The possibility of paying people to host refugees from Ukraine in their homes is being examined by the Department of Public Expenditure, Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman has said.
The remarks came after it emerged there were acute concerns in Government about the State’s capacity to house Ukrainian refugees, with the available supply of hotel and B&B places almost exhausted.
A scramble for additional sources of accommodation is under way across all arms of Government and local authorities, with an emergency summit of the construction and property industry held on Monday afternoon by Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien.
A spokeswoman said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss medium and longer term accommodation needs in response to the crisis in Ukraine.
A number of issues were discussed including what the industry could do to identify feasible empty buildings for refurbishment.
The meeting heard that a nationwide response is being mobilised. The construction and property industry will work with local authorities to locate areas with inactivated planning permissions. The prioritisation of labour and resources was also discussed as well as best practice in rapid construction. Talks are progressing to quickly build modular homes.
“Mr O’Brien was clear with representatives that all proposals would be given consideration and he thanked them for their strong support in the wider national effort. Further meetings will take place in the coming weeks.”
Mr O’Gorman told RTÉ’s News at One no decision had been made yet, but said any payment would have to apply to everyone and distinction should not be made between those who provide a full property and those who bring people into their own home.
Mr O'Gorman said that to date 21,000 people fleeing Ukraine have arrived in Ireland, of whom 13,400 were being provided with accommodation by the State in hotels and guesthouses.
The next move would be into pledged accommodation, he said, and the army has been assisting the Red Cross in contacting the 25,000 people who pledged accommodation in the past five weeks.
More than half of those have been contacted so far and it is hoped the remainder will be contacted in the coming week.
Some Ministers and senior officials have been privately critical of the pace of the process of turning pledges of rooms and empty houses for refugees into accommodation. One Minister said the process seemed “astonishingly slow”.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Sunday: “We have to move fast in terms of going through all the pledges.”
Mr O’Gorman said the number of refugees arriving into the State decreased in the last week.
He added that it was unhelpful to speculate how many more would arrive especially with the prospect of more fighting in eastern Ukraine.
However, Mr O’Gorman warned that it was not possible to accommodate all refugees in hotels or own-room accommodation, and it may be necessary to look at the use of larger-scale accommodation. “It is tight. We have to be up-front.”
Mr Martin said on Sunday huge refugee flows were "part of Putin's strategy, deliberately targeting civilians . . . to create this type of hybrid warfare, in other words, creating this very large migratory phenomenon so that it creates pressure on democracies".
While senior officials said facilities such as large halls with camp beds and tents were unlikely to be required before Easter, sources were unwilling to rule them out beyond that.