standing for Ireland’s newest political party has said.
Speaking exclusively to TheCity.ie, Aontú candidate for Cork North-West Becky Kealy said: “These are people who have had to flee their own countries, but their cases aren’t being dealt with in a timely fashion.
“The Government welcomed them with open arms, but never provided the resources they needed.
“I know of people who have spent six years in Direct Provision, with appalling services.”
She added that “protests, fear, and hatred’ linked to far-right sentiment arise when the Government fails to consult with locals in areas where refugees and migrants settle.
Aontú was established just over a year ago by former Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóbín.
The new party stresses Ireland’s responsibility to refugees and migrants – and calls for fairer management of numbers entering the country.
But Tóbín was criticised for remarking at Aontú’s April 2019 launch that immigration “needs to be managed”.
The party leader said at the time:
“There is no doubt there is a growing unease and concern among many people in Ireland around the issue of immigration.
“Our view is very simple: there needs to be sustainable levels of immigration in this country. It needs to be managed.”
He was swiftly criticised by Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty for “courting that area” for electoral support. Doherty added:
“He is no fool. He knew exactly what he was doing.”
Tóbín had quit Sinn Féin in November 2018 after clashing with the party over its decision to support the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
He’d been an SF member for 21 years and left “with a heavy heart”.
In its election manifesto, Aontú identifies two kinds of immigration – refugees and migrants.
The party promises to shelter refugees “fleeing war, violence or hunger…in line with international law and moral obligation. Anything less would reduce who we are as a people”.
They also highlight a need to take “climate degradation” and “climate change” into account.
“Climate degradation is resulting in many people not being able to grow their own food due to drought, loss of soil fertility, polluted drinking water and dead zones in the sea,” Aontú’s manifesto says.
“Shortages in food due to climate change have fuelled war and regime changes throughout the developing world,” it adds.
According to figures from Ireland’s Department of Justice, 70 million people have been forcibly displaced globally.
In December 2019, Ireland pledged to accept 2,900 people between 2020 and 2023 under the the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP).
However, the Jesuit Refugee Service of Ireland said the State needed to accept an additional 1,500 people per year from 2020 to 2022 – in order to meet the UN’s global resettlement needs.
Under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP), 2015-2019, Ireland promised to take on 4,000 refugees by the end of 2019 – but fell short by around 800.
According to the Asylum Information Database, Ireland currently houses 6,355 asylum in Direct Provision – though the contracted capacity for the centres is 6,209.
A further 936 people “are living in temporary accommodation like B&Bs and hostels”, says Nick Henderson, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council.
Becky Kealy also stressed the need for improved infrastructure if Ireland is to take on increased levels of migration.
The election candidate told TheCity.ie: “We’re well able to provide refuge, but we’re not providing new homes or schools, and the health system is in a crisis already.
“How are we to cope given the services and resources in place?
“There’s no point bringing in a surplus when we don’t even have the resources to take care of our own.’
She added that far-right sentiment arises due to lack of consultation by the Government with locals in areas where refugees and migrants settle.
Kealy said: “Immigrants have so much knowledge and information to share.
“We can learn from them and they can learn from us.
Meanwhile, Tóbín said his party will invest €2.2billion to build 10,000 social homes every year.
Aontú calls for a sustainable immigration policy, one which balances “population growth and the necessary infrastructural development”.
“Some people blame immigrants for the scarcity of resources when in truth it is the inept and wasteful policies of this government,” their manifesto says.
“A sustainable migration plan should have broad democratic support after being discussed honestly and informed by the opinion of genuine experts,” it adds.
Aontú says it wants to achieve a “reasonable and fair management of numbers entering our country”.
To do this it will seek to use “mechanisms such as the European Parliament and Council Directive 2004/38/EC”.
This directive relates to migrants from within the EU, confirming their right to freedom of movement while allowing the host member state to determine issues such as the granting of “social assistance”.
*According to the UNHCR, refugees are those ‘forced to flee their homes due to armed conflict, human rights violations and persecution and are in need of international protection,’ while migrants ‘are those who choose to move…for a variety of socio-economic reasons.’
Refugees do not travel in search of economic opportunity but to escape war, persecution, death, torture and rape. They are entitled to the protection and assistance of other states under international law, and under shared principles of human decency.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees