Taoiseach Micheál Martin has predicted a “very significant ramping up of rapid-build houses” to assist in the accommodation crisis for Ukrainian refugees and for “emergency housing more generally”.
Mr Martin said there was also a “reconfiguration of public buildings and private buildings under way across the country to create additional capacity”, but he said this would take time because of the work that had to go into it and modular housing would have to be a feature of the response to the housing crisis.
A number of army barracks and other facilities “are being reconfigured” to also provide accommodation, he added.
He was speaking in the Dáil has he faced trenchant opposition criticism over the handling of the accommodation crisis and the failure to find places for Ukrainians arriving in Ireland and forced to sleep at Dublin Airport.
During sharp exchanged Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government’s failure to accommodate Ukrainian refugees was “a social catastrophe” and mirrored its general failures on housing.
But the Taoiseach said the only person getting “solace” from her comments was Vladimir Putin himself because he “wants to create the impression across European that European can’t manage this”, when the Government and Irish people were working to deal with an unprecedented influx of Ukrainian people fleeing an unjust war.
Mr Martin told Labour leader Ivana Bacik that while concerns have been expressed in communities and by some public representatives against rapid housing “that would have to be a feature of housing generally into the future.
“These are a good quality houses that can be built much faster and that that we’ve already started the job for 500 but it will have to work at a much higher level.”
Ms Bacik said it was a matter of “grave concern and dismay and distress” to communities that people fleeing war had to sleep on the floor at Dublin Airport.
The Labour leader said she wrote to Mr Martin on Monday seeking a briefing for the Opposition on the matter because the Minister for Housing had asked the Opposition in spring to supply him with details of vacant properties but they had received no updates when they put forward a range of options including the vacant Baggot Street hospital in her own area of Dublin.
“There should be a whole of government approach” but she said the Department of Children and been left too long to deal with all the housing and provision for refugees and that was why they were in the current situation.
Mr Martin said he would organise the briefing for the Opposition but stressed that a range of Government departments were involved in the issue.
When Ms Bacik said the Czech Republic is taking four times as many Ukrainian refugees as Ireland per head of population the Taoiseach listed a range of almost 20 EU states Ireland was ahead of in the numbers of refugees received.
They would need rapid build housing because of the more than 55,000 Ukrainians and 14,000 seeking international protection along with people presenting as homeless and seeking emergency accommodation.
“So you have a general significant increase in the numbers that seek fairly quick access to housing in addition to the general housing situation.”
Ms McDonald accused the Government of “cobbling together a plan” after Ukrainians being left to sleep on the floor at Dublin Airport amid suggestions at one stage they might even be left on the street.
She said the Taoiseach had said in March that 200,000 Ukrainian refugees would be accommodated. “But you’d no real plan as to how you would meet that commitment,” and the system is “already overwhelmed”.
And the next homelessness figures will be published on Friday with all indicators suggesting another “shameless increase”.
But the Taoiseach said her comments and some of the debate on this had become “somewhat detached” from the reality. He paid tribute to the public and to all the services working to help Ukrainian refugees.
He said more than 55,000 Ukrainians “have sought and received refuge in our country”, one of the highest in the EU.
“You call that ‘a disaster’, which is extraordinary language to be using,” Mr Martin added. He also said Ireland had accommodated 9,000 other overseas citizens seeking international accommodation a figure which will rise to 14,000 by the end of the year.
“Now that’s not a story of failure. It’s a story of families in every corner of this country, of communities across this country opening their homes and hearts to people fleeing war,” the Taoiseach said.
“You should not try and play it for crude domestic politics,” he added. Mr Martin also accused that Ms McDonald’s references to domestic housing problems were an attempt “to play both sides in the debate.”