Anti-racism groups and members of the public have roundly criticised the Minister for Housing for blaming migrants for the housing crisis. Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien made the remarks while being interviewed by Gavan Reilly of Newstalk on Sunday, 1 May. O’Brien said that economic migrants were worsening the accommodation crisis in Ireland as he defended the government’s record on housing.
Fingal Communities Against Racism (FCAR) described O’Brien’s remarks as “reckless” and “dangerous.
Speculating on homelessness
The minister appeared on Newstalk to discuss the housing of Ukrainian refugees and homelessness. Recent figures show an increase in people presenting as homeless, something which Reilly brought to the attention of the Fianna Fáil TD. O’Brien responded that the government has seen “a very significant number” of migrants from both the EU and non-EU countries and that this is contributing to the problem. The TD said he’s been part of discussions at the “EU level” about non-EU migrants arriving on the continent.
Going on, O’Brien claimed that some migrants are coming to Ireland without previously arranging accommodation and are presenting at homeless services upon arrival instead. He insisted these people “haven’t the resources to support themselves” and it’s “putting a significant strain on our services”. O’Brien also underlined the fact that these figures don’t include displaced Ukrainians who’ve recently arrived in Ireland. When asked to explain why people would move to Ireland and immediately register as homeless O’Brien said “I’m not going to speculate on that”.
Currently there are 9,825 homeless people in the state.
O’Brien’s remarks drew condemnation across social media as well as from anti-racism groups.
Dr. Umar Al-Qadri, chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council (IMPIC), described O’Brien as “a decent man”. But O’Brien, he said, had “chosen to blame” migrants “for a failure of his department”. And that such “borderline racism is bad humanity”.
Also taking issue with the minister’s comments was FCAR. In a statement it wrote that it “condemns” his remarks “linking an increase in homelessness to ‘economic migrants’”. The anti-racism group argued that O’Brien’s claims are “a deliberate attempt to distract from his own government’s failures to address the housing crisis”. The organisation also accused him of trying to “single out our neighbours and friends and scapegoat them for a crisis not of their own making”. In closing, FCAR insisted that O’Brien’s attempt at scapegoating migrants “is reckless, dangerous and can only play into the hands of the far-right [sic]”. As The Beacon has reported in the past, “House the Irish First” is a popular slogan amongst the Irish far right.
This also isn’t the first time that a government minister has taken aim at migrants.
In December 2020 Justice Minister Helen McEntee voiced her concern at a proposed reforming of Ireland’s citizenship laws. McEntee said the bill under scrutiny at the time could have “unintended consequences” and put the country’s various social services under pressure. The bill would’ve allowed children born in Ireland to non-Irish parents to apply for citizenship after three years. McEntee told the Seanad that Brexit was already affecting Ireland’s economy and employment rates. Updating Ireland’s citizenship laws, she said, could worsen these issues.
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