SINN FEIN PRESIDENT Mary Lou McDonald has called for public anger be directed at the Government instead of refugees.
She was speaking after a poll in the Irish Independent found that 56% of the public believe Ireland has taken in too many refugees in the past year, while 30% disagreed and 14% were unsure.
Protests have been held in Waterford, Cork and areas of Dublin in recent weeks where refugees or asylum seekers have been accommodated.
Gardai are also investigating an alleged assault at a campsite in Ashtown, Dublin, where migrants had been living for months, and a suspected arson attack on a disused school in Dublin that had been rumoured to be used for asylum seekers.
RTE Radio’s This Week programme obtained figures showing the number of staff working on processing asylum appeals fell by 8% in 2019 despite a significant surge in applications and a backlog of hundreds of cases.
According to the figures, obtained from the Department of Justice, there are 850 appeals cases pending before the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT), and just 46 staff working with the tribunal.
Speaking on RTE television’s The Week in Politics, Minister of State Pippa Hackett said space could be found for 76,000 more refugees, insisting: “We have a lot of space in Ireland.”
She said minister Roderic O’Gorman has written to colleagues asking for help identifying empty building, and an all-of-government approach.
“I believe they really will pull out all the stops here now, this is a crisis,” she said.
McDonald blamed a “very small fringe” for whipping up anger against refugees, adding that it should be directed against the Government.
“We have a situation where the Government have really handled so many situations so badly, we’ve had a housing emergency for many years, lots of people across Irish society have direct experience of this crisis, they’re living in overcrowded circumstances, they’re paying exorbitant rents, if they can get a place to rent, and they have had Government inaction,” she told RTE Radio’s The Week.
“There is huge frustration and anger, actually, I think sometimes people haven’t been angry enough with Government on that issue.
“Therein lies the kernel of the issue. I understand all of the frustration, I understand all of the anger, and I know for sure that anger needs to be directed at those in power, those that have the capacity to change things for people.
“It is really a matter of concern that a small group – and I think we need to be careful in understanding that it is a small group of very, very nasty individuals, who are trying to foment this view of aggression and negativity towards people who are weak, who have very few resources.
“The Irish instinct fundamentally is an instinct of decency, Irish people are decent, Irish people are welcoming, but I also know that people have struggled long and hard for years with a Government that has failed rural communities, left town after town without services, without opportunities, and an inability to source accommodation, and that has driven righteous, correct anger.
“There is a move by a small number of people to exploit that and direct that at the wrong people.
“We need a government with a plan for housing, social development and regeneration, and we also need to have a clearheaded view from Irish people in apportioning blame where it rightly lies, and it does not lay at the feet of any refugee, anybody seeking asylum in this country.”
McDonald has stated today that she would have had nothing to do with Jonathan Dowdall had she known what was to transpire.
The former Sinn Fein councillor has been jailed for four years for facilitating the 2016 murder of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel.
McDonald was asked about a 1,000 euro donation from Dowdall in 2011.
She told This Week that Dowdall made one contribution into her political donations account at least a decade ago, which she said was declared in line with guidelines.
McDonald said she believes he also attended Sinn Fein fundraising events.
“Just remember, at that time there was no question of Mr Dowdall being a convicted criminal, he now is, correctly, and let me make it also very plain, had I known, had I the foresight or any knowledge or inkling that he would have gone on to behave in the way that he did, he would not have been anywhere near me, anywhere near Sinn Fein,” she said.
“Frankly we would have had nothing, zero to do with him.”
Asked whether Dowdall was a friend of hers, McDonald said no.
“He was a constituency colleague, the reality is that as it turned out, and as Jonathan Dowdall behaved, I do not know him, did not know him, would have had no clue, no more than anybody else had, of what he was capable of,” she said.
“We now know that and responsibility for those actions rests with Jonathan Dowdall and with him alone.”
McDonald went on: “The donation was made 11 years ago by somebody who had no convictions, who had no involvement to my knowledge, of anything criminal … this was a person who ran a thriving business, a family man, whose wife worked in the Irish civil service, whose business had A list clients like the Dublin Airport Authority, the Bank of America and so on.
“At the time the donation was made, it was recorded correctly in my political donations account with full transparency and fully in accordance with the law.”