Over 20,000 international protection applicants could apply for asylum in Ireland during 2024

Figure for first three months of the year is 75 per cent higher than comparable figure for last year

The number of people arriving into Ireland seeking international protection (IP) is likely to surpass 20,000 this year if the trend recorded in the first quarter continues, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee has said.

Brian Stanley was speaking after officials from the Department of Integration addressed the committee on Thursday about the costs of providing accommodation for Ukrainian refugees and those seeking international protection.

The meeting heard that 5,100 asylum seekers came to Ireland during the first three months of the year, up some 75 per cent on the 2,900 arrivals in the same period last year.

Department of Justice statistics show the numbers seeking international protection in the second, third and fourth quarters each year are normally higher than in quarter one. If the number of IP applicants follows that pattern this year, the total would comfortably surpass the 12,300 for last year and 12,600 for 2022.


“If it continues at this pace we are looking at 20,000, which is a dramatic increase,” Mr Stanley said. “A few short years ago it was 3,000.”

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said the “Government is not able to accommodate the current numbers that are coming into the country. I don’t believe that this increase is sustainable.”

Kevin McCarthy, the department’s secretary general, told the committee that more than €2 billion was paid last year to private companies and individuals providing accommodation.

Some €1.49 billion was paid for former hotels, guest houses and other buildings to accommodate Ukrainian refugees, with a further €640 million paid to private operators in respect of IP applicants.

Independent TD Verona Murphy said the amounts being paid to private operators were “making oligarchs” out of people who had bought disused hotels, and she did not see where value for money was being delivered in this regard.

Mr Stanley said the amount being paid to private operators was huge. “If there was a dip in State revenues and in the economy this could start causing problems – trying to find funding of €2 billion to €3 billion a year for this.”

Who is behind the wave of arson attacks on migrant housing?

Listen | 23:59

Mr McCarthy and assistant secretary David Delaney said the cost per individual in private accommodation was 2½ times higher than for those in State-owned accommodation – €76 per individual per day for the former and €30 for the latter. Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster said this cost differential was substantial.

Green Party TD Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the officials whether the department had the competency to “drive a hard bargain on the part of the State” to make sure value for money was being achieved and that “we are actually moving to higher-quality providers”.

There was criticism from several TDs of moves to use the last remaining hotels in some towns as emergency accommodation, with claims there was inadequate consultation with local communities and representatives.

Mr McCarthy said during the initial phase of the Ukraine war, when the department was trying to accommodate the substantial numbers arriving, some contracts may have been awarded at too high a price. He said the department now has a rate card which it does not vary from when these come up for renewal, or when new contracts are drawn. There was now more expertise, including personnel seconded from other departments, to ensure the State achieved value for money in this respect, he added.

Mr Delaney said the department would be seeking expressions of interest for turnkey solutions that would allow the State to buy accommodation to house as many as 14,000 IP applicants by 2028.

Mr McCarthy told Fianna Fáil TD James O’Connor that the number of Ukrainian refugees using State-provided accommodation was falling and the numbers of new refugees coming from that country had dropped significantly since last November.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times