Thursday, 24 March 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
8. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the way his Department is co-ordinating the accommodation and welfare needs of Ukrainian refugees coming to Ireland; if there is a co-ordination person and organisation in each county to manage the needs of refugees on behalf of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15101/22]
13. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the measures that will be put in place to ensure the safeguarding of Ukrainian children who come here as refugees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15480/22]
19. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his plans to increase the resources to community organisations that are and will be delivering services to the expected 100,000 refugees from Ukraine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15321/22]
30. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to outline his Department’s supports for Ukrainian nationals arriving in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15306/22]
50. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the response of his Department to the Ukrainian war crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15100/22]
65. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the assistance and supports that are being provided by his Department to Ukrainians fleeing the war; if provision is being made to accommodate persons outside of Dublin, to provide holistic supports to children and young people including access to mental health supports; the measures that will be undertaken to integrate these young people into their communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15447/22]
72. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the supports that he is considering in order to involve the public and local communities in towns and villages to assist in integration measures needed for Ukrainian nationals coming to Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15355/22]
73. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the measures that are being taken to provide accommodation and housing for those fleeing conflict in Ukraine; the number of children to date who have arrived from Ukraine and the services made available to them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15354/22]
298. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the details of his engagement with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage in respect of the housing needs of children coming to Ireland to escape conflict in Ukraine; his views on the need to avoid the inappropriate accommodation of children in congregated settings, particularly those shared with adult strangers; and his views on the use of modular housing to meet the specific housing needs of child refugees and asylum seekers. [15338/22]
306. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the system that is in place for persons in Ireland who wish to open up their home to Ukrainians fleeing conflict; the way in which persons can access information about how they can help; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13371/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 13, 19, 30, 50, 65, 72, 73, 298 and 306 together.
I thank the Deputies for their questions. I am sure everyone joins me in condemning in the strongest possible terms the illegal aggression of Russia towards Ukraine, which at this stage appears to be designed to create the most possible suffering for civilians. I am sure all Deputies will join with me in extending a hand of welcome to Ukrainian refugees as they arrive in our country.
Since the outset of the Russian attack, I and my Department have been focused on providing reception accommodation for Ukrainian refugees in need. From 25 February to this Tuesday,19 March, 10,414 Ukrainians have come to Ireland. We have established dedicated teams at Dublin Airport to meet new arrivals from Ukraine, with teams from the Departments of Social Protection, Health, and Justice and from my own Department. Alongside that we have hubs in Cork and Limerick cities to support new arrivals. We are establishing a hub presence at Rosslare Port. Officials from these Departments are ensuring that every person arriving is met and given support as soon as possible.
We have specifically prepared reception areas and they include designated spaces for children and adults and quiet spaces. The international protection accommodation service, IPAS, of my Department has temporarily taken responsibility for providing accommodation to Ukrainian refugees. A dedicated Ukraine unit is being established to manage the provision of accommodation and related services to Ukrainian refugees. To date almost 5,000 Ukraine nationals have sought accommodation from IPAS.
My officials are continuously working to source further accommodation and supports for Ukrainian arrivals to Ireland. So far, IPAS has contracted over 2,500 hotel rooms, with additional capacity also being pursued through accommodation pledged by the general public, where there are 20,000 pledges on the register; State-owned or private properties which may be suitable for short-term accommodation; religious properties; and local authority facilities. My Department has worked with local authorities which played a pivotal role in securing short-term accommodation. We have engaged with the City and County Management Association, CCMA, about drawing on emergency accommodation in community centres, if necessary. Dublin City Council provided some emergency accommodation last weekend and we have engaged with convention centres about installing emergency accommodation in those facilities and with the Defence Forces about options if existing capacity was insufficient.
All of this work is being undertaken. However, I have to be clear, open and honest about the scale of the challenge facing the State. Over the past month, we have been contracting hotel accommodation. This week, we are going out to pledged accommodation. Right now, this is our primary source of accommodation. Over the coming weeks we will get a better sense of wider accommodation through local authorities, religious organisations and State bodies. Some of this may require renovation. This accommodation is unlikely to meet the level of need should some of the higher estimated numbers of people arriving come to pass.
If we are to offer people shelter and security, we have to have contingency options and these are being put in place. These include the use of arenas and conference centres such as Millstreet and CityWest, as well as the use of Gormanstown. It will not be own-door, and may mean camp beds in shared spaces. It is not our first preference. However, it is there as a contingency if at some point it becomes needed. We have a war on our borders and we are facing a humanitarian crisis on a scale we have never seen before.
What the Minister has outlined is around accommodation, which is the first port of call and the first important thing. However, I have been hearing from local community groups such as family resource centres that have been to the forefront of assisting families fleeing conflict in Syria and Afghanistan. In Cavan-Monaghan a number of family resource centres have been reporting that staff are under extreme pressure on a daily basis with requests for help and support for these families who often have limited English. Workers in the centres are trying to cope with an expanding list of critical needs in terms of education, housing, social welfare, medical appointments and citizenship applications. The work goes on through lunch times, late into the evenings and often at weekends. That was before the conflict in Ukraine and the dreadful plight of the Ukrainian people. We can expect that this is only going to increase as Ukrainian people settle in different areas, and rightly so. It is going to exacerbate a bad situation that is already there. What plans does the Minister have to increase funding and resources to community groups and the family resource centres to deal with refugees?
