Subscriber OnlyIreland

What changes to supports for Ukrainian refugees are under consideration by Government?

Q&A: Government has faced difficult decisions as State’s refugee accommodation system strains

Changes to the supports on offer for people fleeing the war in Ukraine are set to go to Cabinet for final approval on Tuesday. Ministers took part in a Cabinet committee meeting on Ukraine on Monday afternoon and the Coalition leaders signed off on the proposed changes later in the evening.

Almost two years on from Russia’s invasion, there appears to be no end in sight to the war. With Ireland’s system for accommodating refugees under severe pressure, the Government has had some difficult decisions to make on the assistance the State offers to people fleeing from Ukraine.

Q: How many people have fled to Ireland from Ukraine and where are they living?

A: More than 100,000 Ukrainians have come to Ireland since the war started in February 2022. Many of the refugees are elderly or women with children. About 15,000 are working and another 15,000 are children attending schools. More than 73,700 are in accommodation provided by the State whether it is in hotels, State-owned buildings or new modular homes.

The remainder have sourced their own housing. Accommodation has become increasingly difficult to find amid the ongoing housing crisis. There is additional pressure due to an increase in asylum seekers from other countries, some 25,800 of which are being housed by the State.


Q: What are the changes to the supports and why are they under consideration?

A: The proposals include cutting welfare benefits. There would no longer be an automatic entitlement to the €220 per week jobseekers’ allowance. Instead people who are living in accommodation provided by the State would be given €38.80 per week, the sum currently paid to asylum-seekers.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Monday that the change “will be saying that we can’t promise you accommodation indefinitely, but while we do provide you accommodation, you won’t receive the full amount of social welfare because generally speaking somebody who is receiving social welfare would have to pay rent and would have to pay for their food and utilities”.

Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman, meanwhile, has proposed limiting State-provided accommodation to 90 days before Ukrainian refugees would be asked to find their own housing, a plan that will also go to Cabinet for approval on Tuesday.

The changes would not apply to Ukrainians who are already in Ireland but would affect new arrivals and there will be some flexibility under the new rules for vulnerable cases.

In addition, parents with children in State accommodation will still get the €140 monthly child benefit payment.

The changes will not affect the rights of Ukrainian children to go to school and there will be no schools set up at new accommodation centres. In instances where there are no school places locally, arrangements will be made to bus children to another school.

There is a view in Government that the support on offer in Ireland is more generous than other western European countries. The intention of the changes is to ensure Ireland does not offer an additional pull factor for Ukrainian refugees, particularly those who initially fled to other countries before coming to Ireland, in so-called secondary movements.

Q: What’s the background of all this and when will the changes be made?

A: There was a something of a row when proposals were first discussed by Cabinet in October, with concerns from Fianna Fáil ministers that the 90-day limit on State accommodation would move responsibility for the issue to the Department of Housing, which would have to provide housing or homeless services. Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Mr Varadkar have since downplayed suggestions of any major dispute.

Government officials have spent the last seven weeks working on the issues involved and the proposals were signed off on by Ministers at a Cabinet committee meeting on Ukraine and then by Coalition leaders on Monday. Bringing in the changes will require legislation to be passed by the Oireachtas. The expectation is that the changes will kick in in the first quarter of 2024.

Q: How have the proposals been received outside Government?

A: Nick Henderson, the chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council said: “We strongly warn against the 90-day limit because the vast majority of people would find it difficult, if not impossible, to find accommodation to move to.”

He also said: “These policies seem to be putting short-term deterrence over long-term planning. This war is, unfortunately, not going away and people are beginning to build their lives here.”

Deirdre Garvey, the secretary general of the Irish Red Cross said her organisation “would be concerned if Ukrainians were to be obliged to source and pay for their own accommodation” after 90 days.

She said the residential rental sector is “under extreme pressure” and “there are few opportunities available, even to those who have the economic means”.

Ms Garvey said: “It is clear that the proposed measure is not intended to manage the accommodation crisis… but to send a message of deterrence to others thinking of travelling to Ireland.

“Such an approach is a sledgehammer and other solutions should be found.”

Q: What is the Government saying?

A: Mr Varadkar said on Monday he is proud of how Ireland has been able to welcome 100,000 people from Ukraine, adding that those fleeing the war will “remain welcome”.

He also said: “We are going to have to adjust what we offer in terms of social welfare and state accommodation in order to bring it more into line what other western European countries are doing.”

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times