The government “will do everything” to avoid refugees on the streets

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the government will “do everything in its power to avoid and prevent” Ukrainian refugees sleeping rough due to housing shortages.

He said there would be a cabinet subcommittee meeting on the matter on Monday to assess accommodation capacity.

Speaking following the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, Mr Martin said: “We are doing everything we can.”

The Taoiseach said all European countries face pressure in dealing with Ukrainian refugees.

He added that Russia’s recent targeting of civil and energy infrastructure was aimed at creating a new wave of migration from Ukraine.

A statement from the Department for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth said yesterday that more than 58,000 people (42,000 Ukrainians, 16,000 international protection) had arrived in Ireland this year .

This figure compares to 7,250 at the same time last year.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said his department continued to be heavily involved in efforts to support Ukrainians coming to Ireland.

He said a long list of properties and sites had been drawn up to make buildings and land available.

“After the Cabinet meeting this week I engaged again with my department and again with the HSE and said ‘let’s take another look’.

Ukrainian refugees in Poland (archive image)

“And I can assure you that the HSE has already taken a thorough look at its property portfolio, it has looked at the land, it has looked at the buildings and assessed what is usable now, which might need a bit of work to upgrade. .

The whole government has to work, my department, the HSE, all the state agencies, the whole Cabinet has to work together to make sure that every bed, every property and every land that we can use has to be made available and that is certainly what Me and the Department of Health and the HSE are doing,” Mr Donnelly said.

The Minister said that in addition to efforts to find more accommodation, there was a huge amount of work going on to provide health care, including initial screenings, vaccination programs, medical cards, access to general practitioners and more complex care.

The minister was speaking at Galway University Hospital where he officially opened a new state-of-the-art cardiothoracic unit.

Turning people down is ‘not an option’

Earlier, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Ireland was facing a refugee crisis never seen before, but sending people back was “not an option”.

He was speaking after Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman said the state could not guarantee he would be able to to welcome all Ukrainian refugees and applicants for international protection by next week due to a capacity problem.

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Mr Varadkar acknowledged the capacity issue saying: “The truth is that we are no longer able to provide accommodation for everyone coming into the country and we have to be honest about that. But we will do our best. to accommodate as many people as we can.

“It’s a very difficult situation and we’re in the same boat as pretty much every other country in Europe. We can’t turn our backs on these people.”

The government is still using “a lot of hotels” at the moment, he said, in addition to trying to find old buildings and repurpose them for accommodation, as well as ensuring that communities are supported when they accept people from Ukraine. .

“Although there is no limit to the compassion of the Irish people, there is a limit to capacity and at the moment we are at the point where we are simply unable to guarantee accommodation for all. those who come.”

When asked if that meant turning people back, he said: “It doesn’t and it’s not something we can do, besides being a breach of European law, and apart from the fact that it would be tantamount to telling the neighboring countries which have shown a great deal of solidarity with us to deal with the problem.

“I know some people will say ‘put a cap on arrivals’. That’s not possible as long as we’re members of the European Union.

“Although people don’t feel like it all the time, Ireland is one of the best countries in the world to live in and it’s no surprise that people want to come and live here.”

The most vulnerable will be prioritized

Earlier, Mr O’Gorman said the government was making it clear it was unable to guarantee everyone a supply of accommodation.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said the most vulnerable would be prioritized at this time.

When asked if there was a danger of people being forced to sleep rough, he said he “can’t rule that out”.

Ireland currently hosts over 58,000 people, including 42,000 Ukrainians and 16,000 people seeking international protection.

Mr O’Gorman said they were engaging with the Ukrainian embassy and discussing that there was a major constraint on capacity, particularly next week.

He also said they were working hard to keep the “pause” on moving into new accommodation as short as possible, but could not guarantee that this situation would not reoccur during the winter if the number of arrivals in the country remains high.

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There were 881 people in the Citywest Transit Hub overnight, and people arriving there this weekend will continue to be processed there based on their application under the Temporary Protection Directive.

“We currently have no sights set on this number of accommodations and that is why we are informing people if they have the possibility, if they are in another EU member state, to stay there. or to look to another EU member state, that we cannot guarantee state accommodation until next week,” he said.

Refugee response looks like ‘war effort’ – Coveney

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney compared the government’s response to welcoming Ukrainian refugees and international protection seekers to a “war effort”.

Speaking in Co Cork, he said: “This is an effective war effort from Ireland, responding primarily to the support of women and children coming from Ukraine, fleeing a war and experiences and horrific circumstances and that puts our country and our systems under tremendous pressure and it’s really going to your head now.”

The number of Ukrainians arriving in Ireland is around 1,500 a week, double what it was in August and September, in addition to around 400 other applicants for international protection weekly.

It comes as around 300 Ukrainians live in tents across the country.

Minister O’Gorman said the tents are “of higher quality” than those supplied to Gormanston and “more designed for weather events”, adding that they are still looking to find additional and alternative accommodation.

System not robust enough, according to Sinn Féin TD

Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh said she believed the current system was not robust enough to decipher whether people were fleeing war.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, she said: “We need a proper immigration policy that is worked out with the Refugee Council around this, as to who comes into the country and to make sure that people come in for the right reasons, or the wrong reasons as you might say.”

She accused the government of “lack of planning” and said it would be a “terrible situation” if refugees had to sleep rough.

Speaking on the same programme, Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said the government is “doing a lot” to accommodate Ukrainian refugees, but there are limits to what the state can do.

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He said Ireland had taken in 55,000 refugees from Ukraine, and although it was expected that Ireland would take in 200,000, he does not believe this was ever possible.

“There was never a reality that this country could take in 200,000 refugees, that’s my own opinion on that.

“We have done our part in terms of what other European countries have asked us to do and what we should be doing, but I think we have to recognize that there are limits to what the state can do. .

“The government at present… I think one in four hotel rooms are provided for refugees. Hostels are provided, guesthouses, promised accommodation, sports stadiums, sports facilities, so the government is doing a lot, but obviously it’s a huge challenge,” he said.

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Irish Refugee Council CEO Nick Henderson said it was unclear where newcomers to the country would go as Citywest suspended admission.

“Everything was already way over capacity, there were twice as many people as there were beds.”

Mr Henderson said the government had indicated people would indeed be detained at the airport.

“This is a most serious situation, and it really represents a breakdown in the reception of refugees, both from Ukraine and people seeking protection here in Ireland,” he said.

Mr Henderson said the Children’s Department has highlighted the work he has done to try to find accommodation, ‘but they themselves have been warning about this precipice for many months’.

“This was to be expected as accommodation options across the country gradually ran out and Citywest became increasingly full,” he said.

“Then finally yesterday he was way over his capacity.”

He added that there will be a significant shortfall by the end of the year.

Rosslare Harbor Friends of Ukraine group chairman Sean Boyce said a “consistent lack of planning” and a “naïve approach” prevented the state from guaranteeing housing.

He said the 4,500 Ukrainians who have arrived in Rosslare so far have been accommodated locally or across the country.

He said everyone arriving here is vulnerable, having fled a war-torn country, and wondered what would happen now if the state’s accommodation capacity was reached.

Additional reporting Teresa Mannion, Conor Kane and Paschal Sheehy