On Saturday, an arson attack destroyed a Co. Galway hotel. It seems very likely this was done to prevent its use as an accommodation centre for refugees. This is only the latest in a series of acts of violence and intimidation against migrants and refugees by far-right elements, who have been emboldened by a “hands-off” attitude from the state, and who feed off the ever-growing anger at the disastrous failure to deal with the housing and homelessness crisis.

It is essential that the Irish people stand united against this thuggery. Yet in defending refugees against violence, we should not make the mistake of defending an asylum system that is grossly dysfunctional, or an asylum policy that seems designed to provide ammunition to the far right.

The state’s asylum system pays little regard to the needs of refugees, treating them as a problem to be disposed of with no concern for their social integration or economic needs. It pays equally little attention to the needs of the communities where they are housed. Moving large numbers of refugees en-masse into small villages with no adequate facilities or public transport, or into already deprived inner-city areas with no additional provision of social services, is a recipe for reaction and backlash. It is not enough just to condemn xenophobic and intimidatory reactions to this policy. We must acknowledge the reality that events like these will continue to occur until the underlying conditions are dealt with. Far-right and fascist elements are always present, but they become dangerous when they can capitalise on real social pressures which are not addressed by other groups.

The state has a duty to refugees which it must honour by providing safe, decent, housing. Yet it also has a duty not to make promises it has no intention to keep. In 2022 the Irish government made a commitment to accept an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees, and to date has received over 100,000 people from Ukraine. The promise was made for political reasons, in the full knowledge that the state had neither the will nor the capacity to provide housing for this many people. The result has been a collapse of the already inadequate asylum system, with refugees from other countries being displaced to make way for those from Ukraine, and thousands more people, refugees included, forced into homelessness.

In 2021 Minister Roderic O’Gorman pledged to abolish the Direct Provision system, which was already synonymous with abuse and profiteering. Now, in its desperation, the government continues to expand it, showing no regard for the suitability of the accommodation, or for the need to ensure social integration of refugees into their host communities.

Anti-immigrant agitators claim that the Irish state cares more for migrants than for the Irish working people who struggle to find decent homes. This is untrue. In reality the ruling class cares equally little about workers of any nationality, except as a resource to be exploited for higher rents and cheaper labour. Yet the claims of the far-right will find an audience as long as the state insists that it can absorb an unlimited number of migrants at a time of unprecedented homelessness, while failing completely to provide housing.

To forestall the rise of the far-right, the government must urgently provide high-quality housing for all who need it. At the same time, it must adopt a rational migration policy, which regulates the rate of immigration into the state to a level which can be supported without inducing further crises in homelessness and social provision. If it does not, it will continue to fail in its obligation to all residents of this island, and it is innocent migrants and working class communities marginalised by austerity who will bear the worst consequences of this negligence.