We pledge to do whatever it takes to get accommodation for Ukrainians, says Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath

We pledge to do whatever it takes to get accommodation for Ukrainians, says Fianna Fail’s Michael McGrath

Minister for Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath says there is “undoubtedly” pressure on the emergency housing system for Ukrainians that the government will try to address, but the amount of work being done must also be recognised.

Some 43 Ukrainians have been left without state housing since Friday, with a 200-person overnight facility set to open at Dublin Airport today.

Minister McGrath said no one is happy that a small number of people have been left homeless in recent days, but “it is a measure of how much pressure the system is under,” reported RTE.

Speaking in Cork, Minister McGrath said “about 55,000 people have fled Ukraine and come to Ireland for protection, for safety,” reports RTE.

“At this point in time we have issued in the order of 43,000 medical cards to Ukrainians, we have about 12,000 Ukrainian children attending our schools here, we are accommodating about 42,000 directly in state run accommodation and there is undoubtedly a set of constraints in terms of the provision of accommodation which we will seek to address,” Minister McGrath said, reports RTE.

The chief ministers are meeting today to discuss the emergency housing crisis for Ukrainian and other refugees arriving in Ireland.

The three leaders of the Coalition will discuss the crisis with the Minister of Integration and the Minister of Housing.

Minister McGrath said that today’s sub-committee will be briefed by all relevant ministers on modular housing, the refurbishment program and the options open to them, including the promised housing and the award payment.

But he said that with more than 7.7 million Ukrainian refugees in Europe, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it is not just Ireland that is under pressure.

According to RTE, he said: “We are doing the best we can. The Irish people have been remarkably understanding and generous in their support and we recognised that there are areas we need to do better and we need to find more accommodation to make sure people have basic shelter and support, and we will do that.”

The cost for the current year of providing accommodation and support is expected to be “in the order of €1 billion”.

Currently, some 1,200 people from Ukraine seek refuge here every week, but in early October they reached almost 1,500 a week.

In addition, this year more than 10,000 applicants for international protection have arrived in Ireland seeking refuge.

This compares with just under 3,762 in the first nine months of 2019, before Covid.

The weekly number of arrivals of applicants for international protection is around 300.

Some may decide to stay, but others will be here for a relatively short period of time and we just need to ensure that we look after their basic needs and today will provide a good opportunity for Government to assess the current state of play, recognise there are pressures there and see what more we can do to fill the gaps that are currently still there,” Minister McGrath said, reports RTE.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister said today’s cabinet subcommittee meeting will examine how the state could help more people fleeing conflict.

Simon Coveney said it was not acceptable that those traveling from Ukraine could not find accommodation here and that more options were available.

He said that the Department of Defense had some facilities that had been offered but had not yet been used.

And he said there may be better supports for members of the public, who may want to help refugees in guest rooms or vacant properties.

The minister said that more could be done in terms of financial support available in this regard.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that a measure on the table is to increase the payment of 400 euros for host families.

Another is to reduce the level of free food in hotels in an effort to encourage people to move on.

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien will provide an update on medium and long-term housing solutions, something NGOs have been requesting.

However, the government said the situation would remain difficult, with a shortage of 15,000 beds by December.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Ireland, Larysa Gerasko, called the situation “unacceptable.”

“They bought tickets, they arrived in Ireland. So it would be better to announce the lack of accommodation in advance and Ukrainians would decide to go to another country,” she said, reported RTE.

Lily Orlovska, an interpreter working to help refugees from Ukraine, said she spoke to several people looking for a place to stay, but they all had to return to Dublin airport because there was no room for CityWest.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, she said they had filled out all the temporary protection papers but were told there was no room and to go back to the airport and stay there “at least until Tuesday,” reported RTE.

Those who returned to the airport slept on the ground, she said.

“They didn’t have any food, any money, nothing has been given to them to support, it is just to stay in the airport,” Ms. Orlovska said, reports RTE.

She added that some people did not return to the airport, as they did not know they could return there, so they slept in the open on the streets.

According to Ms Orlovska, some people are now reluctant to officially seek international protection in Ireland and are considering returning to other European countries, such as Germany, as they can find accommodation there.

She said that people arriving from Ukraine were surprised by the lack of housing here.

“They were just shocked, and I could see that some of them were nearly crying because some of them just sold some of their belongings, like some property, to buy the ticket to come to Ireland through Europe,” she said, reports RTE.

The national coordinator of the Ukrainian Civil Society Forum said that the government must present a plan to create short-term emergency housing capacity.

Emma Lane-Spollen said there is some frustration with the situation, as predicted a few months ago, but nothing has been done to alleviate it.

Speaking at the same time, she said the cabinet meeting is important because the Taoiseach has to make decisions now that will create an agreement that will take effect in six months.

She said much more than a community-led response is needed, as people are in the best position to know where empty properties are.

“Communities know where there are old convents and schools that can be renovated, and communities need to see some benefit from people coming into their communities,” she said, reports RTE.

Capuchin Center volunteer coordinator Alan Bailey said the center provided food and showers to a number of Ukrainian refugees on Friday and that they returned on Saturday, before returning to Dublin airport to sleep.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, he said people felt very welcome and apologized to them “that maybe it all didn’t live up to their expectations, but insofar as we could with our meals and medical services or hygiene services, that we give them the welcome they were looking for,” reports RTE.

According to RTE, Bailey said that the Capuchin Center does not have accommodation facilities “but certainly they were given the use of all the various facilities – hygiene and clean clothes.”

RTE reported, he said there was “a certain level of shock” and disappointment about the lack of accommodation, but they’re certainly appreciative of any help they were getting and a lot of them spoke of what they had left behind them and how happy they were to be here.”

Bailey said the center offers more than 200 breakfasts each.

“This morning we have over 350. We have 150 families queueing outside for nappies and baby food as I speak. So, we have a lot of services and a lot of demand”, which the centre is meeting, he said, reports RTE.

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