I’m speaking to you on the subject of immigration tonight because I wish to give you a better understanding as to the government’s thinking on the issue.
Let me start by outlining the key issues the government has to consider.
The reality is that a certain amount of controlled immigration is necessary for a modern industrialised country to provide additional workers and skills. We have a labour shortage in this country and need additional people to help create the national wealth which, through taxation, funds our social welfare system, health services and old age pensions.
It’s also true that many Irish people, myself included, believe that our history obliges us to show as much compassion as we can to others fleeing tyranny, war and other hardship.
Having said that, a country only has a limited amount of resources, in terms of money, housing spaces and other public services and so has to balance these competing needs.
A country also has a sovereign right to decide who enters it and what values they must respect. You do not have a right to go to a foreign country and start demanding that they must put their values second.
The wars in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere have made inward migration a major issue not just for Ireland but the whole of Europe. Indeed, in some cases refugees have been weaponised by countries seeking to weaken the European Union.
It is within that context that the government will seek to pursue the following policies.
First, we will set an annual limit on how many asylum seekers and refugees we will accept every year, with a guarantee that people accepted under limit will receive decent accommodation, care, education and integration in dedicated and purpose-built reception centres.
Those accommodated in these centres will be screened to verify who they are and that they pose no risk to the community at large.
Anyone found to have destroyed documentation prior to seeking asylum will be removed immediately.
Secondly, the centres will also operate as training and education centres to identify and teach skills to permit our new arrivals to work and play their part creating wealth and paying taxes in our country.
Secondly, we must recognise that mass migration is a European-wide problem, and must be addressed at a European level too. Our nearest neighbour, in its attempt to seize control of its own borders outside a European framework, has resulted in it ceding control of its southern border to the French interior minister. I do not propose we join that experiment.
Instead, Ireland will support and contribute towards efforts to create secure EU-run safezones outside the European continent to act as the first point of contact for those seeking to enter Europe.
Such a safezone could also act as a transit point for those individuals who have been removed from member states. I do not propose that these will be mass refugee camps where people will be abandoned, but functioning communities under European control where legal migration into Europe, having passed through a European cultural integration and screening programme may be permitted.
At the heart of such a programme is the core belief that it is Europeans who will decide who comes to live among us.
Finally, let me say that one of the reasons I decided to speak with you directly on this issue is because of the rise, both here and on the mainland, of dangerous far-right elements laced with fascist and neo-nazi tendencies, who see those of different religion, skin colour, ethnic group or other characteristics as not welcome in our society. Indeed, many of these elements are funded or supported by hostile foreign powers.
Let me be clear: I regard such groups as a clear and present danger to our republic and Irish republicanism itself, and will be bringing forth legislation to create a national security intelligence organisation to identify all such threats, foreign and domestic, to our democracy, and with the power and resources to act accordingly in defence of Irish democracy.
I understand that these are controversial proposals which will cause much debate in the country, as they should. I also accept that there are those in the country who will wish to propose alternatives, and that, my fellow Irishmen and women, are what elections are for.