Special Government campaign to tell Ukrainian refugees there is no housing for them in Ireland

Ukrainian refugees wait to board a train to Warsaw in Poland

Gabija Gataveckaite and John Downing

Government officials are set to put in place a special campaign to tell Ukrainian refugees there is no housing for them when they arrive in Ireland.

The communications campaign will tell Ukrainians they are still welcome, however, but that the State may have difficulty in providing housing for them upon their arrival.

43 Ukrainians were told there was no housing available for them after they arrived at Dublin airport over the weekend.

Around 250 Ukrainians arrived on Friday, when the Citywest centre was closed as it was full.

The numbers of people arriving fell to 60 on Saturday, with the Government suspecting that “word got out” among Ukrainians that accommodation was short.

“We are being fairly upfront in saying there is no guarantee of accommodation at the moment,” said a senior Government source.

Equality minister Roderic O’Gorman is meeting Ukrainian Ambassador Gerasko Larysa this afternoon to discuss how best the new message may be communicated to Ukrainians looking to travel to Ireland.

There are now also issues in housing asylum seekers from other countries, however, it is more difficult to warn people coming from a number of other countries of the shortages.

At last night’s Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Ukraine, senior ministers agreed to consider increasing the €400 recognition payment for households who take in refugees to €800.

This will also be extended to people who give empty houses to refugees.

Cabinet ministers have yet to sign off on proposals, which may happen in an incorporeal meeting later on this week or at next week’s Cabinet meeting.

Children’s minister Roderic O’Gorman is also pushing for large buildings, such as unused hotels, to be purchased and used as refugee reception centres.

A transition team has been set up within the department which is scouting out properties which may be bought by the State and turned into centres.

This would mean less reliance of the State on serviced and private accommodation, such as hotels and B&Bs.

Ministers were told refugees will be housed in 500 modular housing units by Christmas and agreed this would be expanded by several hundred units.

It is understood the Taoiseach is keen to see a ramping up of modular housing.

Future hotel contracts will see refugees pay for their own food when they arrive in Ireland while staying in hotels.

Out of the existing 500 hotel contracts, 365 are due to expire at the end of the year. Some of these will be renewed where food will no longer be available to refugees for free.

Ministers also discussed charging people living in direct provision who have been granted refugee status and are working rent.

However, the Government is keen to avoid the legal complexities surrounding landlords and tenants and the charging of rent, so this is likely to instead be a contribution which refugees may be asked to pay instead of being compulsory.

Earlier on Tuesday, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the failure to accommodate Ukrainian refugees is “a social catastrophe” and mirrors the Government’s general failures on housing.

In hard-hitting exchanges Taoiseach Micheál Martin replied that Ms McDonald was “giving succour” to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the Irish people and government services were striving to deal with an unprecedented influx of Ukrainian people fleeing an unjust war.

Ms McDonald accused the Government of “cobbling together a plan” after Ukrainians were left to sleep on the floor at Dublin Airport amid suggestions at one stage they might even be left on the street.

“All the strands of this social catastrophe are linked by your Government’s failure to plan, your failure to organise and ultimately by your failure to deliver,” Ms McDonald

The Sinn Féin leader said that last March the Taoiseach had said he would accommodate 200,000 Ukrainian refugees. “But you’d no real plan as to how you would meet that commitment,” she added.

She said the Irish people welcomed some 60,000 refugees from Ukraine and the system was already overwhelmed. Next Friday the latest homelessness figures will be published with all indicators suggesting another “shameless increase”.

“People are sick of Government’s excuses for your failures in housing. You claim that housing is your number one priority but it’s now time to back up those words with delivery,” Ms McDonald said.

Replying Mr Martin said Ms McDonald’s commentary and some of the debate around this issue in recent days had become somewhat detached from the reality. He paid tribute to the Irish people and all the public and voluntary services working to help Ukrainian refugees.

“We have responded to that terror. More than 55,000 Ukrainians have sought and received refuge in our country. It’s one of the highest within the EU, which you do not acknowledge,” the Taoiseach said.

“You call that ‘a disaster’, which is extraordinary language to be using,” Mr Martin added.

He said Ireland had accommodated 9,000 other overseas citizens seeking international accommodation a figure which will rise to 14,000 by the end of the year.

“Now that’s not a story of failure. It’s a story of families in every corner of this country, of communities across this country opening their homes and hearts to people fleeing war,” the Taoiseach said.

“You should not try and play it for crude domestic politics,” he added. Mr Martin also accused that Ms McDonald’s references to domestic housing problems were an attempt “to play both sides in the debate”.

The Taoiseach added that care should be taken at how things were said in this debate. “Because the only person that I see that would get solace from what you’ve said, and the manner in which you’ve said it, is Putin himself because that’s what Putin wants to do,” Mr Martin added.

“He wants to create the impression across Europe that Europeana can’t manage this,” he added.

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