Irish police started dismantling about 200 tents housing asylum seekers in Dublin early on Wednesday, tackling what has become a focal point for heated debate around migration.

The government said police and other officials were removing migrants from tents that first appeared about a year ago on Mount Street in the centre of the capital and moving them into accommodation.

Young men who live in tents are largely left alone in Dublin but there have been protests in smaller communities opposed to the number of migrants living in hotels and hostels.

Prime Minister Simon Harris said on Tuesday people would not be allowed to return to the camp once it was cleared.

"Once we clear Mount Street and provide people with a safer setting and access to sanitation, we need to make sure that the laws of the land are applied and it is not allowed to happen again because we do not live in a country where makeshift shantytowns are allowed to just develop," he said.

A Reuters witness said police had blocked off Mount Street and removed blue tarpaulin that hung over the small tents. People queued for buses after being moved on.

Ireland is trying to accommodate record numbers of refugees while struggling with a housing shortage for residents.

Protests over the housing situation and the extra pressure of new arrivals have mostly been peaceful but far-right activists attacked police last December after three children were stabbed by a man Irish media identified as born in Algeria.

Six people were arrested last week after a standoff with police at a building in Wicklow, south of Dublin, that is intended to house asylum seekers.

The government agency responsible for housing asylum seekers began handing out tents to some new arrivals last December after running out of accommodation. (Writing by Kate Holton, editing by Elizabeth Piper and Timothy Heritage)