Reliance on volunteers to house Ukrainian refugees unsustainable, Taoiseach told

NGOs submit proposals to improve collaboration and co-ordination of response

Groups representing refugees have raised concerns with Taoiseach Micheál Martin over an "over-reliance" on volunteers involved in the effort to accommodate those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

The overemphasis on volunteers is “neither appropriate, realistic or sustainable”, a group of non-Governmental organisations (NGOs) said on Friday.

In addition to meeting with Mr Martin on Friday, the group also met with Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman and Minister of State for Charities Joe O’Brien.

A proposal given to the Taoiseach by the Irish Refugee Council and others states that there is "significant pressure" on public representatives, civil and public servants, and community organisations involved in providing an immediate response, which is "not sustainable".

The NGOs submitted four proposals to improve collaboration and co-ordination of the responses. “We are concerned that the difference in the standards, approaches and levels of support being provided are largely dependent on the strength of community infrastructure and local communities,” the submission states.

“The over-reliance on a volunteer-led response is also a matter of concern given the depth and breadth of the needs that are presenting.”

On the State side, Government work is being co-ordinated through a senior officials group chaired by Martin Fraser, the secretary general to the Government. There are various taskforces and stakeholder groups involved as well as state agencies and government departments.

The NGO group said there is a need for “co-ordinated, cross-sectoral strategic planning and implementation”.

Independent director

The organisations reiterated their demand that an independent high-level national director be appointed to lead the national response and oversee local implementation, with the power to drive the national and local response, the capacity to identify and convene expert opinion and report directly to the Taoiseach.

A national taskforce should also be appointed, it said, to develop and oversee a national plan and also to expedite the White Paper on ending direct provision.

The “intensity and levels of support and the range of services will be far greater than was experienced during the Covid crisis”, the group stated in its proposal. The overemphasis on volunteers is “neither appropriate, realistic or sustainable.”

In a statement issued on Friday afternoon, Nick Henderson, the chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, said the meeting followed a letter to the Taoiseach outlining the concerns of his and more than 40 other civil society organisations, detailed in the paper.

He said the meeting was “constructive” and said he acknowledged Ireland’s “very positive” response and the Taoiseach’s leadership.

Mr Martin told the group that the recommendations were under active consideration, and they will meet again in three weeks.

A Government source said it was a positive meeting and a chance to get feedback “from the ground up” and that the Coalition will consider how to integrate their efforts with local authorities, and look at supports and resources.

Payment scheme

Meanwhile, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys has said that the proposed payment to households who take in Ukrainian refugees will be paid by the Department of Social Protection.

Commenting on the scheme, Ms Humphreys said she had an initial conversation with the Taoiseach about the issue, but the amount of the payment or whether it was subject to tax had not yet been decided.

Speaking in Co Offaly where she launched the Slieve Bloom bike trail network, Ms Humphreys said the Government “obviously wants to do something to help people who are taking people into their homes. It is really in some way to defray the costs”.

Ms Humphreys said: “The amount has not been decided yet,” and asked if it would be taxed, she said, “these are all issues we have to tease out”.