Leo Varadkar says State may need to provide accommodation for 40,000 more asylum seekers
The Taoiseach said migration is ‘good for our country’ as it provides a ‘diverse workforce’, and ‘enriches our culture’
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the State may have to provide accommodation for an additional 30,000 to 40,000 asylum seekers and people seeking international protection this year.
Over 70,000 people sought refuge in Ireland across 2022, and Mr Varadkar said it’s “going to be very difficult” but the State will “do the best we can” to meet the challenge.
Earlier this week, Mr Varadkar said the State’s policy on migration should be “fair, firm and hard”, including on human traffickers who are exploiting migrants.
Speaking this lunchtime, the Taoiseach said migration is “good for our country” as it strengthens the economy by providing a “very diverse workforce”, while it also “enriches our culture”.
However, he said the Government must be “firm” in getting countries to “accept their nationals back" in cases where they are refused asylum in Ireland.
“We also need to have legal pathways to migration as well. Ireland is a country that you can come to as an economic migrant from outside the European Union. We issued 40,000 work permits last year. So, we do have legal pathways to migration,” he said.
“But we do need to be firm, I believe, with people whose applications are rejected... To say to people, that if you're going to come to Ireland, with a false story, or on false pretences, we will try to prevent you from entering in the first place and after that, we will make sure that your application is dealt with quickly.
"Due process is always required, of course it is, but we would aim to have applications dealt with within less than 12 weeks.”
Last week the Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman put out a call for other Government departments to provide centres that could be used for temporary accommodation, however, it has been reported today that those offers have been less than forthcoming.
The Taoiseach said several departments have offered sites which will be available in "weeks", and "months" in some cases.
Mr Varadkar said “a lot” of the buildings need to be refurbished as they are “not in good condition”. He also confirmed that modular homes will start to become available from March, with “500 to 700” expected this year.
This week the Attorney General backed up the controversial Government stance on historic nursing home charges, and discontinuance of the disabled allowance for people entering State-run institutions.
Rossa Fanning SC concluded that the legal advice given to Government over lawsuits concerning charges levied for private nursing home care was “sound, accurate and appropriate.”
Mr Varadkar said it’s “very possible” that there could be a test case in the courts and if it does, Government will be “sticking to its position”.
“Our position, just as it is now, sometimes people who have medical cards pay privately or feel forced to go privately, but the Government doesn’t reimburse that. We only do it if it’s done through prior arrangement,” he told RTÉ’s This Week programme.
When asked if the Government has an ethical responsibility to the people who were impacted as a result of the policy, Mr Varadkar said it’s necessary to “strike an appropriate balance between putting right the wrongs of the past and dealing with the needs of today and investing in the future”.
“I would like the focus to be on those people who need our help today. People who are disabled, who are old, who are children suffering poverty, not compensating people for things that happened 15 to 40 years ago and in many cases it would be their relatives, not them at all, that would benefit,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar confirmed that the decisions on what cost-of-living measures will be extended will be made this week and said there will be no “cliff edge”.
He did not indicate which supports are likely to continue, however, he said increased social welfare payments are being looked at for those who “need the most help”.
“We do believe that pensioners and people receiving social welfare payments, they’re the ones who are really struggling,” he said.
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