The government is expected to double the monthly payment for those housing Ukrainian refugees to €800 and expand a programme of modular house building as it scrambles to provide accommodation for those arriving into Ireland.
Government sources indicated that a figure of €800 was expected to be agreed for hosts, and that there will be a call for vacant homes led by local authorities and the Department of Housing.
However, the Department of Integration on Monday warned that there was “no expectation” that numbers arriving from Ukraine and elsewhere will abate in the autumn, saying the “outlook for the availability of suitable accommodation is extremely challenging”.
The programme of modular homes is being increased by 200 units from its original level of 500 homes. However, the Office of Public Works said the homes will only come on-stream on a phased basis in January and February of next year.
It is expected that another 800 people will be accommodated through the programmes’ expansion, bringing the total to 2,800. A main contractor, Sisk, has been appointed and has sub-contracted five companies to build the homes.
A spokeswoman for the OPW said the Government “has approved the construction of 500 modular homes with the potential to house up to 2,000 people in family units of four. The programme will be expanded to deliver another 200 homes, bringing the total to 700″.
Meanwhile, senior Ministers considered proposals to scale back streamlined access to medical cards for people fleeing the war in Ukraine.
The Cabinet subcommittee on accommodation and supports for Ukraine crisis met to discuss options to tackle a growing crisis in providing for those fleeing the war, and also applicants for international protection from other jurisdictions.
It is understood that among the proposals considered was one that would introduce assessments for medical cards given to Beneficiaries of Temporary Protection (BOTPs), the classification given to those seeking refuge here from the war in Ukraine.
Sources indicated that they would be assessed for eligibility based on a qualifying financial threshold, under plans to be discussed.
Medical cards are given to those ordinarily resident in the State following a means test that encompasses income, as well as savings, property and investments. Currently, there is a simplified application process for medical cards for those coming from Ukraine as well as fast-track options for welfare payments and benefits.
Records from the Revenue Commissioners show there are 9,520 people seeking refuge from the war in paid employment, with some 4,080 employers.
The subcommittee considered a range of proposals which have been submitted from across Government Departments. These include increased payments to those hosting Ukrainians, and payments for those who put forward vacant housing for use.
A charge for those staying in hotels, in exchange for services they receive such as laundry, food, transport and other consumables, is also being considered on the basis that these services are not provided for those staying in pledged accommodation.
Proposals included charging a payment for those who are in direct provision, but have permission to remain in the country and work having been granted international protection status. Other measures, such as a payment to incentivise or support people to leave direct provision, was expected to be discussed — although a payment and a notice to quit has been ruled out given the difficulties in accessing private rental accommodation, a source said.
The committee was also expected to discuss increased checks on international protection (IP) applicants at airports, a renewed emphasis on prefabricated and modular accommodation, a planned new facility at the airport due to open today and the hiring and conversion of more large scale centres for processing and accommodation of those entering the reception system.
A renewed emphasis is also expected to be put on progressing parts of the government’s plan to end direct provision, including the purchase of reception and integration centres for international protection applications, which would provide an exit or alternative to direct provision.
Ahead of the meeting, there were significant levels of concern in Government about the political and humanitarian consequences of the current situation. With more than 54,000 Ukrainians in Ireland, more than 30,000 of whom are in hotels, the situation is extremely strained. Numbers arriving and seeking international protection have also increased, with more than 15,500 spread across the system.
The pressures are leading to finger-pointing within the Coalition, with sources in the Green Party privately complaining that Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman has been left to manage the entire situation, with little in the way of modular housing, converted buildings or other medium-term options for those currently in emergency or serviced accommodation coming to the fore. “Everyone else took their foot off the pedal,” a source said on Monday morning.
Meanwhile, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath has pledged that Ireland is not going to turn away Ukrainian refugees seeking protection here despite the strains on housing.
Mr McGrath acknowledged the recent increase in the number of Ukrainians arriving in Ireland, currently estimated at 1,500 or more a week, was putting pressure on the state and it was not acceptable that Ukrainians were turned away from homeless shelters as happened at the weekend.
But he said that Ireland would not be telling either the European Union or the Ukrainian government that it could no longer accept Ukrainian refugees despite the huge challenges it was posing for the government to secure accommodation for them all.
“We have international obligations that we’ve signed up to at an EU level and we will fulfil our obligations and there won’t be any declaration that Ireland is closed to Ukrainians. That’s not going to happen,” said Mr McGrath in advance of today’s Cabinet sub-committee meeting on the issue.
“But we do also have to be honest with people who are considering coming to Ireland, that there is not a guarantee of immediate accommodation, and that the system is under strain,” he added as he attended the Public Service Innovation Conference at Cork City Hall.
“But, having said that, I think what we’ve achieved is very significant, providing accommodation for well over 40,000 people, and we will explore every possible avenue to see what more we can do to make sure we provide basic accommodation and support for people who come here.”
Mr McGrath said 55,000 people had fled Ukraine and come to Ireland since February and 42,000 of these were being accommodated in state paid accommodation with another 5,000 or so living in pledged accommodation by people who contacted the Irish Red Cross to offer accommodation.
He said the Government had issued approximately 43,000 medical cards to Ukrainians while some 12,000 Ukrainian children were attending Irish schools, but the government estimated that the cost to the exchequer of supporting all Ukrainian refugees for all of 2022 would be around €1 billion.
“This is the single largest mass movement of people since World War II and it isn’t just Ireland that is under pressure – many of our European neighbours are under pressure as well - we are doing the best we can,” he said.