Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Ukrainian War

3:00 pm

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this issue. Deputy Cannon planned to be in the Chamber for the Topical Issue debate on Tuesday and Wednesday but it does not suit him to be here today.

On the education side, many young Ukrainians, and primarily their mothers, will be overwhelmed on arrival by having to deal with such a dramatic change in their lives and the trauma of the recent past.

Their fathers might not be with them. This will be very difficult.

The first point of contact in the community will be through the schools. Already, we are seeing schools facilitating so many young people. There are many schools. Even in my own constituency today, I was copied into an email from a primary school that was written to the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley. It said that they are ready, willing and able. They want to help and they want to facilitate young people and young Ukrainians. While that process is overwhelming, I would like to especially acknowledge the officials who are working closely with organisations such as Dóchas and the Red Cross in trying to prepare the ground for such a massive undertaking. We are talking about over 100,000 individuals. In dealing with the trauma part of it, there will be a role for the schools. There will be a natural healing in getting students - young people and young Ukrainians - into the schools as quickly as possible so that they can be with people their own age. Obviously, other services will be needed. Our services are already stretched in this area. However, we have to ensure we have support systems for people who are dealing with severe trauma in this regard.

The Committee on European Union Affairs, which I chair, is being proactive. The Ukrainian ambassador will be before the committee next Tuesday. The Moldovan and Georgian ambassadors will be there too. We have reached out to the Romanian and Polish ambassadors. We want to be as proactive as possible to help on the humanitarian side. We are also looking at the real, urgent needs that Ukrainian citizens have at the moment.

The opposite of hope is despair. There is still so much hope out there when you speak to people. People are finding it difficult to deal with the visuals that they are seeing on social media and on television on a day-to-day and hour-to-hour basis. They are struggling with those visuals. That being said, people are trying to help. I believe there is such a capacity in the Ukrainian people who have become part of our communities over recent years. I am finding through my own office that individuals are reaching out to me, directly and indirectly, to offer help, such as in the area of translation. I know a particular Ukrainian individual who has translated for the HSE and has also been a support teacher in a secondary school. Politicians like myself and the Minister of State, in his office in Kildare, need to have a one-stop shop to direct that. I know this will not happen straight away. We will not have everything right straight away. It is important from an information point of view, where people are trying to help. I will add another point at the end. I acknowledge the role of both Ministers, Deputies McEntee and Humphreys, in the social protection aspect of this matter. That is already up and running so that people can get a personal public service, PPS, number quickly, which is so important. I am delighted to see such a pro-active approach in that regard.

3:10 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank Deputy McHugh for raising this important matter and I thank the Minister of State for being here to deal with it.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy McHugh for raising an issue that is foremost in all of our minds across the Government right now. I know Deputy Cannon was working with the Deputy on it earlier in the week. I assure the Deputy and the House that along with officials in all Departments, including the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, on behalf of which I am participating in this Topical Issue debate, I share the Deputy’s concern. We are all working on it. We are monitoring the situation very closely. All Departments, particularly the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, which is quite a mouthful of a departmental name, are responding quickly and effectively in the event that Ukrainian nationals come to Ireland seeking international protection. We know they are doing so, and they have begun to do so already. They will do so in much greater numbers into the future.

The Department is working closely with key stakeholders, the European Commission, other EU agencies and other member states to be prepared for a sudden increase in individuals seeking international protection in the EU. The Department is ready to assist if the EU develops a more co-ordinated approach to supporting nationals from Ukraine. Deputy McHugh rightly highlighted that this is an evolving situation and one to which we are responding in real time. We will continue to do so as the picture becomes clearer about what is required in Ireland’s role in supporting people who need it. We are liaising with the Cabinet and with EU colleagues to ensure there is an effective humanitarian response, as well as a whole-of-government approach.

I can confirm that accommodation will initially be made available by the International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, within the Department, to those Ukrainian nationals who seek international protection in Ireland and require it. IPAS is providing accommodation to Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland. It is scaling up operations as the number of arrivals increases. Some 955 Ukraine nationals to date have sought IPAS accommodation. We are working across the Government to source accommodation from as many sources as possible. Officials are actively working to procure accommodation and supports for Ukrainian arrivals to Ireland through hotel accommodation in the first instance, as well as various accommodation solutions, including the use of modular housing on State-owned land.

