Pay for hosting Ukrainian refugees same regardless of number housed – Minister

Roderic O’Gorman hopes ‘opt-in’ payment will be made available from the end of May

The €400 monthly “recognition” payment for those who accommodate Ukranian refugees will be a flat payment irrespective of how many refugees are taken in or the nature of the accommodation, the Minister for Children has said.

The Cabinet on Tuesday signed off on plans to provide families who host Ukrainian refugees with a €400 monthly payment.

Roderic O’Gorman said he hoped to have the payment available from the end of May and that it would be backdated for families offering accommodation.

Mr O'Gorman said it would be an "opt-in" process and that work is ongoing with the Department of Social Protection to make that process "as easy as possible".

He said legislation providing for the €400 recognition payment is expected to be in place by July but the payment will be backdated. The relevant Bill will also provide for Ukrainians to have access to supports available under the national childcare scheme.

Mr O’Gorman said on Tuesday that at a time of significant cost-of-living pressures the Government wanted to offer extra support to families assisting refugees and this is why it is an opt-in process.

He said the payment would be made regardless of whether it is shared accommodation or vacant accommodation.

The date on which the which the payments will be backdated to will be set out in legislation.

The Minister said the Government is aware of the scale of the challenge around accommodating Ukrainian refugees.He said student accommodation would be used over the summer.

Reunited with families

About 31,000 refugees have now come to Ireland, with about 21,000 requiring State-provided accommodation. The arrivals include 80 unaccompanied children, of whom 35 have been reunited with their families, with the rest taken into residential or foster care.

Mr O’Gorman said there was a dip in arrivals but recently the State saw increases in the numbers arriving with a peak of 400 arrivals on one day last week.

He was addressing a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Children, Disability, Integration and Youth on his department's response to the Ukranian crisis.

The Minister praised the efforts of communities across the country, his Department and other Government departments to assist those fleeing Ukraine.

The State’s accommodation provision for Ukrainians is temporary in nature, focused on the emergency need for shelter, not perfect and involves a degree of congregated living, he said. The temporary nature of it can involve a number of moves which is not desirable but is unavoidable because of the need to secure accommodation where possible.

About 16,500 beds have been contracted by the State including in hotels, with additional accommodation including via the pledges from the public, accommodation belonging to voluntary bodies and religious organisations, he said.

Local authority housing will “at no stage” be sought for Ukrainians but local authorities are being asked if any large vacant institutional properties in their areas might be used for temporary emergency accommodation for Ukrainians.

The Minister also outlined educational and other supports being made available to Ukranian children and their parents.

Social Democrats Cork South West TD Holly Cairns and Clare Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe, while welcoming the supports for Ukranian refugees, contrasted those extensive supports with less favourable treatment of those in Direct Provision and from other war torn areas such as Syria.

In response, the Minister said the Government is working in accordance with the European temporary protection directive which directs EU member states on their response to the Ukraine crisis. It has to be recognised this war, and the displacement in this war, immediately enters the EU, he added.

Some 3,500 Syrian refugees and some 600 Afghan refugees have been relocated here, he said.

‘Capacity point’

Mr Crowe said Clare has more Ukranian refugees than any other county and is “at capacity point”. While it is right to welcome the refugees here, it is wrong to funnel them into a system that does not have education, public healthcare and transport capacity, and does not meet their needs, he said.

The committee also heard from Liam O’Dwyer, Secretary General of the Irish Red Cross (IRC), who said the charity has received some 25,000 pledges of accommodation for Ukrainians and estimates the eventual take up rate will be about 35 per cent or 9,000 homes.

The IRC will email people on Thursday whom it has been unable to contact to establish if their pledges continue or not and a helpline number will be provided, he said.

The IRC is focusing first on processing some 3,471 pledges of vacant accommodation after which it will process some 6,700 pledges of shared accommodation. The latter would take more time because it involves Garda vetting and because matching refugees and hosts is complex, he said.

About 900 people have been accommodated on foot of pledges, the committee heard.

Mr O’Dwyer said the IRC has received some €14 million in donations for Ukraine to date and donations . The IRC is being careful about how the money is spent because it is conscious, when the war is Ukraine is over, monies will be required for rebuilding the country and aiding resettlement of those who have fled, he outlined.