Government TDs raise concerns over plans to cut supports for newly arriving Ukrainian refugees

Fears expressed at Social Protection committee that mothers and children will end up homeless

Two Ukrainian refugees walk among tents in Stradbally where a number of new arrivals were moved in September. Photo: Enda O'Dowd

Government TDs have raised concerns over plans to cut accommodation and social protection supports for newly arriving Ukrainian refugees, expressing fears mothers and children will end up homeless and reduced welfare payments of €38.80 are too small.

Sinn Féin meanwhile argued that the Government’s plans are “flimsy” as the Oireachtas committee on social protection considered the changes to legislation required to reduce payments from €232 to €38.80 per week.

Despite the concerns, the amendments to the law passed committee stage and the legislative process will continue with the Government hoping to bring about the changes to the regime for Ukrainian refugees by early February.

The Coalition plans to cut welfare rates for newly arriving Ukrainians who will live in designated accommodation centres – the locations of which are yet to be announced.

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Ukrainian refugees that source their own accommodation will still be entitled to the higher rates.

In addition a separate measure being implemented by the Department of Integration will see a 90-day limit placed on State-accommodation for new arrivals.

The reduced supports for new Ukrainian refugees were decided upon amid the huge pressure on Ireland’s system for housing refugees and asylum seekers.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys was quizzed on the measures during the committee meeting on Wednesday.

She said the move to cut welfare rates is to bring Ireland in line with what other European Union countries are offering.

Her party colleague, Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd raised concern about the 90-day limit suggesting it will “create huge problems” and the people it affects could be put in “despairing situations”.

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Ms Humphreys said that people will have to vacate the accommodation after 90 days but before this they will be supported in finding employment and accommodation.

Mr O’Dowd said it is “phenomenal” that the State has been able to provide accommodation for so many people – a figure of 76,000 was mentioned earlier in the meeting.

However, he added: “That doesn’t get away from the fact you will find mothers with young children who will not have accommodation and who may very well be homeless.”

Separately Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív said the €38.80 payment is “unrealistically small” both for people from Ukraine and asylum seekers from elsewhere that currently get the same sum.

Ms Humphreys said the new designated accommodation centres will provide refugees with full board and laundry services “so there’ll be a lot of provision made for them”.

She said the €38.80 is the amount that was decided upon adding: “I don’t think there’s any plans to increase that but obviously like everything else these things are always kept under review.”

She said she would raise the concerns of Mr O’Dowd and Mr Ó Cuív at a Cabinet subcommittee meeting on refugee issues on Thursday.

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked Ms Humphreys if she could offer any indication of where the new accommodation centres will be.

She said the Department of Integration is “actively standing up arrival centres” and “locations will be confirmed as they become available”.

Ms Humphreys said all new Ukrainian arrivals who need State provided accommodation will be housed in these centres under the terms of the legislation.

Mr Ó Laoghaire expressed concern that the plans hinge on these designated centres adding: “I believe that that is flimsy.”

He added: “I believe it assumes that everything will ... go plain sailing in finding new accommodation centres even though we have no indication of where these will be ... and what capacity they will have.”

Ms Humphreys said the Department of Integration is satisfied they will be able to have the centres in place for the new arrivals.

Mr Ó Laoghaire also raised concern over the 90-day accommodation limit suggesting people will be seeking accommodation in the “severely overheated” rental market after that time.

Ms Humphreys said those in the State provided accommodation will have a choice of whether they want to find other housing or return to Ukraine and “People have to take responsibility for themselves as well in some respect.”

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Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times