More than 15,000 people have fled Ukraine to Ireland and the State's response to accommodating those will "get more challenging in the weeks and months ahead", the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O'Gorman has said.
Mr O’Gorman said the accommodation available through local authorities, religious organisations, State bodies and pledged accommodation is unlikely to meet the level of need should the higher estimated numbers of people arriving come to pass in the weeks ahead.
“Current modelling suggests that there is an inevitability to moving into an emergency accommodation phase when pledged and other service supply is exhausted. The only question is how quickly this phase is reached,” he told the Dáil on Wednesday.
“As such, we have put in place a number of contingency options. These include the use of arenas and conference centres, as well as the use of Gormanstown [military] camp.
“It will not be own-door and it may mean camp beds in shared spaces. It is not our first preference, however, I think it is right that we do plan for these contingency options if they are needed and that we are always in a position to provide safety and shelter to those fleeing this war.”
Mr O’Gorman said the State was now facing a humanitarian crisis “on a scale never before seen”. From February 25th to March 29th, 15,294 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Ireland, with more than 8,600 of those being accommodated by the State.
Mr O’Gorman said more than 22,000 pledges of accommodation had been made through the Red Cross and that these were being evaluated and the properties inspected “with a view to making them available quickly to refugees”.
“We are in advanced discussions with Airbnb and the Open Community regarding temporary accommodation being provided to those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine around Ireland,” he added.
“It is anticipated that these discussions will conclude in the coming days and further information will be provided.”
Mr O’Gorman said the Government was working to develop immediate, medium and long-term plans to accommodate refugees. He said the vast majority of those being accommodated by the State were in hotels and that there were “limits” on the ability of hotels.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the war in Ukraine and the implementation by the European Union and Ireland of sanctions against Russia was having and will continue to have "an impact across all economies".
“Global economic growth and investment will be impacted and this too will affect Ireland,” he said.
“Ireland is playing its part in this humanitarian crisis and the cost of providing for the reception of refugees arriving from Ukraine will be very significant. It is, however, a cost we must bear.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was now “past time” for the Government “to act in the strongest possible terms” by expelling the Russian ambassador.
“I say this because the humanitarian crisis that unfolds before us daily demands action at that level; a tough diplomatic stance by Ireland with no room for ambiguity, with no relief from our absolute rejection of this Russian imperial aggression and this illegal war. We need to send that message clearly and consistently,” she said.
The Dublin Central TD said she knew the Government had waited for an EU-wide response and there had been "a dragging of feet on this regard across the continent" and Ireland should act now "regardless".
“The time for putting this on the long finger is over,” she said.
Earlier, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said 500 “significant” properties had been identified so far for possible use.
“They would be refurbishments. A lot of what we are going to be doing is taking old commercial stock, old State stock and converting that into apartments or homes,” he told RTÉ Radio’s Today with Claire Byrne on Wednesday.
He said “nothing was off the table” to meet the need for emergency accommodation, with modular homes also a consideration.
“There is an impression abroad sometimes that modular homes will be the solution to everything. They have a role. Off-site construction can play a very significant role... But will there be a requirement for some temporary accommodation through modular homes? I think so.”
“I am asking local authorities to identify service vacant sites around the country, zoned or unzoned. They could be anywhere around the country but there will be certain criteria around site selection.”
On the cost to the Exchequer, Mr O’Brien said: “We have to be very clear with people that there is a financial cost. We know that. I think the Irish people are supporting what we are doing to make sure that these people who have been brutally attacked by Putin and by Russian forces can come here and get safe refuge and have safe harbour here.”
The bill for providing accommodation, health and education to the refugees – which could reach €1.7 billion this year – will sharply curb the Government’s ability to respond to mounting inflation pressures caused by the Russian invasion and the dramatic rises in world food prices and fuel that have followed.
A Government spokesman confirmed on Tuesday night the costs of catering for refugees would be met in the first instance from the €2.5 billion Covid reserve – which has already been tapped for measures to alleviate the rising cost of living.