Fears mount over State’s capacity to house Ukrainian refugees

‘There is a capacity point,’ says one Minister, noting growing concern about what to do next

Fears are growing around the State’s capacity to house Ukrainian refugees in hotels, amid significant increases in the number of people seeking accommodation on arrival into the State.

At a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Ministers were told that up to 500 people sought accommodation, and were moved into hotels, since Monday.

While the State has about 2,500 hotel rooms available to it, and is believed to be working on plans to source another 1,000, there are concerns about the capability to meet escalating demand.

“There is a capacity point,” said a Minister on Tuesday afternoon, adding that there is genuine concern about what to do next.

Cabinet was told that 6,646 refugees are now in Ireland, with 2,262 in hotels. But in recent days have seen a step change in demand for accommodation, which has risen from between 150-250 per day, up to about 300-450 per day across the weekend and in the early part of this week.

Meanwhile, Ryanair has refused to comment on accusations that it is charging higher fees from Poland, the country through which many refugees are fleeing to Ireland. Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland Larysa Geraskotold the EU affairs committee on Tuesday that the carrier had raised prices from Krakow and Warsaw to Dublin.

Searches on the Ryanair website showed the outbound leg of a return trip to the Polish cities – about €30 – was significantly cheaper than the return which came in at between €175 and €215. The committee will be writing to the airline to query the matter, said Labour TD Brendan Howlin. He said the committee will ask Ryanair to subvent the cost of flights, or indeed, to lay them on for free for refugees.

Mr Howlin said the committee will also seek a list of Irish companies doing business with Russia, compiled by the Ukrainian embassy and sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Ms Gerasko told the committee that EU sanctions are not enough and called for access to ports for Russian ships to be suspended; and also for energy imports to cease. She also questioned why the European Union, and Ireland, had not expelled any diplomats yet.

‘Significant pressure’

On refugees a spokesman for Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman, whose department is the initial provider of shelter, said there would be “significant pressure on accommodation in the coming days”.

He put this down to high rates of hotel occupancy for St Patrick's Day and the bank holiday, alongside increasing numbers fleeing Ukraine.

As well as an overall increase in numbers, demand is being driven, Ministers believe, by a change in the circumstances of people coming to Ireland seeking refuge. In the first instance, this was largely driven by those who had links to Ireland already, but increasingly people who need more support are coming in.

Mr O'Gorman told Cabinet of plans to compartmentalise larger buildings if they are needed, while Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien said emergency powers such as skipping procurement and bypassing planning laws may be used.

The spokesman for Mr O’Gorman said offers from the more than 20,000 people who had made accommodation available will be taken up in the coming days – focusing initially on vacant homes, thought to provide for between 20 and 25 per cent of the total.