Accommodation for Ukrainian refugees will be ‘stretched’, says Taoiseach

‘We have never experienced such a rapid inflow of refugees fleeing war before’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has warned the availability of accommodation for Ukrainian refugees in Ireland will be "stretched" and there will be "difficult" weeks ahead.

Speaking in Helsinki, where he is meeting Finnish president Sauli Niinistö and prime minister Sanna Marin, he said Ireland will fulfil its EU obligations in terms of refugees "as best we can".

"I think what's remarkable is that over 20,000 refugees have come into Ireland from Ukraine. We have never experienced such a rapid inflow of refugees fleeing war before and I want to pay tribute to the public service in terms of responding at a number of different levels.

“On the accommodation front, it is stretched, but there are lots of new initiatives coming on stream. It will be difficult in the coming weeks, of that there is no doubt. We are bringing more staffing, particularly on the pledging side to get through that list faster and to release homes faster for refugees coming into the country.”

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He said Ireland stands in "full solidarity" with Ukraine and said that Russia would like to see European states coming under pressure and "buckle".

"There's no doubt that there is a strategic approach behind the Russian bombardment of cities and towns, and the intimidation and the desire to create migration as a leverage and that's not something new. We've got to resist that. We're all part of a community within Europe.

“We have to stand up against that type of naked aggression and it will be challenging for us. This war will have impacts on us all. Our challenge is to put humanity first and do everything we can to protect the lives.”

Time limit

Speaking on Friday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the State would not be able to set a limit on the amount of time Ukrainian refugees might have to spend in temporary tented accommodation, during any surge in numbers arriving.

He said a “good chunk” of Ukrainian refugees would be able to source their own housing, through friends and family already in Ireland, or by entering the rental market after finding a job.

“There will be a very substantial number that will require accommodation from the State. We’ll do our best to make sure that is appropriate accommodation, use of B&Bs, holiday homes, hotels,” he said.

However, it was likely refugees would be housed in large temporary accommodation centres, as well as sports and community halls, he said. “It is not a pretty picture but these are people who are fleeing war, their homes may not exist anymore and we have to provide them shelter,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the “problem” with setting a maximum time limit refugees would have to stay in temporary tented accommodation was that the State might be unable to meet that timeframe as the numbers arriving increased.

Cost of living

On the cost of living crisis arising from inflationary pressure which has been exacerbated by the situation in Ukraine, Mr Martin said a meeting of party leaders and Ministers will take place next Monday to discuss ways to help households.

He warned, however, that there cannot be “week to week” responses to the crisis.

“I think we have to stand back and look at this with a medium timeframe, to do the right thing, not to chase inflation and get the wrong results. The critical issue is how do we protect people from the worst impacts of the cost of living increases,” he said.

“I think we have to do that in a way that does not make it worse in terms of inflationary pressures. The meeting on Monday will be with a view to scoping out what is the better response here. And that means bringing in the social partners in my view.

"I will be asking National Economic and Social Council also to prepare position paper for the Government in terms of what's the most effective way to respond to this unique set of circumstances coming out of a pandemic, which created its own inflationary cycle, then a war and on top of that."

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times