Massive effort to house tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees under way

Officials evaluating potential sites and facilities throughout the country

Intensive efforts to identify facilities to house tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees are underway, with officials evaluating a large number of potential sites and facilities around the country.

More than 10,000 refugees have already arrived in the State, with about half of them staying with friends and relatives and the remainder mostly staying in hotels.

The Government expects a further 10,000 people to arrive by the end of the month and that the numbers could rise to 40,000 during April.

Some senior sources played down an upper estimate of 200,000 offered by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue on Tuesday.

Officials suggested that the current working assumption was that it was more likely that fewer than 100,000 people would to arrive in the coming months. However, sources conceded that there is no certainty one way or the other.

Hotels block-booked

Hotels are being block-booked for periods of up to six months to provide emergency accommodation during the initial phase and while longer-term plans are put in place.

Refugees are currently being processed by officials from the Departments of Justice and Social Protection in hubs at points of entry, before being brought to hotels if accommodation is needed.

The intention is that centres at Citywest in Dublin and elsewhere in the country, such as Millstreet Arena in Cork and the National Show Centre near Swords, will be brought on stream to accommodate people for a few days while they await longer-term housing.

Other medium-term accommodation options include private houses pledged by the public, student housing – once colleges break up for summer – residential facilities owned by religious orders and repurposed public buildings.

Some sources admitted privately that providing accommodation would likely prove to be a “huge challenge”, with a risk of friction especially as the need for full-time accommodation hardens over time.

There have been about 20,000 pledges from members of the public offering to provide accommodation in an initiative being led by the Irish Red Cross. Of these, some 4,000 are independent, own-door units or vacant properties, and these will be the first to be called into use in the coming weeks.

Spare room

Once this option has been exhausted, the focus will move on to people offering a spare room in their homes, particularly those where public transport is accessible.

Retired local authority officials have been asked to help with a project to bring vacant and empty properties into use for incoming refugees. While up to 500 properties were identified, sources said the actual number of properties that would feasibly become available could be lower.

It is understood that these properties include old or unused buildings such as former hospitals and convents. Officials are currently examining the extent of the refurbishment that might be needed and the possible costs.

The Irish Times understands that there has been contact between the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) and the Office of Public Works and the Department of the Taoiseach on the ability of the sector to deliver modular homes for use by those fleeing the war.

Modular homes

It is estimated that more than 60 modular homes per week could be provided by a half-dozen suppliers after the design and specifications are confirmed – a process that one source suggested could take a matter of weeks to ensure they are acceptable in terms of building regulations and safety.

However, the source said that for the homes to be delivered in a short timescale, normal procurement procedures would have to be set aside and the current stringent building regulations would need to be examined.

Companies are said to be working on prototypes of homes that can be transported on 40ft-long lorries and installed on sites with water and electricity connection points. The source said these homes are different to mobile home and the kind of prefabs used in schools as they are robust and have a lifespan of about 60 years.

Nearly one quarter of the Ukrainian population is now on the move as they try to escape the conflict following Russia’s invasion, an Oireachtas committee heard on Tuesday.

Ros O’Sullivan, head of emergency operations at Concern Worldwide, said the people most recently displaced had fewer family supports in other countries than the first group of refugees.

“If the conflict continues to escalate... these people, if they do have to exit Ukraine, will have little or no resources to look after themselves,” he told the Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs.

Liam O’Dwyer, director general of the Irish Red Cross, commended people here for their outpouring of support and generosity for Ukrainian refugees.