Europe and Ireland should prepare for the possibility that there will be an increase in people fleeing Ukraine following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
The Fine Gael leader also said Cabinet will discuss how humanitarian assistance can get to people impacted by the disaster in Ukraine.
The dam was destroyed on Tuesday and around 80 settlements home to some 40,000 people will probably have to be evacuated, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Senior European officials have joined Ukraine in placing responsibility on Russia, which Kyiv accuses of blowing up the dam to hamper its planned counteroffensive in the area.
The Kremlin says Ukraine attacked the facility to distract from its alleged problems on the battlefield and disrupt water flow to Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
Speaking to reporters in advance of Cabinet on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said: “We have to prepare for the possibility that we’ll see an increase in Ukrainians to other parts of Europe, including Ireland, but also we need to make sure that Ukraine gets the humanitarian assistance that it needs.
“One of the things we’ll be discussing at Cabinet today is how we can ensure that assistance gets to people in Ukraine and also in Russia-occupied Ukraine because that’s going to be essential.”
He said there are “biblical scenes” from Ukraine with whole villages and towns under water and it is “a shocking situation and a huge humanitarian catastrophe on top of a country that’s been at war now for more than a year”.
Mr Varadkar said ministers would discuss if there is anything Ireland can do to help international agencies like the Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontière. “This is a war zone and we have to be conscious as well of the safety of humanitarian workers,” he said.
The Cabinet is also due to discuss a plan to pay €1.5 million to a European relocation system because the Republic does not have the space to accommodate an additional 350 international protection applicants.
Mr Varadkar said the Government had agreed about two years ago to take the 350 asylum seekers from Mediterranean countries which were experiencing a migration crisis.
He said: “Things have changed fundamentally since then.
“We’re now one of the countries that are under pressure because we’ve taken in nearly 100,000 people, mainly from Ukraine but also other parts of the world and that changes things so we’re no longer able to accept those 350 people.”
He said a financial contribution is allowed under the European Union relocation deal.
Mr Varadkar added: “I know there are some people who would like us to put a limit on the number of people seeking international protection in Ireland.
“That’s not realistic, it’s not legal, it’s not practical but we can manage the flows better and that’s one thing we will try to do.”
Meanwhile, Dubliners could have a chance to vote on whether or not they want to have a directly elected mayor in June 2024 under plans being developed by Government.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is bringing a memo to Cabinet on the report on the Citizens’ Assembly on the reform of local government in Dublin.
The Citizens’ Assembly voted for the creation of a powerful new mayor for Dublin with wide-ranging responsibilities in 15 policy areas including housing, homelessness, community healthcare, transport, the environment and emergency services.
Six other areas including policing, water, and education were recommended to be devolved after five to 10 years.
Speaking to reporters on the way into Cabinet, Mr Varadkar said the Assembly’s report is to be referred to a joint Oireachtas committee for consideration with the Government seeking the committee’s own report by the end of the year.
He said this would allow the Government to respond early in the new year “with a view to putting a question to the people of Dublin at the same time as the Local and European elections”.
Mr Varadkar said this would be a plebiscite on whether there should be a directly elected mayor for Dublin.
The European Parliament elections are slated to take place on a date between June 6th to 9th, 2024.