Newly-arrived Ukrainian refugees will only be offered State-provided accommodation for 90 days and the welfare rates they will be entitled to will be cut under proposals due to go to Cabinet on Tuesday.
Significant changes to the assistance being offered to people fleeing the war in Ukraine are under consideration amid the huge pressure on Ireland’s system for housing refugees.
Ministers took part in a Cabinet committee meeting on Ukraine on Monday afternoon and the Coalition leaders signed off on the proposed changes later in the evening.
It is understood that the proposals remain broadly unchanged after discussions within Government on Monday and they will go to Cabinet for final approval on Tuesday morning.
Legislation would have to be passed by the Oireachtas in the new year to bring about the proposed changes, which, it is understood, would not apply to the 100,000 existing Ukrainian refugees in Ireland, only to future arrivals.
Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman has proposed limiting State-provided accommodation to 90 days before people would be asked to find their own housing.
There is also a proposal to cut social welfare payments for Ukrainian refugees who are provided with State accommodation from the current entitlement to the €220 per week jobseekers’ allowance to a payment of €38.80, the sum currently paid to asylum-seekers from other countries. Those who find their own accommodation would still be entitled to the higher sum.
There will be some flexibility under the rules for vulnerable cases. In addition, parents with children in State accommodation will still get the €140 monthly child benefit payment.
The changes will not affect the rights of Ukrainian children to go to school, and there will be no schools set up at new accommodation centres. In instances where there are no school places locally, arrangement will be made to bus children to another school.
The expectation is that proposed changes will kick-in in the first quarter of 2024.
Deirdre Garvey, the secretary general of the Irish Red Cross said her organisation “would be concerned if Ukrainians were to be obliged to source and pay for their own accommodation” after 90 days.
She said the residential rental sector is “under extreme pressure” and “there are few opportunities available, even to those who have the economic means”.
Ms Garvey said: “It is clear that the proposed measure is not intended to manage the accommodation crisis… but to send a message of deterrence to others thinking of travelling to Ireland.”
She added: “Such an approach is a sledgehammer and other solutions should be found.”
During a visit to Leitrim on Monday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he is proud that Ireland has been able to welcome about 100,000 Ukrainian people fleeing the war, adding that they remain welcome. He also noted that 15,000 Ukrainian adults are working in Ireland and there are 15,000 Ukrainian children in school here.
Asked by reporters about the proposed cut in welfare payments he said: “If we reduce the payment to something like that number [€38.80], that would only be for people who are being provided with State accommodation.”
He added: “At the moment, we provide accommodation to people coming here from Ukraine indefinitely and at the same time pay social welfare, whereas the change, if we make it, will be saying that we can’t promise you accommodation indefinitely, but while we do provide you accommodation, you won’t receive the full amount of social welfare because generally speaking somebody who is receiving social welfare would have to pay rent and would have to pay for their food and utilities, for example.”
Mr Varadkar also said: “the basic principle that we’re going to apply is what we offer people fleeing Ukraine in Ireland should be similar to what’s offered in other parts of Western Europe.”
He said the “knock-on effects” of changes to the supports on offer must also be considered. “Notwithstanding all the new homes being built, there is a housing shortage in the country and we don’t want to do anything to make that worse,” he said.
He said the proposed changes are “less about people arriving from Ukraine and more about what we call secondary movements, people moving from other parts of Western Europe to Ireland having spent some time there.”
Earlier in the day, Mr Varadkar was asked in Galway about what would happen should Ukrainian people be unable to find accommodation after 90 days.
Mr Varadkar referenced the example of 5,000 people who still live in direct provision centres despite being granted international protection and the right to stay in Ireland saying: “we’re not going to throw people out of their accommodation if they have nowhere to go.”
Mr Varadkar said: “that’s the kind of contingency planning that we have to make.”