Ukrainian refugees will be given medical cards, says Donnelly

Minister says Ireland will do ‘everything it can from a healthcare perspective’

Ireland is looking at sending medical supplies to Ukraine while also providing healthcare support including medical cards for refugees fleeing to Ireland following its invasion by Russia, according to the Minister for Health.

Stephen Donnelly said incoming refugees from the conflict will be provided with medical cards and given full access to healthcare facilities and our Covid-19 vaccination programme, as well as mental health supports.

He said he would be meeting the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland later on Monday to make sure Ireland is doing “everything it can from a healthcare perspective”.

Last week, the Minister met Ukrainian clinicians working in Ireland, and out of this, it was agreed to look at getting medical supplies out to Ukraine in conjunction with other EU countries.

Asked how many refugees Ireland will accept from Ukraine, he said the Government expects to take in a pro rata number equivalent to 2 per cent of those coming to the EU.

“So for every million Ukrainians who will be coming into Europe, Ireland would take 20,000. Certainly, we are working on the assumption that a very, very large number of men, women and children are going to come here and we’ve got to do everything we can to support them.”

Mr Donnelly said Ireland was standing “shoulder to shoulder” with Ukraine and he described as “outrageous” Russia was doing to the country.

Mr Donnelly was speaking to reporters after visiting women’s health projects in the National Maternity Hospital.

Ministers on Sunday said the number of Ukrainian refugees coming to Ireland could reach 80,000-100,000 as civilians fleeing the Russian invasion continued to pour into neighbouring countries.

Officials are working on plans to use army facilities as well as hotels to cater for the influx, which is expected to gather pace in the coming weeks.

Junior minister Anne Rabbitte, who attended World Health Organisation meetings which discussed the issue in Copenhagen last week, told The Irish Times up to 100,000 refugees could arrive in Ireland. Asked if significant numbers of Ukrainians could start arriving “within weeks”, she said “I’d say sooner”.

Response

Earlier on Monday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Cabinet would on Tuesday discuss Ireland’s response to the anticipated thousands of Ukrainian refugees who will arrive in the country.

The secretary generals of Government departments are already co-ordinating the response that will cover social protection, education, children and economic responses, he told the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk.

So far, 1,800 Ukrainian people have arrived in the country, 486 on Sunday alone, and the number is growing day by day. Two-thirds of the people who arrived have family contacts here, but more who will arrive in the coming days will not have family connections, said the Taoiseach.

She said schools should start preparing to welcome Ukrainian children while local GPs and medical services, as well as local retailers and businesses, should anticipate increased demand for services.

The scenes at the Ukrainian border have been horrific, said Mr Martin. He said it was the worst displacement of people since the second World War, and the response will have to be outside the norm. "It will be very challenging. It is something we have never experienced before."

The Government will have to take a step by step approach to providing accommodation for the refugees arriving into Ireland, he said.

“We want to provide State accommodation as much as we can,” said Mr Martin. Hotels and emergency locations will be considered initially, he said.

“We are getting a very good response from people and this week, there will be a portal developed by the Department of Children to organise expressions and pledges of responses for the people of Ireland.”

The issue of Ukrainian refugees arriving into the country who have not been vaccinated will also have to be addressed, he added. The Government is already working with the Ukrainian community in Ireland and issues such as health and education will be addressed along with issues such as language and translators, said Mr Martin. There will be a targeted approach in relation to vaccines because of the lower vaccination rates in Ukraine, he said.

Ambassador

When asked about calls for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador to Ireland, Mr Martin repeated the necessity to retain diplomatic communications because of Irish citizens in Russia and Ukraine.

While he said he fully understood the public anger at the comments by the ambassador, he did not condone any act to damage the embassy. It was a basic tenet of international diplomacy to respect the quality of lives of people in embassies, said Mr Martin.

Farmers will be given every assistance to underpin their efforts to ensure food security and any efforts to move to the production of grain crops, said Mr Martin. “These are actions outside the norm,” he said.

Every effort would have to be made to ensure that any humanitarian response was sufficient to meet the challenge, he said.

On the issue of rising energy prices as a result of the conflict, Mr Martin said that if production from the Corrib gas field could be increased, that would be done. Ultimately the best way to ensure security of supply was to put more focus on renewables, said Mr Martin. A review of energy security that is under way would have to be accelerated, he said, to guarantee security of supply.

As for neutrality, Ireland was not politically neutral on the issue of the attack on Ukraine, he said. While Ireland was not militarily aligned that had not hindered the country’s response and Ireland will contribute the full per capita amount towards assisting Ukraine.

The policy now should be to help Ukraine in any way we can, he said. “Right now the focus has to be on humanitarian efforts.”