Independent TD for Donegal, Thomas Pringle, has told the Dáil that migrants are not to blame for crises in housing and healthcare, but the government.
Deputy Pringle expressed his concern over growing anti-refugee sentiment in Ireland today, citing his own experience in England in the 80s.
He said he was an economic migrant in the 1980s, when he went to England to work and support himself to have a better quality of life.
He said: “This is all migrants into our country look for, the opportunity to have a better quality of life. We have never been denied this, so why should we deny anyone else this opportunity?”
Addressing the Taoiseach in the Dáil today, Deputy Pringle said: “The far right are doing a great job of exploiting the public’s real and legitimate fears and using them to stoke racist hatred. They are doing this under the guise of ‘Irishness’ and ‘nationalism’ yet the ideas they are spreading could not be more anti-Irish.
“Emigration has been a massive part of Irish history and Irish identity and to ignore this aspect of ourselves is ignoring what it means to be Irish,” he said.
The deputy said: “Yet, when history repeats itself in other countries, countries facing war and famine, just as we had, we turn our backs on immigrants and in doing so, turn our backs on our ancestors as well. This is not only shameful, but it also hypocritical because emigration did not only define Irish identity 200 years ago, but it has continued to define us ever since.”
Deputy Pringle said: “The sad reality is that the State plays a role in this, subtly at times, and more obviously at other times. The remarks of some government backbenchers as of late have attested to this. And even some of the opportunist opposition have fed into the dangerous narrative that ‘Ireland is full’, despite the fact that our population still hasn’t yet returned to pre-Famine levels and despite the fact that we have over 150,000 vacant homes in this country.”
The deputy said: “Culture wars are in this Government’s interest because it stops communities organising around the things that actually matter to them, like housing and employment and even the climate crisis.
“As long as we are pointing the finger at immigrants and asylum seekers, we are not organising around the things that matter, and we are not pointing the finger towards those who are actually at fault. The reality is that if every migrant left Ireland tomorrow, we would still have a housing crisis, a cost-of-living crisis and a crisis in our healthcare system.”
In his response, the Taoiseach credited the benefits of migration to Ireland. Later in the exchange, Deputy Pringle called on the Taoiseach to state explicitly that people coming to Ireland seeking international protection are coming here legally.
Deputy Pringle said: “The reality is that anybody that comes here and claims asylum is a legal immigrant and that’s the reality. They are complying with the law.”
He said: “Say that, Taoiseach, and acknowledge that, because I think that’s vitally important. Because that’s the trope that the right is using right across this country to attack people.” The deputy said people seeking protection are here legally, “and we are responsible for their safety when they’re here.
“If you could do that, that would do an awful lot in terms of actually putting it right. And say that constantly, Taoiseach, because that needs to be said and your own backbenchers need to say it as well,” the deputy said.
Deputy Pringle said: “Everybody has a role to play.”
In his response, the Taoiseach said: “I’m happy to say that here. People who come here from Ukraine are beneficiaries of temporary protection, they have legal status. They have a right to be here. And people who come here who claim international protection, that is legal status. They are here legally.”