Meetings held with construction representatives over modular homes for refugees

Government plans response to ‘unprecedented demographic crisis’

Construction lobbyists have begun approaching the State on behalf of modular accommodation manufacturers as the Government advances plans to deploy the buildings as part of its response to the Ukraine crisis.

Following a Cabinet decision on Tuesday, the Office of Public Works (OPW) will take charge of developing modular accommodation.

A parliamentary question response to Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin outlined how the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has approached the OPW and met with it alongside some modular accommodation manufacturers. The meetings covered building standards, occupancy capacity, “buildability” and outline costs, but the Department of Housing said a final picture of costs could not yet be finalised. The information was then presented to the humanitarian crisis housing taskforce.

The Government has set up an emergency Cabinet sub-committee on Ukraine to respond to the "unprecedented demographic crisis" caused by many thousands of refugees from the war-torn country remaining in Ireland into the foreseeable future.

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The Cabinet was also told that 500 additional vacant buildings have now been identified by local authorities, with 89 capable of immediately offering accommodation to as many as 5,355 people.

The vacant buildings mainly consist of former religious or education properties, former hotels and former hospitals that can be repurposed to accommodate multiple families. In addition each of the State’s 31 county and city councils have been asked to identify at least one building capable of accommodating multiple families in their local authority area.

Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien brought a memo to Cabinet outlining plans to provide longer-term accommodation for Ukrainian refugees. The Government has already earmarked €3 billion as a contingency fund to deal with the accommodation and has briefed the Opposition that the emergency phase could last two years.

That figure is predicated on 100,000 refugees arriving into Ireland. While the rate of refugees arriving fell last week from a high of 500 a day to 130 a day on Tuesday this week, Government figures urged caution saying this might have been due to less flights being available into Ireland during the Easter period. A total of 25,393 Ukrainian refugees had arrived into Ireland as of Tuesday.

A Government spokesman said on Tuesday evening that Mr O’Brien also informed ministerial colleagues that the OPW would take the lead in finding solutions to provide rapid-build housing in the fastest possible time. The provision of this form of volumetric housing will see the structure of the house fabricated in a factory, delivered to site, and then installed within a matter of days.

Mr O’Brien said the Government was working on plans to give exemptions from planning permission for temporary accommodation for Ukrainian refugees. There will also be new legislative provisions to allow streamlined environmental assessment by An Bord Pleanála where necessary, for things such as reception and integration facilities and residential accommodation, as well as medical, educational, childcare and recreational facilities.

The Ukrainian crisis has created an unprecedented demographic and supply chain crisis, Mr O’Brien told colleagues.

The Cabinet was informed of a range of relaxations, flexibilities, extra working hours, and speeding up of existing programmes including bringing council-owed empty properties back into service.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times