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Irish Politicians, and the Emperor’s New Ukrainian Refugees.

The Irish education system is not perfect, but it does, to its credit, give most of us a basic grounding in mathematics. The average person instinctively understands that if you have 2000 spare beds, and 200,000 refugees needing a bed, then your options are to either squeeze 100 people into each bed, or, in the alternative, leave a lot of people with no beds at all.

It did not take a genius, then, to understand that the Irish Government’s announced plans to take 100,000, or 200,000, Ukrainian refugees were never viable. Indeed, the pretence has lasted, well, just under a month:

The State’s capacity to house Ukrainian refugees is nearing exhaustion with a shortage of beds anticipated by the end of this week and as many as 10,000 people having no accommodation at all by the end of the month, the Cabinet has been secretly warned.

Ministers were told on Tuesday that with 580 refugees arriving per day, around 5,000 additional beds will be needed by Easter to meet demand. This will be on top of those already identified across hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses, State facilities and from people who have pledged vacant homes and rooms.

The interesting thing about this story is not, really, the unfolding disaster. Yes, we are going to have thousands of people, fleeing a terrible war, with nowhere to stay. But that tragedy was baked in from the day the Irish Government made a commitment that it could never hope to meet.

No, the interesting thing is how that commitment came to be made, and how hardly anybody – outside this publication, and a few lone voices on social media – dared to say “hang on a minute”.

My own theory is that the largest single culprit for poor policy decisions in Ireland is a large scale, institutional, fear of speaking out. Put simply, nobody wanted to be the respectable fellow – or lady – to say “we cannot do this” because there is always the risk in Ireland that saying something like that, when it relates to something like immigration or refugees, will get you tarred as one of those racists.

Leinster House is not full of stupid people. Many of our politicians are very clever. In their hearts, almost all of them will have known that the idea that Ireland could accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees in a very short period was not realistic. But they will also have known that to say “we cannot accommodate these people” would have drawn suspicious glances – or worse. And so, as so often in Ireland, the safest thing to do, all around, was to keep your mouth shut.

We now have a situation where the problems are more widespread than they even appear. Gript, for example, has had multiple reports of families who have agreed to accommodate a refugee family who now find that they and their guests are fundamentally mismatched. These people now find themselves living with people for the foreseeable future with whom they simply can’t get on. A situation, by the way, which is as tragic for the Ukrainian refugees as it is for their hosts. The Government will, and can, offer them no aid.

The scramble to find hotel rooms and hostels and abandoned houses and so on is well underway. It will, of course, soon run into a natural brick wall. We simply do not have enough beds. And, it is reasonable to assume, we have already reached the peak of ordinary citizens who are willing to offer spare rooms.

All the time, the refugees keep coming, and nobody in Government has the heart to say “we’re full”.

But saying “we’re full” is not an anti-Ukrainian thing. Why on earth would we want to invite people into our country and leave them with nowhere comfortable or safe to sleep? That is not compassion, but a form of cruelty designed primarily to make politicians feel more virtuous about themselves.

The United States – a country so much bigger than Ireland as to be barely comprehensible – has agreed to take 100,000 Ukrainians. It could, in truth, take many more. Perhaps, in time, it will. But at least for now, it is delivering on what it offered, and keeping its promise. Ireland will not be able to do that.

What we have here in Ireland – as we have on issue after issue – is a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The policy is a terrible mistake which will place unsustainable strains on our infrastructure, capacity, resources, and national patience and generosity. It will foster resentments. It will create acres and acres of silent suffering by people who made an offer from genuine compassion and will now find themselves abandoned by Government. It may well place innocent Ukrainians at risk of exploitation, with numbers so vast that it will be hard to track everybody.

Already, for example, Irish prostitution sites are seeing a surge in searches for “Ukrainian Women”. Wonderful:

Indeed, we are also already seeing large numbers of people who previously offered housing pulling out of the offer. Here is the Irish Times today:

Almost 3,000 offers of vacant accommodation for Ukrainian refugees have either been withdrawn or the property owner involved could not be contacted to make arrangements to take up the pledge.

The number is around 12 per cent of the 24,411 pledges made through the Irish Red Cross to date.

This might seem shocking, but it wouldn’t be a shock if you were reading Gript last month, when we noted:

this is not, of course, the first time such a scheme has been floated: Over 700 Irish people offered to take in Syrian refugees in 2014. By the time the wheat had been sorted from the chaff, that number fell to…. 44 usable accommodations.

The idea that 20,000 Irish people are going to be able to offer accommodation, therefore, is a fantasy, and a dangerous fantasy. It is abundantly clear that, once again in Ireland, the country is engaged in a headlong charge towards a group-thought solution, and writing cheques it will be unable to cash.

All in all this is a terrible policy. It is not even a terrible policy subjectively. It is a terrible policy which is obviously a terrible policy to all of us. And we are proceeding with it in large part, I think, because our politicians, journalists, and leading lights are all afraid to be seen to oppose it, lest someone think that they are less than sound on the refugee question in general.

Perhaps there is another reason. If there is, then, by all means write to us, and let us know what you think it is.

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