Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committees

1:12 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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1. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the membership of the new Cabinet subcommittee to oversee the State response to the Ukraine crisis; and when it will next meet. [21855/22]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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2. To ask the Taoiseach when the new Cabinet subcommittee that is dealing with Ukrainian refugees will next meet. [21863/22]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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3. To ask the Taoiseach when the new Cabinet subcommittee that is dealing with Ukrainian refugees will next meet. [21866/22]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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4. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet subcommittee to oversee the State response to the Ukraine crisis will next meet. [22873/22]

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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5. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet subcommittee to oversee the State response to the Ukraine crisis last met. [24810/22]

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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6. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet subcommittee to oversee the State response to the Ukraine crisis will next meet. [24814/22]

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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7. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet subcommittee to oversee the State response to the Ukraine crisis will next meet. [24816/22]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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8. To ask the Taoiseach when the new Cabinet subcommittee that is dealing with Ukrainian refugees will next meet. [24935/22]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, together. The Cabinet committee on accommodation and supports for Ukrainian refugees oversees the whole-of-Government humanitarian response to supporting people from Ukraine who have sought temporary protection here.

The Cabinet committee had its first meeting on Thursday, 12 May, when it considered the latest position on the number of people from Ukraine who have arrived here seeking protection and the accommodation and services being provided to them. Membership of the Cabinet committee includes the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment; the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications; the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage; the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; the Minister for Social Protection; the Minister for Foreign Affairs; and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Other Ministers will attend the Cabinet committee as required.

In addition to the members of the Cabinet committee, the Minister for Justice also attended the meeting on 12 May.

To date, more than 30,000 people have arrived in Ireland fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. Emergency and short-term accommodation for these people is being provided through the international protection accommodation service, IPAS, and over 18,000 Ukrainian arrivals are currently being accommodated by the State. The support of the Irish Red Cross and many other charities and NGOs is an essential part of the national effort. The cross-Government response is ensuring that people arriving into temporary protection are provided with access to social welfare, accommodation, health and education supports as required.

Yesterday, Government agreed that a €400 monthly recognition payment would be made to those who provide accommodation for those fleeing the war in Ukraine to acknowledge the generosity of Irish hosts. The Cabinet committee will meet again in the coming weeks.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I thank the Taoiseach for the update. On behalf of the Labour Party, I express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people and our condemnation of the brutal Russian invasion of which there is condemnation across Ireland. I am conscious of the immense national effort and the work that has been done by many in the public service, the Irish Red Cross and local authorities around the country to support Ukrainian refugees who have come here and to address their need for accommodation.

We have engaged with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and flagged to him a large number of vacant and empty sites in Dublin and around the country. We still do not have clarity as to what the Government is planning to do to activate these empty properties, some of which are centrally located. I previously flagged Baggot Street hospital and the Avalon hostel in Aungier Street in my constituency. Another site that has been brought to my attention is that of the old Jury's Hotel in Ballsbridge, which has apparently been ear-marked for a new US embassy but with 400 bedrooms and currently lying empty. What can we do to ensure the capacity in these buildings will be brought on stream?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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If, as we must, we are going to provide refuge for those fleeing the war in Ukraine, we need to do everything we can to relieve pressure on the housing services. A simple measure I suggested to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when he was looking for suggestions a number of weeks ago was to stop evictions, as we did during the Covid-19 emergency. The numbers of evictions are rising and that is increasing the number of people and families going into homeless services who should not be there. It is putting more and more pressure on our housing services.

Similarly, on the issue of vacant buildings, we wrote weeks ago suggesting specific buildings in my constituency that might be suitable.

We have heard absolutely nothing about what the Government intends to do to put those buildings to use for those affected both by the refugee crisis and the housing crisis.

1:22 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Will the Taoiseach back the growing calls for debt relief for Ukraine? Even the US Congress has now backed calls for suspending all debt service payments by Ukraine and for debt relief. Ireland has reportedly given around €20 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine but the Ukrainians are spending 300 times that amount, or €6 billion, this year just servicing their odious debt. This means that all of our humanitarian aid amounts to less than 40 hours of servicing that debt. Unless the debt is cancelled, the money is really just going back out the door to the IMF, the World Bank and others rather than actually supporting the victims of this brutal war. We have seen for ourselves how crippling such debts can be and the impact of IMF-backed austerity. So far, however, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, has said that debt forgiveness risks impairing the IMF's financial integrity, as if the IMF is about to go bankrupt, which is clearly ridiculous. Will the Taoiseach support debt relief?

