Céad mile fáilte, a hundred thousand welcomes.  The average Irish citizen is justifiably proud of the renowned welcoming nature of the Irish to visitors and those who have come to make their life here.

This welcoming nature, our own history of emigration, coupled with the fact that Ireland simply wasn’t a major destination for immigrants in the past, has meant that unlike in the UK, immigration has never been a major political issue come elections here.  That’s not to say it hasn’t featured at all, but other factors such as health and the economy have been far more important to most.

There are signs in today’s poll that this may be beginning to change, as several factors align to create a situation that is driving rising scrutiny of Ireland’s immigration policies and the impact they may have on local communities, and possibly anti-refugee sentiment overall.

Firstly, the war in Ukraine has meant that there is a much larger number of refugees seeking assistance.  The need to look after those fleeing from the war in Ukraine has generally been accepted and supported by the Irish population up to now.

Secondly, the UK has got a lot tougher on inward immigration, and this has pushed some of those seeking refuge in the UK to turn their attention to Ireland, where it’s potentially easier to come to.

Thirdly, we are in the middle of a housing crisis, with a lack of affordable housing and availability that is driving real anger among a section of the electorate most impacted.  The lack of housing also means the government is being forced into using unusual solutions to try and house incoming refugees.  Hotels in tourist areas and unused office spaces are being used to accommodate refugees, often at short notice, in a way that perhaps hadn’t been done for those in Ireland struggling to find a place to live.

All of these factors coming together are creating a perfect storm, with a lack of housing, and the pressure to accommodate a rising number of refugees, impacting on the Irish people’s usual welcoming nature, as refugees have arrived on mass without much notice to the local residents.

While many would like to blame this on right wing groups, and it is clear they have been stoking the fire among local communities, it’s also apparent that this attitude is not isolated to them.  Nearly a third of Irish people (34%) disagree with the statement “Irish people welcome refugees on the whole, it’s just far-right activists opposing refugees settling in local communities”, suggesting that anti-refugee sentiment certainly goes farther than a small minority.

Levels of disagreement are highest among those in society who are more under pressure, those with less income in more deprived areas, the less well educated, and crucially those that currently plan to vote for Sinn Féin.

At the same time, almost half of all Irish adults (45%) would not support the government using new powers to install modular homes for Ukrainian refugees, without planning permission in their area.

While you may think this is to do with the lack of planning, that is not strictly the case.  When we asked the same question about the government using new powers to install modular homes for people on housing waiting lists, without planning permission in their local area, this is much more strongly supported (63%) with only 27% opposing.

Finally, only just over 2 in 5 adults across the country think the government is doing a good job dealing with the refugee crisis, with almost a half (49%) making it plain they think they are doing a bad job.

Whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of ensuring we provide for those in need, it’s also clear that the lack of consultation and upset among the public suggests the government needs to be careful how they deal with refugee housing moving forward, as this issue is clearly upsetting a large cohort of the public.

Gains for Sinn Féin in this poll could be wholly put down to them making a lot of noise about Pascal Donohoe and his election expenses saga, and the claims of possible corruption of those in government.

Certainly, this will have had some impact given the focus was very firmly on him as the poll was taken.  The idea of corruption among those in power also plays very well to those in society that feel left behind.

However, the refugee issue is also likely to be a factor for many, who believe the government is not handling it well or fairly.  Once again, those without in society feel they are the ones suffering as a result.

For Fine Gael, the expenses issue certainly appears to have taken away the momentum they had been building in the run up to Christmas, and is doubly upsetting for them given consumer confidence is also beginning to see some green shoots which would normally help the government parties.

But this election expenses issue will pass; whereas the idea that another 80,000 refugees may come to Ireland in 2023 is surely only going to increase pressure on government, with the immigration issue perhaps now much more important than it had been in past elections.

Downoad the full report below:

Business Post RED C Poll Report – January 2023