'hard to predict' | 

Integration Minister Joe O'Brien says ‘Ireland must plan for over 80,000 migrants this year’

His comments come as Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman warns there is “very real risk” migrants may have to sleep on the streets

Ukrainian refugees board an evacuation train in the city of Pokorvsk amid intensified fighting in the eastern part of the country. Photo: Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/via Getty© SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

Gabija Gataveckaite, Political reporterIndependent.ie

The Government should prepare for more than 80,000 more migrants to seek refuge in Ireland this year, according to the newly-appointed Minister for Integration Joe O’Brien.

A total of 83,814 people, including more than 70,000 Ukrainians, arrived in Ireland last year seeking protection, and the minister believes the Government would be “wise” to plan for similar numbers this year.

His comments come as the State is already struggling to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers, with Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman warning there is a “very real risk” migrants may have to sleep on the streets.

“I think we’d be wise to at least plan and expect similar numbers to what we had last year,” Mr O’Brien told the Irish Independent.

“I don’t think we should be planning that war is going to end this year.

"I think you should be planning that the war will continue this year.

“Judging on how Putin has been behaving, he’s unlikely to be holding back in terms of scaring people out of Ukraine, doing damage to Ukraine, killing people in Ukraine.”

The Irish Government has issued an information campaign asking asylum seekers not to travel to Ireland, but this does not apply to Ukrainian refugees.

A number of migrants are being housed in tents despite Government promises last year that tents would not be used again.

Mr O’Brien was unable to say if the use of tents would be phased out soon.

“It’s so hard to predict going forward, because we’re literally dependent on how many people come through on a daily basis,” he said.

The Dublin Fingal TD said he does not think immigration will become as much of a contentious and divisive issue as it has been in the UK, despite recent anti-immigration protests around Ireland.

“We’ve got a longer history and I suppose cultural memory of migration as well,” he said. “And we understand migration in a different way.

“I still think at our core, we have an empathy in that regard. And obviously, the history and family having to flee the country as well, that’s still there in terms of who we are.”

The new minister is overseeing the Government’s action plan against racism, which will be published in March.

It will detail some of the actions which can be taken by Government departments, as well how community groups can respond to racism locally.

A special rapporteur on racism will be appointed, similar to the existing special rapporteur for children, who will monitor how Government succeeds in rolling out the strategy and meeting its targets.

Separately, Mr O’Brien, who is still also a junior minister at the Department of Social Protection, said he would be in favour of additional one-off cost of living supports in the spring.

“There was an agreement that we’d look at how things were in quarter one, to see if we needed to go again, because there was an awful lot of uncertainty last year, whether things would get worse or not," he said.

"So, yes, I’m open to, to additional measures being put in.”

He also sought to clarify reports last year that he opposed public housing in his own estate.

He said he was concerned the rezoning of land would see the loss of two football pitches.

“There was a proposal to basically cut through the football pitches and rezone them for potentially housing,” he said.

“I suspect the planner looked at the map and saw all this is open green space, and didn’t realise there was two heavily used football pitches there. And so that’s what I had the issue with.

“I’m saying – cut the map around the pitches rather than cut them out through the pitches.”

The rezoning maps have since been redrawn.

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