Comment: Ireland cheered on the war in Ukraine – now we are failing its victims

As anti-immigrant sentiment spreads across the country, politicians are ceding ground to the far-right by echoing that wretched fascist slogan: Ireland is full. 

Last week the government announced substantial cuts to the provisions afforded to Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland. Its justification: conniving foreign thieves are exploiting our overly generous asylum system – one that has seen thousands of refugees sleeping rough across the country, often in freezing temperatures, occasionally subject to attack by fascists – and must be stopped, lest Ireland face insolvency. 

Almost two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, world powers with which Ireland aligned itself are losing interest in sending financial and military aid. The Irish political class is in turn considerably less enthusiastic about helping. It seems solidarity with Ukraine has outlived its usefulness: capitalists, including several sitting TDs, have made their money from lucrative contracts to provide accommodation; Leo Varadlar and Micheál Martin may believe they have secured high-ranking EU jobs for down road; Irish neutrality, a longtime irritant for the establishment, has been degraded in the name of being Good Little Europeans.

Vladimir Putin is a war criminal who belongs in the Hague. But so too are some of Ireland’s closest friends, including US president Genocide Joe Biden, none of whom we brand “evil.” Rather than using our neutrality to encourage negotiation between Ukraine and Russia, government called for us to be mature and do our part as westerners and contribute to the exacerbation of hostilities. Ireland joined dangerous calls for escalation, thanked the United States for its “leadership” – and helped to create the refugees we are now abandoning because they have become a political inconvenience.

We’re only realistic and mature in certain circumstances 

Some argue the state had noble intentions these past two or so years. The evidence says otherwise.

The government does not hold a principled belief in humanely offering asylum to those who need it; Ireland created a morally reprehensible two-tiered system that prioritised one group of people over others. Nor was the state’s encouragement of the war in Ukraine based on a belief in the right to resist occupation as enshrined under international law. We have seen since 7 October that it believes in no such thing: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party refuse to correctly label Israel an apartheid state engaged in a campaign of genocidal violence against a captive civilian population; all three qualify their tepid criticisms of Israel with a condemnation of Hamas; all three have failed to affirm Palestine’s right to defend itself. 

Where were the discussions, in the wake of thousands of children being killed indiscriminately by fascists supported by Europe and the US, about reflecting on our neutrality, as stated by Micheál Martin in light of the conflict in Ukraine? Where were the demands that we be realistic and do our part? Why hasn’t Leo Varadkar declared unwavering support for Palestine, as he did for Ukraine? The moral case for arming Palestinians resisting Israeli invasion is equal to, if not greater than, the moral case for arming Ukrainians resisting Russian invasion. 

It was easy to support the position of the abject chauvinists in Europe and the United States. The difficult thing to do was to oppose efforts to increase the conflict and seek a means by which it could be resolved. Those who called for de-escalation were smeared. Clare Daly and Mick Wallace have repeatedly been portrayed as stooges for Russia because they voted against legislation that committed Ireland to further military alignment with the EU and NATO. Micheál Martin branded politicians who criticised his efforts to align Ireland with NATO as “Putin’s Puppets”. Last year, Sabina Higgins was chastised by both the media and politicians for suggesting Ukraine and Russia call a ceasefire. 

Drew Harris: sure the far right only want to be pursued

The naked bigotry of the Rural Independent Group’s recent motion calling for an end to our “reckless” policy of accepting people seeking asylum – even mentioning so-called “unvetted males’”, a term straight from the far-right vernacular – in line with our obligations under international law was deemed vulgar by establishment politicians. Those involved broke an unstated rule: pandering to racists must be done surreptitiously. The government has over the last year targeted refugees by blaming them for various crises. Just a few months ago, The Most Decent Man in Ireland Micheál Martin warned the public that Ireland’s annual budget – one that contained yet another tax break for landlords – would be “tough” due to “a very, very significant increase in population.” 

Garda commissioner Drew Harris is on record as saying that pursuing fascists as they organised meant “falling into their trap”. Minister for justice Helen McEntee advocated a “hands-off” approach to dealing with fascists. We are now all benefiting from the results of this approach – under the watch of the current government, a group of unorganised, unhinged racist protestors have metastasized into a political force that may win seats in the next local elections. 

Just yesterday a hotel that was set to be used to house refugees was burnt down. Weeks previously Dublin city was looted when the far right found out that a man who is alleged to have committed an atrocity was a naturalised Irish citizen originally from Algeria.

It is wrong to say that affluent Ukrainians are leaving their safe homes so they can live in luxury in Ireland. Accommodation for refugees is overwhelmingly substandard, often outsourced to private entities who are incentivised to cut costs. Ireland’s asylum system, according to Amnesty International, is guilty of gross human rights violations. The High Court ruled in April that Ireland’s failure to provide adequate food, hygiene and accommodation to people seeking asylum breached the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. 

Refugees and asylum seekers are not responsible for the housing crisis or our defective health service – those who vilify them exculpate the state and its custodians. 

Paulie Doyle

Paulie Doyle