We appreciate that many people may wish to make offers of accommodation to support people who are seeking temporary protection in Ireland. The Government is working with the Red Cross in this regard on the logistics. They have put in place a national pledge, the website of which has been launched and is available online at registerofpledges.redcross.ie. There has already been a remarkable response from the public, as the Deputy is aware. Over 10,000 pledges have already been received, showing the Irish céad míle fáilte hospitality, the sense of charity and the sense of outrage that our citizens share at what is happening to Ukrainian people right now. We all want to play our part to help.

As the Deputy will be aware, Ukrainian nationals arriving in Ireland at this time are being granted - if they wish to avail of it - temporary protection for at least one year. This means that Ukrainian nationals who are fleeing the conflict will be allowed to work. They will be given access to health services, accommodation, education for children and other social supports. Details of the new measures have been published on the Department of Justice’s Irish immigration website,irishimmigration.ie. Our colleagues, including the Ministers, Deputies McEntee and Humphreys, are all working in conjunction on the supports in that area. Last night, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth published a frequently asked questions document on its website to help people with any questions they may have. More information on supports and services has been published on gov.ie.

Departments are extremely busy working with colleagues across the Government to assist the humanitarian efforts regarding Ukraine. As this situation, which is unprecedented in our lifetimes, unfolds, our team's primary focus remains on critical operational matters as the situation evolves. IPAS staff, along with staff from Departments of Justice and Social Protection, are at the receiving area in Dublin Airport to provide PPS numbers as Ukrainian nationals arrive. The Department of Social Protection will also provide an income support through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. This is a weekly social welfare payment. It is also paid for adult and child dependants. Details of this are available on the Department website. I can go into further detail in a supplementary response.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for a comprehensive response. I will conclude by saying that at this stage I think there are over 10,000 pledges by individuals who want to help and want to accommodate individuals and families in their homes. That has to be acknowledged. Yet, from speaking to people within the Red Cross, there has to be a level of patience in getting it right, through vetting and by ensuring it is done in a proper way.

I call on insurance companies to facilitate arrangements in respect of individuals and families who will go to rural areas and will be keen to have their own independence and freedom of movement. Should insurance companies look at stepping up to the plate if families decide to add people onto their own contracts with those companies? The insurance companies should step to the plate. I am calling on them to think about that. In rural areas, it can be more difficult for individuals to get around.

I mentioned in my earlier intervention, and I will finish on this, that without hope there is despair. The Irish people have responded in a way that has shown that there is hope and that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. I want to finish with a quote from a relatively new Ukrainian friend of mine. While I am not sure he will agree that we are on the friendship spectrum yet, I will take the liberty of saying so. I asked him how he thinks things will evolve. He just said, “I know our people are very strong and they will make it through”. I think we need to hear those words of hope.

There is light at the end of the tunnel but, for the moment, we will have to work hard and efficiently and ensure we do right for these many people who are relying on us.

3:20 pm

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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The Government will not be found wanting in supporting the Ukrainian people. The 2016 census showed that 3,000 Ukrainian nationals were resident in Ireland at the time. They all have loved ones about whom they are greatly concerned and they may be looking to bring them here. We are taking a whole-of-government response to ensure we offer them all the supports they need. As I mentioned, there is the initial support of social protection and the supplementary welfare allowance for child dependants. Similarly, the HSE has a role to play in healthcare. Ukrainian nationals will be supported to access public primary and post-primary education, and Tusla will also provide assistance in these matters.

To date, all Ukrainians who have sought access to the IPAS system have been accommodated. We will continue to work hard to provide the additional accommodation that will be needed to meet the increased demand we expect. From 1 October to 9 March, 3,800 new arrivals sought international protection. We are aware pressure on the system will grow, which is why departmental officials are actively working to procure accommodation and supports for Ukrainian arrivals through hotel accommodation, in the first instance, and various other accommodation solutions.

The Deputy made a point about the need for industry and businesses such as insurance companies to take a mindful approach. We are taking a whole-of-government approach, including the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and Social Protection. All the Departments are working together in a co-ordinated way and we need business to support us in that regard. This unprecedented challenge will throw up many anomalies and we need to be agile to respond to them. The Government will not be found wanting in supporting these people. I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter.