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05 Jul 2022

WATCH: 'You're a disgrace' - Laois Offaly TD in blazing Dáil row over housing crisis, immigration and Ukraine

Laois Offaly TD Carol Nolan left the Dáil in a rage angered after a blazing row with the Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien.

The Independent TD wanted to know what the Government was doing to cope with immigration caused by the Ukrainian war during a housing crisis.

She wanted a more 'robust' and 'fairer' immigration system. She said heads can no longer be 'buried in the sand'. She demanded that he "come down off his high horse".

Minister O'Brien said her comments posed a "a risk to social cohesion". He accused her of walking a very fine line and said she wanted a cap on people fleeing war. He labelled his responses "outrageous, disgraceful and arrogance".

Dep Nolan said: "I want to clarify that I do not want to see anybody who is fleeing war or genuine persecution sleeping on a hotel floor for years. Neither do I want to see families in Laois-Offaly left without accommodation, languishing on a housing list for ten years".

He replied: "I have been in Laois-Offaly and have seen the developments that are happening there".

WATCH ABOVE - read full exchange below:

Deputy Carol Nolan
 
During Leaders' Questions last March, I called on the Taoiseach to clarify if Government had conducted any assessment of the impact of disability respite services following the commitment to provide disability-specific accommodation to citizens fleeing war-torn Ukraine. I have not received an answer three months on and still await one. Today, however, I ask if the Government has conducted any similar assessment of the State's capacity to deliver housing to its own citizens, in light of the enormous rise in inward immigration, international protection and asylum applications.

As I understand it, the numbers arriving into Ireland are now at the rate of 1,500 per month. I am conscious this is a difficult and sensitive issue and we must tread carefully if we are to avoid blame being targeted at those who least deserve it. However, I am convinced that if we do not learn to find some way of exploring in a grown-up, pragmatic and constructive way the links between unsustainable levels of inward migration or asylum into this State and housing, then we will never find a meaningful solution to an already overwhelming crisis.

Government can produce all the strategies it likes around housing and it can commit to implementing White Papers, ending direct provision and ensuring that nobody, regardless of nationality or origin, is left to sleep on hotel floors but all of this is utterly meaningless if we do not find a way to make the immigration and asylum system more robust and fairer to everyone, citizen and non-citizen alike.

Over the weekend, Michael O'Toole of the Irish Mirror reported that there has been a phenomenal rise of 700% in one category of immigration alone. In an article in The Irish Times headlined "Housing supply buckling under extra strain of asylum seekers", Harry McGee reported one Fine Gael Deputy describing the impact of the UK Government's Rwanda policy as "a runaway train coming down the track at us, and we have no way to stop it". All of this means that Ireland's capacity to provide even the bare minimum of emergency accommodation and shelter to its own citizens and those genuinely fleeing war is being severely undermined.

We can no longer bury our heads in the sand when it comes to these issues. Our political system must find a way to talk maturely and openly about these issues without fear. The Minister will be aware that, in May, the Government was warned that the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees posed a risk to social cohesion and integration, particularly in deprived communities. That risk will be massively increased and will continue to grow and become more widespread unless we seek to ensure that our barely functioning immigration system is brought under control. Does he agree that it would be a lose-lose scenario for everyone involved and particularly for those who have now been homeless for some time if we did not bring this under control quickly?


Deputy Darragh O'Brien

I respectfully suggest that the Deputy's comments this afternoon pose a risk to social cohesion. I want to be very clear on behalf of the Government.

Deputy Carol Nolan
That is outrageous.


Deputy Michael Healy-Rae
That is an exaggeration. The Minister is losing the run of himself.

Deputy Carol Nolan
That is outrageous. It appears the Minister has a problem with every speaker this morning. Let us face the reality and the facts.

Deputy Mattie McGrath
The problem is over there.

Deputy Carol Nolan
It is disgraceful.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
Government has been very clear, particularly regarding our response to our friends from Ukraine. We will take in as many Ukrainian citizens fleeing the brutal war foisted upon them through no fault of their own as we must. We will not introduce any caps in that regard. Our housing response is in addition to Housing for All. Let us be very clear; there is no blurring of the lines here. I referenced that earlier on. We have the most significant housing plan in the history of the State involving €4 billion a year in Exchequer investment. It will deliver 300,000 homes between now and 2030. We are on track to deliver-----
(Interruptions).

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
-----more social homes this year than we have in any year in the history of the State.

Deputy Mattie McGrath
Does the Minister believe his own spin?

