Up to 20,000 Ukrainian refugees could come to Ireland, says Coveney

Appeal may be made to Irish families ‘willing to open up their homes to Ukrainian families’

Up to 20,000 refugees fleeing the crisis in Ukraine could be accommodated in Ireland and families may be asked to open their homes, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

It is understood Cabinet was briefed that the initial figure could be 6,000.

He also said talks are ongoing at a European level in Brussels on Tuesday morning about whether or not staff or diplomats in Russian embassies should be expelled.

“Those discussions are actually taking place as we speak now and we may be in a position later on to make decisions on that. But I don’t want to preempt the outcome of those discussions.”

“We have already announced a €10million humanitarian package and I expect we will do a lot more than that.

“We have waived any requirement for visas for Ukrainians to come into Ireland, and they’re going to get effectively a special refugee status when they get here for three years to be able to work and live here effectively as EU citizens.”

“I think in truth, if we’re going to be able to accommodate the numbers that are expected to come here we’re going to have to go beyond providing State provided accommodation, it will probably have to involve families as well, who are willing to open up their homes to Ukrainian families for a temporary period of time. But this is a this is a war effort. So the norms need to get set aside.”

He said the Cabinet had a discussion on the numbers of Ukrainian refugees that could arrive into Ireland and it will “certainly be in the thousands”.

“The EU hasn’t put an ask of countries at the moment but you know the figures in my view will be certainly in the thousands.

“If you were to have an estimate of up to a million people crossing into the EU, and if you look at Ireland’s proportion in terms of population, which is often the allocation key when it comes to financial allocations or whatever, that is about 2 per cent.

“So that’s 20,000 people to start with. I don’t think we should be putting actual numbers on because we don’t know. But certainly I think there was a very clear message in Government today that that we will not be found wanting in terms of generosity here.”

In relation to the expected impact on fuel prices arising from sanctions on foot of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Coveney said the EU is examining ways to help countries respond to that but no specific proposals have been put forward.

“The European Union at the moment is looking at how we respond to that, whether we can give countries the flexibility to be able to do things that normally wouldn’t be possible at all.

“There is nothing specific being proposed yet, but certainly, Cabinet was updated on the view within the commission that that these are extraordinary times and we will need to ensure that there are extraordinary flexibilities available to member states to protect their own citizens well being and so on.”

Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins has said a great sense of darkness has fallen across the world at the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine. In a statement Mr Higgins said: “The hearts of the Irish people go out to all of those who are suffering from this completely unacceptable, immoral and unjustified violence.”

Mr Higgin said “the rise of militarism must end. Full humanitarian access must be given to all civilians in need”.

The President called on those inflicting violence to reflect on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and said “it is essential that the peoples of the world come together and demand the peace that in the Charter of the United Nations was not only an alternative to war, but where our best hopes for humanity lie.”

War crimes

Earlier, Simon Coveney accused Russian forces of “war crimes” over their actions in Ukraine.

Speaking on his way into Tuesday morning’s Cabinet meeting, Mr Coveney described the situation as “extremely bleak”.

While the resistance of Ukrainians was extraordinary, “in terms of courage and bravery and resilience”, a significant increase in the numbers of civilians killed and injured could be expected.

“The situation is absolutely awful. More and more civilians we know are being killed and there’s increasing evidence now to show that Russian forces are actually targeting civilians which is a war crime and I think we should be very clear and blunt about that,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ news.

“We also see credible reports and pictures that are difficult I think to question, that cluster bombs are being used in built up areas in the city of Kharkhiv late yesterday.

“These are completely unacceptable breaches of international law. They’re war crimes and they should be called that. And of course we’re seeing an increased presence all the time of heavily armoured Russian columns coming into Ukraine from Russia.

Mr Coveney also said Ireland was “not neutral” in the conflict and had not been from the start.

Russia was aggressively invading a sovereign nation in the heart of Europe “and we are taking sides on this conflict”.

Ireland was contributing fully to the EU’s efforts, along with other partners around the world, to heavily isolate and sanction Russia.

Ireland had committed almost €10 million to a €500 million package to support Ukraine’s military. Ireland would focus on non-lethal weapons but that did not mean the contribution was not significant.