A severe housing shortage and an influx of refugees and migrants contribute to the overall public mood of discontent in Ireland. The government is looking for solutions to support both local communities and newcomers.
Thousands of Irish families face the prospect of eviction as the government’s winter eviction ban ended on March 31. The main opposition party, Sein Fein, an advocate for social and housing issues, said it be would “cruel and wrong” to force thousands of families into the streets at a time when homelessness in the country is already at record levels.
Amid the severe housing crisis, many individuals “are experiencing the very harmful crossover of homelessness while seeking asylum,” said Olivia Teahan of the Migrant and Refugees Rights Center, Nasc.
“People arriving in Ireland are often experiencing high levels of trauma, isolation, language barriers, and lack of legal and medical support, with no contacts in Ireland. They face further challenges when left to survive alone, homeless and at risk,” she added.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Ireland also took on a significant number of Ukrainian refugees.
“Ireland accepted more refugees per capita than the United Kingdom or France,” noted Claire Kumar of ODI global affairs think tank (formerly the Overseas Development Institute).
Last year, the government struggled to accommodate the influx of almost 60,000 Ukrainian refugees alongside around 20,000 nationals coming from other countries. Multiple media reports highlighted the plights of mainly Ukrainian refugees sleeping in government-provided tents during the winter months when temperatures plunged to minus degrees.
In January, the government had to resort to publishing a message on social media, asking refugees who were already in a safe place not to travel to Ireland because the country was not able to accommodate them.
The number of Ukrainians requesting temporary protection in Ireland the same month dropped by 2,000 individuals compared to December — representing one of the steepest drops across the European Union.
The housing crisis in Ireland is so entrenched in the collective mind that seven out of 10 young people say they are thinking about moving abroad simply because they cannot afford housing.
“The housing issue is a huge challenge and for the far-right; it is an obvious place to manipulate,” said Kumar. “With the significant increase of asylum seekers, and very high numbers of Ukrainians, spreading discontent is an easy strategy.”
The lack of housing, pressure to accommodate refugees, record homelessness and the eviction ban about to expire were all factors for a perfect storm to brew: In November, around 100 people gathered in Dublin’s East Wall to protest against its use as a refugee center.
“Far-right groups use terms like ‘invasion’ and slogans like ‘Ireland is full,’ a direct reference to the housing crisis,” said Kumar.
“This is all a recent development in Ireland. Events even became violent with an attack on a migrant camp in north Dublin by a river.”
Also read: Ireland: Protests and new policy proposals place focus on migration
“What has been good is that at a community level, the reaction was immediate with counter protests in many small towns and a very large protest in support of migrants in Dublin,” Kumar added.
Irish politicians have also spoken out against the anti-migrant rhetoric, with the President Michael Higgins calling the recent “anti-migrant” sentiment “unforgivable.”
“The far-right threat is being contained and government policies show unity of approach: the refugee accommodation crisis has to be tackled in parallel with the wider housing challenge, both of equal importance,” said David Donoghue, a senior research fellow at ODI.
Teahan echoed this opinion, referring to plans of opening three new city center hubs to support Ukrainian families.
“We very much welcome plans to deliver accommodation solutions, but we are hoping that any new developments will meet the requirements and commitments outlined in the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision,” she said.
Also read: Ukrainian refugees in the UK face homelessness as housing schemes end
Ireland’s system of institutional accommodation, called Direct Provision, has become known as a recipe for limbo for asylum seekers: “They should be living in communities but many get stuck in a confined and restricted system because of significant delays in processing asylum applications, and because the severity of the housing crisis can make leaving Direct Provision to move into the community very difficult,” said Kumar.
“It’s vital that reception centers for newly arriving international protection applicants would have built-in integration supports on arrival. It’s also crucial that the government prioritize mid- and longer-term accommodation strategies going forward,” said Teahan.
Immigration was once a minor political issue in Ireland compared to other themes. With elections due to be held in less than a year, it is about to become a lot more important.
Also read: Accommodation troubles continue for Afghan refugees in UK