Grand Canal: asylum seekers’ tents cleared in latest operation

More than 100 men sleeping in makeshift camp are told they are being moved to accommodation

Tents housing asylum seekers were cleared from the Grand Canal in Dublin on Thursday morning, the third such clearance in recent weeks.

A total of 109 men were offered accommodation, understood to be in Citywest, in the operation which got under way from shortly after 6am.

Staff from Waterways Ireland, which manages the canal network; the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS); the HSE; Dublin City Council and gardaí were on site at Wilton Terrace, waking men sleeping in tents and handing them leaflets telling them they were being offered accommodation and that they had to leave.

Volunteers assisted the men with their belongings as five coaches waited, parked on Wilton Terrace and Mespil Road.

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IPAS staff distributed leaflets, translated into French, Arabic, Urdu and Georgian though not Pashto – the language spoken by Afghans who comprised a significant number of those sheltering at the site – informing the men they “do not have permission” to stay in the area and if they return after it is cleared, they face being “arrested and prosecuted”.

Some of the men said they were “happy” to be leaving but asked volunteers where they were being taken. Asked what they were most looking forward to about their new accommodation, the men said having toilets and showers.

Scores of tents were gathered by a truck with a grabber claw to be taken away for disposal. Volunteers trying to salvage the tents for reuse were told by statutory authorities on site they were not allowed “for public health reasons”.

Volunteers removed tarpaulins they had brought to protect tents against the elements, from the canal area.

Barriers, similar to those used in previous clearances to prevent further tents being pitched, were erected along the canal at Mespil Road and Wilton Terrace.

Welcoming the clearance on Thursday, Taoiseach Simon Harris said: “I want to thank the many State agencies who are now working closely together on the issue of immigration. I have been very clear that we cannot have a siloed approach to migration. All agencies must work together to deliver a comprehensive response.”

“This morning’s work at the canal is an example of that. But of course, shelter and accommodation is only one aspect of migration policy.

“As important, is the ongoing work to ensure we have a rules-based system where rules are enforced and where we ensure this country is never out of kilter with European norms when it comes to issues like welfare. Irish people are compassionate, they are also full of common sense. Both elements must always be demonstrated by Government too.”

The clearance follows similar operations May 9th and 21st, in which scores of tents were cleared. Within hours of each operation, smaller encampments emerged as men were left behind, either because they missed buses provided to transport them or were not included on lists of those to be offered accommodation.

More than 500 men have been transferred from the Grand Canal and, in earlier clearances, from encampments at the International Protection Office (IPO) on Mount Street Lower, to safer and more secure facilities in recent weeks, officials say. These include Crooksling near Saggart and the site of the former Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum, south Dublin.

Government sources say facilities at Thornton Hall in north Co Dublin, which is likely to house a large tented encampment for asylum seekers, are unlikely to be ready for four to six weeks.

As of Tuesday, there were 1,939 male asylum seekers “awaiting offer of accommodation”, according to data published by IPAS.

A total of 3,469 “eligible male” migrants have presented to apply for asylum since December 4th, when IPAS announced it would no longer offer shelter to men when they present.

Volunteers working with homeless asylum seekers have in recent days been contacting those without accommodation who are not sheltering at the canal but are sleeping in bus stations, train stations, mosques, churches and in tents in and outside the city centre.

Speaking in Brussels, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said the new accommodation asylum seekers were being moved to was “not ideal” but was better than “being on the edge of a canal”.

He said the Grand Canal encampment was “not safe”, given people did not have access to basic services, such as sanitation and toilets, and were at greater risk of being attacked.

Also speaking in Brussels, Minister for Enterprise Peter Burke said Ireland was facing “acute pressure” from the significant increase in asylum seekers in recent years. The Government had been grappling with the problem and was “getting into a better space” on it, he said.

Mr Burke said the EU migration pact – the recent reforms to overhaul asylum policy that Ireland has two years to enact – could be a “gateway to resolve the migration issue”. The reforms would lead to quicker decisions being made on cases and give Ireland more control to tackle “secondary” movements of asylum seekers between EU countries, he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan has repeated a call for the necessity to enforce the law when it comes to illegal encampments along the Grand Canal.

Mr O’Callaghan told RTÉ radio’s News at One that it was also important to look at measures to reduce the numbers of people seeking shelter in Ireland. Mr O’Callaghan also urged that a decision on the location of a new international protection office should be made promptly.

He welcomed the removal of more tents on Thursday morning. “It’s unsafe for the men who are in the tents. It’s unfair on the residents and businesses of the inner city and of course, something that we frequently overlook, it’s also a criminal offence to pitch a tent on the canal. And it’s an offence under bylaw 38 of the canal bylaws.

“I think people need to be informed as to what is the law, because I understand that they think it’s the case that many of the men who are pitching up tents there aren’t aware that it is a criminal offence. I think they need to be informed about the fact that they’re not permitted to do so.

“And I think we need to ensure that other people who are charged with providing assistance to the men inform the men that they’re not permitted to set up, that they should have to comply with the law in the same way as every other person in the country should comply with the law.”

The laws in relation to international protection were not being enforced, he added. “You cannot have an effective system for asylum applications and adjudication of asylum, if at the end of it people who fail in that process are not deported. “Other countries have faced similar issues to Ireland in terms of significant numbers coming in, and they’ve been able to reduce the numbers coming in. And predominantly the main reason they do that is that the message is sent as well, if you go to that country and you apply for international protection and you failed, then you will be deported.”

Mr O’Callaghan pointed out that in Denmark the numbers seeking international protection had reduced from over 21,000 in 2015 to 2482 in 2023 because a decision had been made by the Government to reduce numbers.

“In 2019, 4,700 people applied for international protection (in Ireland). The number last year was 13,500. This year already it is 8,500. We’re going to hit 20,000 this year. So we’re perfectly entitled as policymakers to try to introduce measures to reduce the numbers coming in.”

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