The Government has made an appeal for large buildings for asylum seekers to stay on floors with sleeping bags and mattresses, amid a shortage of accommodation for those seeking international protection in Ireland.
Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman wrote to fellow ministers asking them to find “sports centres… conference facilities, arts centres, student leisure centres [and] any other large buildings that are deemed safe” in order to house refugees.
In the letter, seen by The Irish Times, he added: “What is needed are large halls where camp beds, mattresses, sleeping bags could be set out for people. The response to the ongoing migration crisis has entered an extremely difficult phase with no apparent accommodation at scale for international protection applicants available into the short term to medium term.”
“In order to minimise the possibility that those in need will be left without accommodation in the short to medium term, I am asking for your urgent assistance in sourcing, from your sector or stakeholders, any large building (capacity of 50-100 or greater) that can be utilised by my department immediately to shelter new arrivals in the immediate term,” Mr O’Gorman wrote.
However, the head of rural advocacy group Irish Rural Link has described Mr O’Gorman’s plea as “a sign of desperation”.
Seamus Boland told RTÉ Radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show that questions needed to be answered by the Minister, such as for how long would the buildings be required, how many did he think were available, and how many did he think were suitable?
Community halls were “the life blood” of rural communities, Mr Boland said, adding that trying to find buildings that were not in daily use is going to be difficult. If the building were not in regular use then there was probably a good reason, he warned.
The Minister needs to explain whether the buildings were required for the short or long term, and what planning was being put in place to make them suitable to provide accommodation, Mr Boland said.
Local communities needed to be consulted, he added: “You have to let people know. If you don’t tell people in advance then that’s how rumours spread.”
The appeal comes amid concerns amid a rise in anti-refugee protests nationwide, with fears that far-right elements are seeking to stoke tensions and encourage violence.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is extremely concerned about the rise of the far-right, adding that anti-refugee protests are “not the Irish way”.
Mr Varadkar said: “I’m very concerned about the rise of the far right and the rise of racism in Ireland. Refugees are welcome here.
“It’s important that we have robust systems in place to make sure that we welcome those who are genuinely fleeing war and oppression and return those who are not. I want people to be sure that that is what we will do.
“But the scenes that we’ve seen in recent days and in recent weeks really aren’t acceptable. It is not the Irish way.
“Irish people understand migration. All of our families have been shaped by it. We’ve been welcomed all around the world and in some parts of the world, we’ve been mistreated. As a country, we should know better.”