Jackie Cahill TD with the Taoiseach, Credit: Jackie Cahill, Facebook

FF TD: Ireland has “reached the limit” on refugees, can take no more

This strikes me as the classic “speak out for the people at home, stay quiet once you get back to Dublin” statement from Fianna Fáil TD (and my own local representative) Jackie Cahill:

A Tipperary TD accepts that we may have reached the limit for now when it comes to taking in Ukrainian refugees….

…The Thurles Deputy said the government has to accept that extra people in an area demands extra resources.

“The resources have to be put in so that the people of the town won’t be at a disadvantage because of the amount of extra people from the Ukraine that are going to be in Thurles (when 60 modular units are built to house refugees).

“There’s only one school in Thurles with DEIS status – you know, you’re bringing in a lot of children that won’t have English and will be attending those schools.

“And the same, we’ve a problem in Thurles as regards sourcing GPs. This is going to have to be recognised by the HSE that here we have extra people – there has to be extra resources in place.”

A good question to ask a backbench TD, when they criticise Government policy, is “what are you going to do about it?”. The answer is usually “nothing”.

More precisely, the answer is usually that they will raise your concerns with the Minister or the Government. These concerns are rarely, if ever, raised on the floor of the Dáil, where they might be construed as disloyalty. Certainly, it is almost unthinkable for a Government TD who opposes a Government policy to vote against that policy in the Oireachtas, for fear that they might lose the party whip and be cast into the outer darkness. So, when Jackie Cahill says, or indicates, that he opposes a policy, that does not mean that he opposes it in any meaningful way. At most, it means, he might complain to the Minister responsible privately.

The scenes in East Wall over the weekend, set to be repeated later today, should put to bed any enduring notion that the public discontent over the migrant crisis is confined to some fringe on the “far right”, which has been the stock excuse for writing off public discontent for half a decade now. Perhaps for the first time in living memory, immigration is now a live political issue, and politicians are going to have to figure out some response to it.

Indeed, Cahill himself was responding to a notable intervention in the debate by endochrinologist, Dr. Mary Ryan:

She was strong in her view that until we can manage what we have there needs to be a pause on the numbers of Ukrainian refugees we accept.

Dr.Ryan believes many people in the medical field are of this view but afraid to say it:

“We are welcoming the refugees and we are very good to them, all I am saying is we need to take a breather and do the helicopter view on what we have at the moment and how we can look after all those citizens Irish, Ukrainians, Syrians all of those who have come in, in the proper manner. We are already so far behind before we start taking more in. I didn’t agree with Michael Martin when he was saying they can keep coming, I can see services stretched I am the Doctor I can see this.”

Speaking to Tipp Today she said Doctors on the ground can see there is no more capacity with many services already in need of additional resources.

The problem is that the stock responses developed over the years when immigration was a sort of fringe political issue won’t cut it: Those responses have always been some variant of 1) we have to do this for moral reasons and 2) we have to do it because the EU makes us do it and 3) Irish people are actually overwhelmingly in favour of immigration anyway. The first two were always untrue, but the third meant that this didn’t matter. It does now.

In terms of the moral argument the Government still has some strength as it relates to Ukrainian refugees, but this strength is rapidly ebbing: The number of Ukrainians here is enormous already, and it is difficult to see how additional Ukrainians could only be arriving here now, nine months after the war started. Many of those that are coming must, as a matter of fact, be arriving not from Ukraine but from other EU countries, who have their own responsibilities which, clearly, they are not upholding.

Then there is the matter of non-Ukrainian migration, which has surged in 2022.

Frankly, it is difficult to construct any moral argument that any country, at any time, has any sort of moral duty to accept economic migrants. Accepting such migrants in the first instance gives their home countries a free pass, because it means that the country they migrate to bears the consequence of their own, substandard, economic policy.

Ireland has already been, for many years, much more accommodating of refugees than other EU countries. Our refusal rates for asylum seekers are vastly lower than the EU average, which may well be driving the additional numbers. Our legal system is so exhaustive that even a denied applicant can end up staying here almost indefinitely. In other words, Ireland might be the best country in Europe in which to apply for asylum.

The equation at this stage is very simple: Ireland cannot accommodate migrants at the rate at which they are arriving. We lack the houses. We lack the school places. We lack the hospital capacity. We lack the hotel rooms. We are now repurposing delapidated office blocks, which adds even more of a backlog to the housing crisis, as all those people join the already long queue for a roof of their own.

A Fianna Fáil TD mumbling on the radio that we have reached the limit, and then going back to Dublin to do nothing about it simply isn’t going to cut it any more.

The policy will have to change. Or, in time, the people will change the policymakers.

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