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
Will Deputy Mattie McGrath try to behave himself a little bit?

Deputy Mattie McGrath
Does he believe his own spin?

Deputy Carol Nolan
The arrogance is unbelievable.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
I will ask Deputy Nolan a direct question. Does she support this State providing refuge and safe harbour to citizens from Ukraine who are fleeing a brutal war?

Deputy Carol Nolan
I asked the Minister the question.

Deputy Mattie McGrath
Freagair an cheist.

Deputy Carol Nolan
Is the Minister now questioning the Opposition? I asked him a question.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
From her comments here today - the Deputy is trying to parse that-----

Deputy Carol Nolan
That is outrageous.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
What she is trying to say is that there will be some impact on our delivery of housing for people-----

Deputy Carol Nolan
There is.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae
Of course there is.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
Ceann Comhairle, there is little point in me trying to respond.
(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle
I will suspend the House if people do not allow the Minister to reply.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
Deputy Nolan has walked a very fine line here this afternoon. What she is effectively calling for is a cap on immigration and asylum seekers in this country. Let us be clear. I am calling that out. That is what she is calling for. We will not support that. We will not support a cap on Ukrainians coming here who have fled a war foisted upon them through no fault of their own. As far as I know, all parties, with the exception of the Deputy and her colleagues, support that approach. Does it pose challenges for us? Of course it does. Do the Irish people realise that? Yes, of course they do. This is a welcoming country. Over our history as a people, we have had to seek safe harbour all across the world. We were treated very badly in some of those countries. We are not going to allow that to happen here in Ireland. Our Housing for All plan is robust and will deliver the houses we need. The provision of longer-term accommodation and housing for Ukrainians and, indeed, those from the Middle East, Africa and other places who are seeking safe harbour is in addition to that. Does the Deputy want to draw a distinction between different groups who come here? Is that what she is asking me to do?

Deputy Mattie McGrath
The Government has drawn the distinction.

Deputy Carol Nolan
That is absolutely outrageous.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
We will not go down that line.

Deputy Mattie McGrath
The Government has drawn it.

Deputy Carol Nolan
May I respond please? The Minister's comments are absolutely outrageous as is the reckless policy he has in place. I will make my points very clear. Is the Minister saying that we welcome everybody in only to leave them sleeping on hotel floors for years? That is what he is saying. That is how reckless his Government has been. How dare he misconstrue what I have said. I asked him very direct questions. We have a housing crisis. The situation is unsustainable. It would be lovely to be able to give everybody a house. The Minister has said that himself. Is he suggesting that we can do that? Is he suggesting that it is fine to have people on hotel floors for years, because that is what he is saying to me? The Minister needs to come down off his high horse, face the reality and the facts and listen. He has been on his high horse since the first representative of a party asked him a question this morning. He is entitled to answer the questions of those of us in the Opposition and we are entitled to pose them. I want to clarify that I do not want to see anybody who is fleeing war or genuine persecution sleeping on a hotel floor for years. Neither do I want to see families in Laois-Offaly left without accommodation, languishing on a housing list for ten years. How dare the Minister answer me in that way and misconstrue what I have said here today. The Minister would be better off doing his job because he is failing miserably. He is failing Irish citizens. He is failing his own people and the immigrants as well.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
I think people will be able to----

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae
Thanks for that.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
Here we go again. I would encourage people to read the record of what Deputy Nolan said in her opening question. People will be able to make up their own mind as to whether she is drawing a distinction between our own Irish people and those who are coming here to seek safe harbour and refuge. We will not put a cap on the number of people coming here from Ukraine.

To bring this back to some form of reality, our housing plan is now taking hold. There were more than 30,000 homes completions in the 12 months to May, the highest number since 2007. We will deliver more than 9,000 new-build social homes right across the country this year. I have been in Laois-Offaly and have seen the developments that are happening there. We are bringing forward affordable housing for people for the first time in 15 years. We will do that as well as-----

Deputy Carol Nolan
When is that going to happen?

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
-----meeting our international obligations as a humanitarian country-----

Deputy Carol Nolan
When?

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
-----to provide safe harbour and refuge to those who need it.

Deputy Carol Nolan
This is what we are talking about, leaving people on hotel floors.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien
What the Deputy has called for today is a cap on that. That is what she has called for. I would ask people to read the record of what she has said.

Deputy Carol Nolan
The Minister is outrageous. He should come to Laois-Offaly to do something rather than to look around amid the fanfare. He is an absolute disgrace.

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