Thursday, 14 July 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Refugee Resettlement Programme
I am replying on behalf of the Minister.
Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine on 24 February and the invoking of the temporary protection directive by the European Union shortly afterwards, the Department has worked intensively as part of the cross-governmental response to the Ukraine crisis. The operational challenges brought about by responding to the conflict are significant. Our country has never experienced an influx of displaced persons like the one that we have seen over the past months. Numbers seeking international protection have also increased, adding to accommodation capacity issues. The role of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is focused on the immediate, short-term accommodation needs of those who have arrived here. To date, more than 41,000 people have arrived in Ireland and in excess of 31,000 of those have been referred to us seeking accommodation from the State. Overseeing the provision of accommodation on this scale during this timeframe for all those who require it remains immensely challenging. Due to the urgent need to source accommodation, a broad range of accommodation types have been contracted, including emergency accommodation. While this is not ideal, the priority is to place people fleeing the conflict in safe and secure accommodation.
As of 13 July, the Department has contractual arrangements in place with approximately 450 accommodation services. The Department has contracted over 25,000 beds across hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast accommodation, hostels, student accommodation, commercial self-catering accommodation and certain other repurposed settings, with additional capacity also being pursued through accommodation pledged by the general public and State-owned or private properties which may be suitable for short-term accommodation. Given the number of people arriving, which has increased in recent weeks, sourcing suitable accommodation continues to be a major challenge. In seeking to address accommodation needs, safety and security are the paramount considerations.
The Government is committed to delivering a humanitarian response to welcome people seeking protection in Ireland as part of the European Union's overall response. The scale of the response to this crisis has been unprecedented and Irish people have displayed an incredible level of generosity in their support and pledges of accommodation. The Irish Red Cross Society has put in place a national pledge mechanism for channelling the offers of accommodation which many members of the public wish to provide. Over 25,000 offers of accommodation have been pledged through the Irish Red Cross Society. Implementing partners include local authorities, the Irish Red Cross Society, the International Organisation of Migration and the Peter McVerry Trust. As of 13 July, over 2,155 people have been successfully matched to 776 pledged accommodations, with placements taking place daily in multiple locations across the country. The process of placing people in pledged accommodation takes time. It is a complex process and needs to be done correctly for the safety and security of those fleeing.
Notwithstanding those measures, over the past number of weeks there has been a very significant increase in the number of people seeking access to the international protection service and this is causing a severe shortage of available accommodation for both people arriving from Ukraine and international protection applicants. Based on those numbers and with capacity maximised, the prudent decision was taken in the interests of health and safety to temporarily close the Citywest transit hub to new arrivals. To minimise overcrowding, incoming arrivals will remain in Dublin Airport if they do not have an alternative source of accommodation until more accommodation becomes available. It should be noted that this measure is temporary in nature. Staff from the Department are on-site at both the airport and Citywest locations and the focus is very clearly on assisting those who are most vulnerable. Furthermore, the Government is working intensively to put alternative arrangements in place with immediate effect, and this will include the use of tented accommodation in Gormanston from next week, as well as other emergency solutions that are being developed. The Taoiseach and relevant Ministers are meeting today to discuss the situation and to review the current policies and processes.
While current circumstances are undoubtedly challenging, it is important to acknowledge and pay tribute to the efforts of the Irish people in the outpouring of support and response for those fleeing conflict. This extends to individuals and families, the many volunteers under the co-ordination of the local community forum, the local authorities, the Defence Forces, State agencies such as Tusla and the HSE, and Departments.
I will refer later to the Deputy's other questions.