Minister for Sport Catherine Martin has asked sporting bodies to offer sports centres, conference facilities and any other large buildings to house refugees as the accommodation crisis gathers pace.
It comes amid reassurances from Tánaiste Micheál Martin to groups there will be no “compulsion” to surrender facilities.
In a letter sent to chairs and chief executives of 70 sporting bodies on Friday, organisations and federations Ms Martin acknowledged that facilities such as Croke Park, the National Sports Campus and the Aviva Stadium had been made available over the last year.
However, she said “the response to the migration crisis has now entered an extremely difficult phase”.
“We are now once more asking the Irish sports sector to consider any possible accommodation assistance that can be offered.
“To minimise the possibility that those in need will be left without accommodation we are asking for your urgent assistance in sourcing, whether from your own resources or those of your clubs and members, any large buildings (capacity of 50-100 or greater) that can be utilised immediately to shelter new arrivals in the immediate term.”
She told the groups that “the sort of facilities that are envisaged are sports centres, which have access to showers, but also conference facilities, arts centres, student leisure centres, any other large buildings that are deemed safe for use by local authorities taking into account fire safety and building regulations”.
It follows a plea from Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman for large vacant buildings which could be used as emergency accommodation for new arrivals coming here – with existing space exhausted.
Speaking in Belfast, the Tánaiste said there “won’t be compulsion” over organisations when it comes to handing over facilities.
Describing the situation as “very challenging” with “unprecedented” numbers, he said: “We have made a number of appeals and this is the latest appeal in respect of any facilities out there that can be offered in respect of housing refugees and those seeking international protection.
“We have international legal obligations in respect of this,” Mr Martin told reporters.
Mr O’Gorman told colleagues that “the response to the ongoing migration crisis has entered an extremely difficult phase with no apparent accommodation at scale for international protection applicants available into the short term to medium term”.
The publication of Mr O’Gorman’s letter led to a backlash in some quarters. Speaking to RTÉ's Claire Byrne programme on Friday, the chairman of Irish Rural Link said it would be “dangerous to displace” activities which usually happen in community centres, if they were converted into refugee accommodation. Seamus Boland described the venues as the lifeblood of the community.
He questioned how many community centres would be available or suitable, and that they were the “hubs of the local communities” and used by a wide variety of people across the community.
“Trying to get them available will be very difficult, and also the question is for how long.”
A spokesman for Mr O’Gorman told The Irish Times that the Minister was requesting “any immediately available vacant building”.