The Government cannot “stand over” recent cases where asylum seekers were forced to sleep rough due to a lack of State-provided accommodation, the Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman has said.
Speaking on Sunday he said the State was in a “really difficult situation right now” when it came to finding accommodation for the numbers arriving, which meant some people were being housed in tents and halls. “My immediate focus is shelter and safety for people, and unfortunately that is a bed and cover over your head right now.”
He said the State was facing major difficulties finding enough housing for asylum seekers applying for protection in Ireland. “It is incredibly difficult to source accommodation for international protection applicants. And even when we do source it [local] opposition means sometimes we can’t use it.”
Earlier this month the Irish Refugee Council said it was aware of two dozen asylum seekers who had to sleep rough as the International Protection Accommodation System (IPAS) had no available accommodation.
Mr O’Gorman said officials were working to avoid a similar situation occurring in future. “As Minister I can’t stand over the fact that we weren’t able to provide accommodation. That’s something that doesn’t sit [well] with me at all. And me and my department are doing everything we can to ensure that a situation like that doesn’t happen again.”
The Department of Equality and Integration has been struggling to meet accommodation demand following an increase in asylum seekers coming to Ireland, as well as Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia.
Mr O’Gorman said hotels and similar accommodation would continue to be the main source of housing for Ukrainians next year.
Commitments to end the direct provision system, which houses asylum seekers in large residential centres, was “undoubtedly” challenging given the new pressure on accommodation, he said. The Government had opted “not to be seen to interfere with the wider provision of social housing” when it came to housing Ukrainians.
The Minister was speaking at a panel talk at Night and Day music festival, in Clonalis House, Co Roscommon.
He said it was clear that those coming to Ireland from Ukraine would be in the country “for a longer period of time” as it was not safe for them to return home. “We don’t know how long this war is going to go on for.”
At present there are 32,000 Ukrainians in State-provided accommodation such as hotels, as well as around 4,700 people housed in properties pledged by the public.
Mr O’Gorman said officials were conscious that while the numbers arriving from Ukraine has declined, there was still a flow of people coming into the State. “It is significant in a system where we are always quite close to capacity.”
He said Ireland’s immigration system needed to be better prepared to respond to large numbers fleeing future crises around the world, similar to the invasion of Ukraine. “Our entire immigration system isn’t ready for the scale of that challenge.”