Concern that accommodation options for refugees are running out

Minister’s proposals to create category of asylum for people affected by climate described as ‘making policy on the hoof’

There are growing fears in Government that accommodation options are running out as the number of Ukrainian arrivals is expected to increase and hotels will seek rooms currently occupied by refugees back for the tourist season.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned on Wednesday that the Government was “not in a position to guarantee accommodation to everyone who arrives in the country – that’s just the reality of the situation”.

“We will do the best that we can for people – provide them with shelter as best we can, provide children with education,” Mr Varadkar told journalists at a post-Cabinet press conference at Farmleigh House in Dublin. “But what I can’t do here is guarantee that we will be able to find accommodation for everyone who might arrive in the country, whether it’s from Ukraine or elsewhere.”

Ministers and senior officials fear a squeeze on accommodation in March and April as hotels begin to seek the return of their rooms following what is expected to be a resurgence in numbers arriving over the coming months.


There was a fall-off in refugee numbers arriving over the Christmas period, but this is expected to increase in the new year. One senior source said that “another few thousand” refugees were expected by the end of this month.

Officials are optimistic that a programme of converting State-owned buildings into dormitory-style accommodation will meet demand initially, while almost 900 homes have been pledged for use by Ukrainian refugees following an appeal by the Government in November. But senior sources admit that further provision of accommodation will be necessary and “challenging”.

About 80 per cent of the more than 70,000 Ukrainian refugees in Ireland are being housed in accommodation provided by the State, Ministers were told at a special Cabinet meeting at Farmleigh on Thursday evening which was called to discuss priorities for the term ahead.

Meanwhile, a former minister for justice has described Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman’s proposals to create a category of asylum for people affected by climate as “making policy on the hoof”.

Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan said the proposal was straying far outside the commitments agreed in the programme for government between his party, Fianna Fáil and Mr O’Gorman’s party, the Green Party.

Mr Flanagan, the chair of the Oireachtas All-Party committee on Foreign Affairs, said: “It is making policy on the hoof, and introducing an entire new category of person entitled to international protection. It comes at a time during which we are struggling to cope with the numbers of people coming into the country, either as refugees from Ukraine or seeking international protection.”

Providing accommodation for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, as well as dealing with a surge in people from other countries seeking asylum here, is becoming a thornier political issue in the face of a housing crisis which has seen growing homeless numbers and spiralling rent bills for many people. There have been sporadic protests outside facilities housing asylum seekers in recent weeks, sparking political fears that far-right activists are seeking to capitalise on the issue.

Speaking at Farmleigh on Wednesday night, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste Micheál Martin both warned that protests which made people feel threatened were unacceptable.

“When it comes to protests outside where people are living, that crosses a line,” Mr Martin said.

Mr Varadkar said that applicants for international protection or asylum should have their cases processed more quickly. He said that people who were entitled to remain in Ireland, as well as those who were not, should be told much more quickly than is currently the situation, where cases can drag on for years.

Mr Varadkar also pledged stricter border controls, saying “people cannot enter [Ireland] illegally”, but when pressed added that no decisions had been made about how that should be done.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times