Ireland’s response to refugee crisis could face even more challenges in 2023 as system teeters on collapse

Internal documents highlight concerns about sustainability of system as war in Ukraine enters a second year

Internal Government documents show that, almost a year into the Ukraine crisis, the State is struggling to cope with the influx of refugees from the war-torn country, alongside thousands from elsewhere in the world.

The scramble to deal with the influx was the biggest public policy crisis of last year, and documents drawn up for incoming Minister of State for Integration Joe O’Brien show that this year promises to be as challenging, if not more so.

Most pressingly, the system appears to be constantly teetering on the edge of being overwhelmed – as happened twice last year, when people were forced to sleep on the floor of Dublin Airport or buildings sourced rapidly nearby. It is, in some ways, a testament to the hard work of many that this has not happened more often.

The briefing documents highlight clear concerns about the sustainability of the system as the war enters a second year. They show a range of political, social and other issues stemming from accommodation shortfalls, including the need for a “significant acceleration” in cross-departmental efforts and the risk of being held “hostage” by the far-right.


The picture that emerges is that the Department of Integration is at risk of buckling under the pressures being exerted on it. It is now facing a staffing shortfall. A separate risk register compiled by the department recognises “significant gaps” and says recruitment is “challenging” while the demands of the Ukraine crisis “will make it more difficult to achieve other strategic goals/objectives and meet all corporate governance requirements”. The briefing warns there has been a “significant impact on other areas of the department’s work programme” and its ability to process payments and oversee financial governance is called into question.

Doubt is also cast on the much-vaunted Government plan to provide 700 modular units, which will be key to moving people out of serviced accommodation in hotels. There is deep concern that social acceptance is fraying, as feared by the department for months and evidenced by unrest in East Wall in Dublin and elsewhere. The greater the community backlash that develops, “the fewer contractors who will be prepared to work with us”, the briefing warns.

The crisis is having a well-documented impact on other policy areas. Its impact on the plan to reform and reshape the direct provision system is known, but the documents raise questions over whether the plan is fit for purpose. It is, they note, not clear if a big upswing in people seeking international protection from jurisdictions beyond Ukraine is permanent, saying it has “huge implications” for the White Paper, which was based on an assumption of 3,500 arrivals each year.

It is estimated that only 20 per cent of the budget for implementing the White Paper for last year was expected to be spent.

The documents make clear that efforts to get people with leave to remain in the State to exit the direct provision system will intensify. These people have been described as “trapped” by a dearth of housing options, but the documents show a need to move 6,000-7,000 people on this year.

“If this is not achieved, there is a strong risk that we will need emergency measures in view of the severe scarcity of accommodation and our difficulty to secure sufficient additional accommodation,” Mr O’Brien was advised.

At least 300 people need to move on each month, it says, but only 99 per month are doing so at the moment. Last year, the department wrote to all people in this category urging them to leave and the documents show they will write again, removing access to the “grocery points” system from January 23rd.

There is also an update on offers of accommodation from other State agencies. Fáilte Ireland told the department that with blended working in place, it could give over up to 50 per cent of its Dublin office space.

However, the Baggot Street Hospital building looks unlikely to be part of the effort, as it requires “significant works” to make it habitable. A proposal to use grounds at the Central Mental Hospital, which is being developed for housing, as short-term emergency accommodation was shelved “due to extensive works needed”.