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The Ukrainian refugee crisis is a national embarrassment and disgrace

Here are three simple statements of fact:

There are 101,000 Ukrainian refugees presently in France, a country with a population of 67million.

There are 130,000 Ukrainian refugees presently in Spain, a country with a population of 47million.

There are 58,000 Ukrainian refugees presently in Ireland, a country with a population of 5 million.

Ukrainian refugees in Ireland now make up more than 1% of our pre-war population. In France, just a tenth of one per cent. Per head of population, Ireland has welcomed more than ten times the ratio of Ukrainians to pre-war residents than France has.

Here are some more statements of fact.

The Irish Government at the start of this crisis said – promised, in fact – that it could accommodate up to 200,000 people. They urged people to offer rooms in their homes for that purpose. Thousands answered the call. And thousands of those, months later, have not received a call back. I have personally spoken to people who offered rooms in March, and have heard nothing beyond an acknowledgement of their offer.

The Irish Government is currently renting out one in every four hotel rooms in the country to cope with the demand for refugee accommodation.

The Minister for Children last week warned that Ukrainians may have to sleep rough, on our streets. In other words, we told people to come here on the promise of a bed, and are now saying sorry, see if you can find room in a doorway in Dublin.

Are these the actions of a decent country?

Yesterday, the Ukrainian ambassador criticised the Irish Government. She is well within her rights, though it will annoy some readers to say so. Here’s what she said. Tell me if you disagree with her:

“They bought tickets, they arrived in Ireland. So it would be better to announce the lack of accommodation in advance and Ukrainians would decide to go to another country,” she said.

The Ambassador there sounds like someone calling for the Government to set a limit on the number of refugees it can take, and stick to it. She’d want to be careful with such radical ideas, or soon enough there’ll be NGO types in Ireland calling her an anti-Ukrainian far right racist.

Ireland told the people of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Government that it could and would take up to 200,000 people. Ireland is also, by the by, one of the few countries in the west to have offered Ukraine no military assistance of any kind. Now, having promised 200,000 Ukrainians beds, the position is that the 61st thousandth Ukrainian must perhaps sleep rough, on our streets. Is Ukraine supposed to be grateful for this kind of aid?

A nationalist should be proud of a Government that keeps its word. Ireland has a Government whose mouth writes cheques its ass can’t cash.

I see normal Irish people every day now, claiming that the Ukrainians, by criticising this shitshow, are showing inappropriate gratitude. Really? For this mess? Who’s broken their promise here – because it isn’t the Ukrainians. It’s Ireland. That the promise should never have been made is obvious, but made it was. It’s a bit rich to get angry at the Ukrainians for expecting us to keep our word, is it not?

When asked about this situation, both by my colleague Ben Scallan, and journalists from other outlets, the response of Government Ministers has been to speak of Ireland’s international obligations, and to imply, if not outright state, that Ireland cannot turn people away for such a trifling reason as that we have no space for them here and that our Government is apparently too incompetent to avail of the space that has been offered. We must keep bring people here, even if it is to sleep rough.

Our EU obligations, you see.

All of which, I think, poses a question to which there can only be one of two answers. That question is “Are France and Spain in breach of their EU obligations, and, if so, why is the Irish Government silent on this?”

The two possible answers are as follows: The first answer is that no, France and Spain are not in breach of their obligations, it’s just that Ukrainian refugees would rather sleep on the streets of Dublin than in a hotel in the South of France, and there’s nothing we can do about that, old bean.

The second answer is that France and Spain (and indeed, Italy, and many other countries) are in breach of their EU obligations by turning people away, but our lads in Dublin don’t want to make a scene about it.

Of those two answers, which strikes you as most likely?

Anyway, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the answer is the first one: That Ukrainian refugees legitimately prefer Ireland to France, or Spain, or Italy. Perhaps more Ukrainians speak English than any other EU language, and feel that Ireland would be less of a cultural challenge. Perhaps we’re getting overspill from the UK, which is regarded in Ukraine as perhaps the second best country on earth after Ukraine itself, for good reason.

In that case, the Government is surely in a position to invoke that EU solidarity, about which we never cease hearing. If Ireland has no space, and France has space, and EU solidarity is a real thing, then why on earth can we not ask the French to provide accommodation for a further 10 or 15,000 people, easing the very real pressure on the Irish system?

The answer, of course, is because France would say nous sommes tres desolet, mes amis, but No Can Do.

As would, one suspects, our gallant Spanish and Italian allies in their turn, as well. And you know what else they would say? They would say “we are supporting Ukraine with weapons to help liberate it’s territory and end the crisis – we are keeping our promises. You are breaking yours“.

And they would be right.

Anyway, now we’re in this mess, what to do? The only logical thing is a Government climbdown, and an admission that we have bitten off more than we can chew and are no longer in a position to meet our “international obligations”.

Now, perhaps you think the current situation is perfectly fair and the Government is doing a very good job at representing Irish interests, and aiding Ukrainians who want to come here based on the promise of shelter.

But if you do, I regret to say I cannot agree with you. I think there should be resignations, plural. This is a national disgrace.

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