There is a great deal of goodwill among the public as is evidenced by the 20,000 offers of accommodation and also the significant donations and cash amounts that were shipped out in recent weeks. Community groups really want to be able to provide support, whether people are in congregated settings or spread right across the country. It is not going to be so easy to gather together those different ideas.
What kind of platform is available to community groups that want to engage, whether they are offering welcome packs, communications services, transport or any of the various offers that might be made? Given that the people coming here will be spread right across the country, does the Minister have a plan for transport? How can we accommodate groups of people, whether a group of friends or those engaged with a particular organisation, in terms of transport options, in a situation where they may be scattered across the country?
First, it is important to say that we are taking an all-of-government approach, led by the Department of the Taoiseach. The Deputy is right that transport will be a key element and I will be engaging with the Department of Transport on that. It is important that each Department is responsible for its particular element of the response to the crisis. We all will work together to deliver for the very significant needs of Ukrainian refugees.
I will engage with Tusla regarding family resource centres. Its CEO, Bernard Gloster, has indicated that it is looking to support the Government's work in terms of the response to Ukrainian refugees in individual communities.
On the wider co-ordination point, which speaks to both of the Deputy's questions, the community forums are being stood up at the moment. He may recall the community call initiative during the Covid crisis. We are looking to a similar model now and the County and City Management Association, CCMA, is being asked to contact all the local authority chief executives and ask them to convene meetings of statutory community and voluntary agencies that can co-ordinate what is needed. The work that needs to be done in Cork and Cavan, for example, may be different from what is needed in west Dublin. The effort must be shaped to each particular area.
I would welcome any supports that can be given to family resource centres because they really are under pressure at the moment. That is before they even start to deal with people from Ukraine.
The Minister said a cross-governmental approach is being taken. Is there a good plan in place in this regard? Many of the people coming here are highly qualified professionals in areas where there are staff shortages in this country. Will they be allowed to work within a short period of arriving here? It would give them the means to support themselves and feel they are contributing to our society and it also would fill shortages we have, especially in the healthcare sector, where there are shortages of nurses, doctors and therapists within the disability sector. Is there a plan to get people working as soon as possible?
I welcome the Minister's update and the engagement with the community forums. There are two almost distinct timeframes at play here. There is the immediate need as people are arriving and there is the question of how they can be supported in the longer term. In terms of the immediate or short-term response, I have offers, for instance, from a company's sports and social club that wants to make welcome kits available to children arriving here. There is a school that wants to make its gym's shower facilities and so on available. All of these kinds of arrangements will have to be prepared in advance. If it is a matter of waiting for the councils and the city and county managers to assemble a forum, it will be a little too late for those offers to be ready for when people arrive. Is there a platform or opportunity for these types of early set-up offers to be taken on board? They are only for the short term but they would help with the more immediate needs.
I, too, have concerns about the plans. I really welcome the work that is being done to welcome Ukrainian refugees but, like other Deputies, I have had several telephone calls from people who have houses available but need more communication and information on how to proceed. I contacted Carlow County Council, which told me it is setting up a forum and gave me a telephone number. I said that I have had loads of people contacting me and I need to know where to go for information. There is no branch of the Irish Red Cross in County Carlow, although there is one in Kilkenny and it does an excellent job.
It is correct that the timing of all this is crucial. It is great that the local authorities do a good job in such matters, as they did during the Covid crisis, but we, as Deputies, are to the forefront on this. We are getting a large number of telephone calls but we cannot give people information because we know nothing about what is happening. I have contacted all the different Departments trying to get that information. Many people in different communities are coming to me, as an elected representative, looking for help but I do not know where to send them. Communication will be key in all of this. It is just not about local authorities but it is also about all the different groups and everybody working together. This is an urgent issue and a crisis. If we all do not play our part, the outcome will not be good. I am not happy with what is happening in terms of engagement with communities.
It is 28 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. All of Europe is responding to a crisis none of us foresaw and which is happening at a scale none of us foresaw. Yes, the response right now is imperfect. We are doing our best to meet the immediate needs about which Deputy Moynihan spoke and to plan for what could be very significant medium- to long-term needs. The entire system is coming together but it will take time before everything is perfect. I genuinely think Cork County Council is in a better position to decide, for example, that a school can make shower facilities available to a local group, rather than such decisions being made at Government level or by the Department of Education. That is really important.
I have asked the Department of the Taoiseach to make sure the community forums are being established and will be up and running. If they need help in getting contact numbers and so on, it is important to get that right. It is important that they know, and we all know, who to contact. There is a process, which is the same process that worked during the Covid crisis, and it is getting up and running. It is not perfect and it will be imperfect for a while, but we have a clear mechanism to deliver in the short term while we work on the plans for the longer term.