The Government could house up to 6,000 Ukrainians in refurbished accommodation before the end of next year, according to internal briefings.
A refurbishment programme is being undertaken by the Department of Housing and local authorities, with Ministers being told on Thursday that it now has “potential line of sight to 6,000 accommodations for [Ukrainians] by the end of 2024″.
The figure is more than double projections given out publicly by the Department of Housing, which yesterday said the estimated capacity across 64 “live” projects, or those currently under way, would be 2,934.
The use of refurbished accommodation has been a lightning rod for criticism of the Government’s response to the refugee accommodation crisis, which has largely relied on the use of hotel accommodation.
According to the Department of Housing, five refurbishment projects have been completed with an estimated capacity of 328 people. Works are under way on another five projects which will hold up to 187 people.
The department said “new offers are received regularly and [are] subject to a preliminary desktop assessment before progressing to formal survey”.
Hundreds of buildings were put forward last year for refurbishment, but the majority were deemed unsuitable, with many high-profile buildings remaining undeveloped. The time, cost and feasibility of developing many projects meant they fell by the wayside.
Senior Government sources suggested the ultimate figure for accommodation places across refurbished accommodation could exceed 10,500.
A meeting of the Government’s subcommittee on refugee accommodation held on Thursday was told that a “fast modular-build programme” was also being investigated. The meeting heard the number of asylum seekers who were not accommodated had fallen from just under 600 to 61. Tusla is caring for 184 children at present, while the Department of Integration is planning to use up to 5,000 empty student accommodation beds over summer.
However, the system remains under immediate and severe ongoing pressure. It emerged yesterday that tented accommodation for asylum seekers was set for the grounds of the former Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum.
Up to 176 international protection applicants could ultimately be accommodated on the site, which is to be set up in the coming weeks, with plans to keep it active until September.
The site, which is in the process of being transferred to the Land Development Agency, has planning permission for 852 homes, which will proceed as intended despite the move. The project is not yet ready to enter construction.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday that Europe and Ireland should prepare for the possibility that there would be an increase in people fleeing Ukraine following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam.
Meanwhile, the Department of Integration has confirmed that up to 200 Ukrainian refugees will be housed at Columb Barracks in Mullingar “in the weeks ahead” as modular homes near completion at the site.
Elsewhere, the Government is set to discuss new timelines for the abolition of direct provision from as early as next month.
It is now highly likely that the Coalition commitment to end direct provision by 2024 will be shelved in light of major accommodation pressures.
An overall review of the previously promised timeline for the abolition is now expected to be completed by the end of this month. Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman will then bring forward a set of recommendations to the Government around any proposed new timelines.
The figures and assumptions underlying the original 2024 deadline were that some 3,500 international protection applicants would arrive in Ireland annually. Last year, over 15,000 applicants sought protection.
Alongside the impact of the war, this will now have huge implications for the plans to scrap direct provision.
The new review will contain fresh proposals and timelines, and will also have input from an expert advisory group chaired by Catherine Day, who is the former secretary general of the European Commission.