Thursday, 24 March 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
6. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will outline supports provided to date through the community sponsorship model and whether consideration has been given to including Ukrainian nationals in the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15316/22]
Will the Minister outline any work that is being undertaken in the context of the community sponsorship scheme and whether consideration is being given to enabling Ukrainian nationals in communities to access the scheme?
As the Deputy is aware, accommodation is being made available by the International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, of my Department to meet the needs of Ukrainian refugees. So far, accommodation has been provided to more than 4,500 people. The community sponsorship model he referenced was developed by the Government in collaboration with non-governmental partners such as the Irish Red Cross, the Irish Refugee Council, Nasc, Amnesty International and Doras Luimní. The purpose of the programme is to enable communities to welcome refugees to Ireland and to ensure communities are supported as they engage with refugees to find sanctuary here and integrate into Irish life.
During the arrival of Afghan refugees in 2021, a less formalised version of this programme was adapted to support groups wishing to welcome Afghan arrivals in an emergency situation where time did not allow for a full training programme to take place. Communities already are becoming engaged in the process of providing support to Ukrainian refugees, as we discussed in the debate on the previous question. Community forums are being established to serve as a mechanism for channelling community and voluntary support to Ukrainian refugees. The model is similar to the community call approach that was adopted during the Covid crisis. Local authorities will be able to provide details of the community forums in each country, which will oversee community initiatives to support refugees. Community support will be crucial in ensuring refugees are successfully integrated into Irish society.
As the Deputy is aware, a key part of the community sponsorship scheme is the provision of accommodation to refugees. Members of the public already are providing such accommodation through the national pledge process managed by the Irish Red Cross. It is open to communities to submit pledges to the register, encompassing both accommodation and community supports.
I welcome the work the Government has undertaken since this crisis began. As the Minister noted, it is only 28 days since the invasion took place and we are undertaking a multimillion euro and multifaceted approach to dealing with many of the concerns that have been raised. More could, perhaps, be done but we will get there in time. The events taking place internationally are deeply concerning, as I am sure he acknowledges. The community sponsorship scheme was used for the first time a number of years ago at the time of the Afghan crisis. It has been a successful way to encourage a degree of integration and assistance to refugees. We are now living in extraordinarily dangerous times. The world has changed utterly since 2016, when a general election took place, and we need to adapt to this new reality. Ireland's place can be as a beacon of peace and refuge for people who are in need across the world. We must ensure we resource that status and style of approach. I would welcome any further details the Minister can provide in this regard.
The Deputy is right that the community sponsorship model was brought forward in a different time and it responded to the very real needs of Afghan refugees last year and Syrian refugees prior to that. It was an extremely successful programme and communities really have rallied around to support those who arrived. However, it was done on a small scale, whereas now we are undertaking developments at a massive scale across the country, as we expect tens of thousands of refugees to arrive in the weeks and months ahead. We need to learn from the successes of the community sponsorship scheme.
We have to be in a position to upscale that at a much greater level and to respond to the many needs of Ukrainians. One of the Deputies raised the issues of employment and the desire of Ukrainians to engage in employment. Under the temporary protection directive, they have a right to join the jobs market. We are considering expediting membership applications to the Teaching Council and other professional bodies to allow Ukrainians into the workforce as quickly as possible.
I have a couple of additional points based on observations I made on my community in the weeks since this crisis began. Throughout rural Ireland, we see families, including young mothers and children, arriving. We need to do more to find suitable accommodation. Many places in rural Ireland could easily be renovated and brought up to a standard whereby safe accommodation could be provided, but conservation architects cause many issues when it comes to renovating many derelict buildings in towns and villages, as many rural Deputies will confirm. We could set these buildings up as emergency accommodation for the initial months until we find time to provide suitable housing for people who will be remaining here for the foreseeable future while the conflict is taking place. The Minister might examine this issue, if possible.
I thank the Deputy. We are proceeding on a phased basis. The initial phase involves hotel accommodation. Two thousand five hundred rooms have been procured in recent weeks. We are now moving on to the pledges and seeking in the first instance to activate the vacant houses or fully vacant units into which people can move quickly. Following on from that will be shared accommodation in people's homes. There will be an element of vetting where a child is going into a home. We are engaging with a view to considering larger buildings, perhaps institutional buildings, including those of the HSE and religious institutions. We have asked local authorities to identify large vacant buildings that may not be in their ownership but that are in their areas and that could be renovated, as the Deputy stated. However, if the numbers increase, we will need more. The Government and Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage are considering the various options. We do not have the answers right now but we are working on them. We are asking everyone to work with us and to be reassured that we are very much focused on delivering for potentially large numbers.