The Irish Times view on the Mount Street tents: humanitarian emergency with potentially dire consequences

Not for the first time, the Government’s response has been short-sighted, ad hoc and insufficient to the scale of the problem

It should not come as a surprise that the overlapping housing and refugee crises would lead at some point to disturbing scenes on Irish streets. Last autumn, the Government announced it had no further capacity to provide accommodation for adult men seeking international protection. In the months since, a makeshift encampment of more than 100 tents housing some of those asylum seekers has sprung up in the vicinity of the International Protection Office building on Mount Street in central Dublin.

Last Saturday morning, International Protection Accommodation Services staff arrived at the site and informed the men that they would be relocated by coach and should leave their tents behind. They were driven to Crooksling, an empty facility in south-west Dublin, where they were given new tents to pitch in the surrounding grounds.

Within a few hours, many were making the journey, some on foot, back to Mount Street, where their tents had been cleared away by contractors. By Monday, new tents had reappeared there although some men, according to reports, were still wandering the city streets.

Some critics of these events have been quick to draw the conclusion that the operation was an attempt to remove the encampment from public view in advance of St Patrick’s Day. What seems more likely is that it was in reaction to a steady ratcheting up of pressure in the preceding days, due to increased media scrutiny of the worsening conditions on Mount Street, where there is no access to water or sanitation. A reported outbreak of disease will have added to the sense of urgency. But equally there is no doubt that the tents, which are located in the heart of the city’s business district, are a political embarrassment as well as a humanitarian failure. Speaking in London the day before they were cleared, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said the tents showed the “urgent need” for speedy interim measures to improve conditions for asylum seekers.

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Not for the first time, though, the Government’s response has been short-sighted, ad hoc and insufficient to the scale of the problem. There are conflicting reports of the quality of services available at Crooksling, but the rapid departure of so many of those taken there suggests that they fell short of basic requirements. Some asylum seekers also expressed concern at the presence of anti-immigrant protesters at the gates.

Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman is due to bring new proposals to Cabinet this week on a long-term strategy to address the challenge of accommodating the much larger numbers of asylum seekers who are now arriving every month. In the meantime, the weekend’s events do little to dispel the image of a Government which is faltering and disunited on what is rapidly becoming a humanitarian emergency with potentially dire consequences.

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