The final group of more than 80 asylum seekers who have been accommodated in tents will move to indoor accommodation on Monday, the Department of Children and Integration has said.
The National Emergency Co-ordination Group met on Sunday to assess the impact of the current cold snap which has caused disruption to flights and has created hazardous conditions on the roads. A status-yellow low temperature and ice warning has been extended until Friday following snow and ice warnings over the weekend.
Speaking following the emergency group meeting, Minister for Local Government Darragh O’Brien said life would “go on as normal” despite the low temperatures.
He urged people to use their heating in their homes to stay warm despite fears about mounting bills. “No one will be cut off from energy and from heat. That is a decision the Government has made and that is absolute.”
For those on social welfare there were additional supports, including increased fuel allowance, double payments and there would be access to exceptional needs payments for those really struggling with energy bills in the new year, he said.
With night-time temperatures forecast to remain below zero for the rest of the week, groups working with asylum seekers said the 13 tents at Knockalisheen direct-provision centre in Co Clare should be dismantled and “never used to house asylum seekers again”.
Most of the 103 men, some of whom had been living in the tents since September, were moved into a recreation hall on the south Co Clare campus on Saturday amid intense criticism from groups including the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Irish Refugee Council and Limerick-based immigrant support NGO Doras.
By Sunday morning, 93 remained in the recreation hall. Ten were moved to a local hotel. A department spokesman said the remaining 83 would move to “entirely new premises” on Monday, though could not say where.
Doras chief executive John Lannon said some were being relocated within Clare and Limerick but others would have to go further afield.
“A lot of them, they have been in Clare since September so they have started to put down roots, do English classes and established support groups of friends who are now going to other parts of the country, which is not ideal. We know it is a really difficult situation and we understand the problems the department has, but we are also disappointed it took them so long to move them.”
Mr Lannon said tents were “never ideal” accommodation and “it was predictable” they would become unbearable as temperatures plunged.
The department spokesman said alternative accommodation had become available only at the weekend, and 150 people who were in “less winter-ready tents” in Athlone had been prioritised for relocation last week. A further 40, who had been in tents at Johnston Marina in Tralee, were moved indoors last month.
Speaking in Co Cork on Sunday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said people should not be in tents in such conditions and the Government was working to ensure such conditions are eliminated. “We’re working hard to make sure all Ukrainians that come to Ireland are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve – of course we have managed a huge number over a relatively short period of time but there is no excuse to be in tents even if they are large tents with heating systems.”
Nick Henderson, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, said tents were inappropriate accommodation. “The problem with using tents for a few days or weeks is that it is everybody’s experience that that slips into being something longer-term, and that is exactly what happened,” he said. “Everybody said it was to the end of summer, then the end of autumn and then this cold snap has been in the forecast for at least a week and we find ourselves, everybody having to generate an outcry for them to be pulled out [of use].”
Targeted measures to support homeless people through the weekend had been “kept busy” said Mike Allen, head of advocacy with Focus Ireland. At the request of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive it opened its Dublin city-centre coffee shop 24 hours a day from Saturday, to ensure anyone without accommodation could access warmth and hot nutrition indoors.
“We had 10 to 12 very vulnerable people in each night,” he said. Some had come in from tents “because they were just so cold”. A number were newly homeless and “nervous” about accessing emergency accommodation, while others with experience of shelters chose not to access them. The coffee shop will remain open until Wednesday, with a further extension possible if requested.