Ministers are set to approve large reductions in benefits for refugees coming from Ukraine in future as accommodation pressures for other nationalities claiming asylum here worsen.
The Cabinet committee on Ukraine is scheduled for Monday where the proposals from Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman – which including cutting welfare benefits for future Ukrainian arrivals and providing accommodation for only 90 days – are expected to be discussed by Ministers before going to the full Cabinet on Tuesday.
But campaigners for refugees warned against the move on Sunday night, with the Irish Refugee Council saying it was putting “short-term deterrence over long-term planning”, adding that people would find it “difficult if not impossible” to find accommodation once the 90 days had run out.
Sources in all three Government parties said on Sunday that they expected the plans to be agreed this week, though it was stressed that they would not apply to the 100,000 existing Ukrainian refugees in Ireland, only to future arrivals.
Ministers and senior officials are frank that the move is intended to send out a signal that Ireland has reached its limit in the numbers of Ukrainians it can accept, and to dissuade future arrivals from the country. The Department of Justice has said that a third of Ukrainians had come to Ireland from another “safe” country, with senior officials suggesting this is because they are attracted by the relative generosity of the welfare payments available in Ireland.
Similar previous plans were blocked by the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin over fears that the move could lead to additional pressure on homeless numbers. However, senior sources said Fianna Fáil’s concerns had been addressed in recent weeks, and they expected the plan to be finalised this week.
If agreed at Monday’s Cabinet committee, it will be signed off by the three party leaders on Monday evening. Mr Martin is in Brussels on Monday for a meeting of European Union foreign ministers, in advance of a crunch EU summit later this week which will consider Ukraine’s application for membership and continuing funding for the war-torn country, but is expected to return to Dublin in advance of the leaders’ meeting.
The plan proposes to cut the entitlement of Ukrainians to the €220 per week jobseekers’ allowance, and reduce it to €38.80 per week, the amount currently paid to asylum seekers from other countries. In addition, it’s expected that newly arrived Ukrainians will be told that they will be put up in State-provided accommodation for 90 days but will then be asked to find their own.
If approved, the plan to cut benefits for new arrivals from Ukraine will require legislation to be brought through the Dáil and Seanad. It is understood that the legislation is in preparation and is expected to be tabled in the Oireachtas early next year.
The move comes as pressure for accommodation for people seeking international protection/asylum here has become intense. Last week, the Government stopped providing accommodation to male asylum seekers, and is instead now giving them €113.80 per week and providing them with a sleeping bag and tent. Dozens have been sleeping in tents on Dublin streets since last week.
On Sunday night, Nick Henderson, the chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council said: “We strongly warn against the 90-day limit because the vast majority of people would find it difficult, if not impossible, to find accommodation to move to.”
The evidence for this, he said, “is the 6,000 people stuck in direct provision who have refugee status but cannot leave”.
“As we have repeatedly stated over the last 18 months, the Irish State’s emergency response to the war in Ukraine, and the welcoming of thousands of people, is commendable. But it must be matched by developing and scaling longer-term accommodation options,” Mr Henderson said. “These policies seem to be putting short-term deterrence over long-term planning. This war is, unfortunately, not going away and people are beginning to build their lives here.”