Migrant crisis: Army barracks may become housing

Government considering request to EU to relax fiscal rules on housing expenditure

A convoy of cars reaches Budapest to pick up migrants and take them to the Austrian-Hungary border. Video: Reuters

 

The Government is considering housing refugees in disused army barracks as part of its response to the European migrant crisis.

The Department of Public Expenditure is drafting a position paper ahead of this week’s Cabinet meeting examining the short, medium and long-term accommodation options for refugees and how to fund them.

One of the key measures being considered is a request to the European Union to relax fiscal rules to allow member states to respond without displacing domestic spending.

Officials are also working with the Office of Public Works to examine what vacant State facilities are available and if they are suitable to house the thousands fleeing the Middle East.

Barracks in Kildare, Mullingar, Clonmel and Arbour Hill are being looked at as possibilities.

Minister of State at the Office of Public Works Simon Harris said: “The Office of Public Works has identified vacant properties and will be in a position to advise Government on what can be used.

“The OPW stands ready to advise and help make an informed decision.”

Spending limits

Government sources are hoping this will allow for domestic spending to remain untouched and extra expenditure to be used to assist in tackling the refugee crisis.

The department is to prepare a note for Cabinet this week ahead of a EU leaders’ meeting next week.

Tánaiste Joan Burton and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin are said to be working closely with Mr Harris and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald on the issue.

Speaking yesterday, Ms Burton said she did not want to put a figure on the numbers of refugees and migrants Ireland would accept because it was an evolving situation.

“Ireland has to and will step up to the plate,” said Ms Burton. “As a country, that is what we have always done.

No upper limit

Asked what the figure would be, Ms Burton said it would be “the figure that we need to take”. “It could be 5,000; I wouldn’t like to put an upper limit on it.”

Magee Barracks in Kildare, St Bricin’s Hospital, Arbour Hill, Dublin, Kickham Barracks in Clonmel and Columb Barracks in Mullingar are being proposed as facilities.

Magee Barracks in Kildare town was used in 1998 to house Kosovan refugees who had fled war in the Balkans.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on Foreign Affairs Brendan Smith said accepting additional refugees must be a priority.

“We must also remember that . . . there are upwards of four million Syrian refugees alone in countries neighbouring Syria. Many of these people are living in perilous conditions and need immediate humanitarian assistance.”