First things first: the people who live in an area, and who very often have roots in that locality going back generations, absolutely have a right to be part of the decision making regarding what happens in their own community.
When local people are ignored – their fears and concerns dismissed, their genuine questions unanswered – they also have the right to protest and be heard.
The bullying and name-calling directed at the people of Inch this week, very often by people who are mostly concerned with signalling their own virtue by piling opprobrium on others, has been appalling.
Like a scene from Fr Ted, the usual suspects and their hangers-on, are busy hurling about accusations of racism and acting as if local people holding an entirely peaceful protest are carrying out the crime of the century.
The politicians whose reckless arrogance in announcing to the world that Ireland was setting no cap on asylum numbers caused this crisis are now telling people in Clare and elsewhere that their opposition to having busloads of strangers imposed on them overnight without consultation is “entirely unacceptable”.
The people of Inch should take heart from the fact that most of the public are in agreement with them that the government’s immigration policy has become an unmitigated disaster.
How could they have any other view when the same politicians who castigate locals in East Wall or Inch for perfectly legitimate protests are the ones responsible for homeless migrants sleeping in tents in Dublin City Centre?
As I have pointed out repeatedly, the pretence that Ireland can accept an unlimited number of refugees is also tremendously unfair to the people coming here who have been led to believe that housing and services can be endlessly provided in a country which seems to be rapidly coming apart at the seams.
So while Roderic O’Gorman gets to feel good about himself at meetings of the United Nations, ordinary people in Clare and elsewhere – who haven’t the privilege of an enormous Minister’s salary – can’t find a house to rent and now find the already backed-up health service is being further pressed by thousands of new arrivals, who are all entitled to a medical card.
Opinion polls show the public are at odds with the government’s stance on the crisis – and at odds with the smug tweeters who are so quick to condemn ordinary working people for their concerns as they tweet abuse from the safety of their leafy suburbs; suburbs from which migrant centres are so strangely absent.
A recent Irish Times poll showed that a whopping 84% of respondents agreed that “there is a limit to the number of asylum seekers and refugees Ireland can cope with”.
That puts a huge majority of people in opposition to the sheer madness of the current policy – which is staunchly supported by both government and opposition with some notable exceptions – that Ireland cannot and will not place a cap on the number of refugees.
Another 60% polled expressed concern that “too many asylum seekers and refugees might come to Ireland”.
And that was before photographs of refugees and migrants in tents began to appear in the news, and before the full extent was understood of the devastation caused to Irish tourism by filling vast quantities of hotel and guesthouse beds with migrants.
Of course, a key point here is the very important distinction between actual refugees and economic migrants. While the ‘fact-checkers’ in the Journal might tell you that anyone who comes here and claims international protection is an asylum seeker by virtue of making that claim, that’s nowhere near the full story.
An asylum seeker is a person who makes a claim for international protection – so anyone, including an economic migrant, can make that claim and enter the system.
The media usually describes everyone seeking asylum as ‘refugees’ – that is incorrect. A refugee is someone whose asylum claim has been accepted.
In the absurdly slow system in Ireland, delayed further by endless appeals facilitated by the taxpayer-funded NGO complex, migrants who claim to be seeking asylum can be here in the system for years.
The reality is that the April figures from the International Protection Office showed, yet again, that huge numbers of those arriving here are coming, not from war-torn zones like Ukraine, but from countries like Georgia, Nigeria and Algeria.
The percentage of claims for asylum which are rejected vary over the years, with a 90% rejection claim reported in 2016, and the International Protection Appeals Tribunal reporting an 80% rejection rate in 2017 and 61% in 2022 – though the Tribunal said that 84% of claims for asylum by Algerians were rejected on appeal, as were 75% of asylum claims made by arrivals from Georgia, and 74% of claims by Albanians.
Michéal Martin has acknowledged the asylum process was “being abused in some instances”, yet local communities are meant to simply accept the result of that failure being landed on their doorstep.
So when the people of Inch say they have no issue with Ukrainians, but they don’t want other migrants moved into their local hotel, they are not being racist, they are recognising the reality that a great many of the newcomers are actually more likely to be economic migrants, not refugees.
This is actually borne out by many of the interviews conducted by the media this week, who interviewed men from South Africa and Brazil and Algeria who said they came here to make a better life.
That’s the definition of an economic migrant – and if the authorities are saying that no cap should exist in those applications, that opens a vista of millions of people believing they can come here to be housed and provided for while their applications go through the inexplicably slow system here.
And, yes, for local communities, there are other issues at play. Most of the Ukrainians arriving are women and children, while all of those being bussed into Inch and Santry are men. That matters to local people, however much the political class might preach about acceptance from their gated communities.
The notion that not a single criminal or dangerous person is coming here amongst the huge numbers now arriving – with thousands of them ‘losing’ or destroying their passports on the plane so that we actually have no idea who they are – is absurd, and evidence to the contrary is regularly being seen in the criminal courts.
We can recognise the validity of the law of averages, while also acknowledging that many migrants are decent and hard-working people. But instead of an open and honest debate on this issue, as on many others, the establishment only wants one narrative and one point of view, and any who asks questions is demonised.
To the shame of the liberal left and their allies in the media, they have tried to frame the objections of local people in Inch as ‘racism’. It’s not. It’s realism.
Clare, like much of rural Ireland, has been shamefully abandoned over the years by successive governments – its hospital closed, its industry unsupported, its young people emigrating “in droves”.
Meanwhile, as the people of Inch continue their protest, 77 more asylum seekers are to be placed in the Lakelands Hotel in Scariff.
Figures from the Department of Integration show that counties like Clare, Kerry and Donegal – all areas which are suffering from years of lack of investment and rural depopulation – have taken hugely disproportionate number of refugees and migrants, with almost 4,500 housed in Clare alone at the beginning of this year.
Locals have said that they want fair play and they have rightly demanded that Leo Varadkar apologise for the remarks he made to RTE that could be interpreted as saying the protesters were racists.
The almost unbelievable arrogance of politicians on this issue – epitomised by Leo Varadkar telling people they could have no veto on busloads of strange men being sent to live in small villages – is what is actually ‘entirely unacceptable’.
It is the most naked form of elitism and its happening in plain sight: the people won’t even be consulted, the government’s reasoning goes, because its likely they won’t agree. Therefore they will just have to accept what’s being imposed on their communities or be labelled as racist.
This country belongs to the people of Ireland. The only time we had a national vote of sorts on immigration was the 2004 referendum when almost 80% of people voted for a restrictive measure.
The Ireland Thinks survey in February of this year showed a big jump in the number of people concerned about immigration, with a majority also believing that the media is biased on the issue against those expressing concern.
Yet, while the government condemns local people, Sinn Féin, who also support the idea of unlimited numbers of asylum claimants, sit quietly on the sidelines, carefully keeping their polices out of public view.
It is obvious that we now urgently need a cap on asylum seekers – and resources put into the asylum system so that applications are processed and those who are found to be bogus are sent home.
As protests continue in Santry, Inch, and elsewhere, Roderic O’Gorman and the rest of the Cabinet would do well to remember that in a democratic republic it is the people who are actually in charge.