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Faoin tseachtain seo, tá nach mór 6,000 leanbh ón Úcráin tar éis dul isteach inár mbunscoileanna agus meánscoile. Tá pobalscoileanna ar fud an Stáit tar éis rudaí dochreidte a dhéanamh chun cabhrú leis na leanaí seo, ag cur fáilte rompu agus ag tabhairt leabhar agus cultacha scoile dóibh.

While they have made incredible efforts, taking in additional students has put pressure on schools' whose resources are stretched. Many schools' budgets are already overstretched as they try to make this year's funding cover the extortionate rises in energy costs to keep the lights on. Many schools are having to reach into this limited pot of money to pay for uniforms, school supplies and books for Ukrainian children who cannot afford them. I have received responses from the Minister for Education previously about English language supports but I want to know what additional capitation funding will be provided to schools who have taken in Ukrainian children and young people, for books, equipment and so on.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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As the war inflicted by the evil regime of Mr. Putin continues in Ukraine, it is obvious from listening to contributors from Ukraine and those associated with the Ukrainian Government that there is an urgent need to continue to provide humanitarian aid and financial support. The European Union has been very responsive, as has our own Government and that help needs to be continued. I would like to take the opportunity to compliment the schools and communities throughout the country as well as our local authorities and the local development companies who have been very proactive in assisting refugees who have come to different parts of our country. Every assistance is being provided to make sure they get the proper and well-deserved welcome they need.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Taoiseach to take the time to acknowledge the Trojan work being undertaken on behalf of the State at the City West Hotel by volunteers from the South Dublin County Volunteer Centre and by staff from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, among others. Given that our Fianna Fáil party colleagues, Billy Kelleher, MEP, and Senator Dooley, paid visits to Ukraine in recent months, could the Taoiseach outline whether the Government or any of its representatives have similar plans? Does the Taoiseach plan to travel to Kyiv to show solidarity with Ukraine?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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It is right and proper that urgent action is taken to support the victims of this war who have fled to this country. It is also right and proper that this country takes action to support other victims of the war. I want to urgently raise the case of Javid Mamedov, a Russian anti-war activist and socialist who is now in prison after being arrested for a third time for his anti-war stance. He faces a prison sentence of five to ten years. He is not alone. More than 15,000 anti-war campaigners have been detained and many are currently in prison facing charges. I ask the Taoiseach to contact the Russian Embassy urgently to demand the release of Javid Mamedov and all of those other anti-war prisoners.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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I have raised with the Taoiseach the issue of Russian money sloshing around the Irish Financial Services Centre, IFSC, in Dublin. A number of companies have been set up in the IFSC to facilitate the circumvention of sanctions. Journalists for The Currencyindicate that they have tracked approximately €13 billion of Russian money, while The Irish Timesindicated previously that there was €34 billion in opaque Russian-linked shell companies. I asked the Central Bank if it was investigating this but it said "No". The bank is not investigating it and does not have a proactive investigative role in terms of sanctions being circumvented. I asked the Minister for Justice if An Garda Síochána is investigating this but she could not tell me whether that is the case. Here we are, months after this was first raised, not just by me but by others, and we still do not know whether there is any investigation taking place into the possible circumvention of sanctions by shell companies in the IFSC.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Bacik raised the issue of buildings in the medium term. We will have a look at the Jurys Hotel site and we have been examining any other sites that Deputy Bacik and others have flagged to us. The International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, has been notified of the availability for use of a range of buildings. Local authorities have identified in excess of 500 vacant buildings in their areas and to date, 89 of these buildings have been deemed capable of almost immediate occupation by up to 5,355 persons. The IPAS is conducting a further assessment of the remaining buildings and this is ongoing.

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has asked the Local Government Management Agency, LGMA, to develop a proposal in respect of the establishment of an emergency vacant housing delivery unit drawing on expertise from the local government and private sectors to co-ordinate, consult on and direct the refurbishment of buildings. Exemptions from planning requirements will be determined, where necessary, on these buildings. A dedicated director of services staff member, supported by a small team, will be assigned on a full-time basis in all local authorities to co-ordinate the local response between all of the agencies and community groups engaged in support and service provision for Ukrainians.

The OPW will lead on the design, development and delivery of any accommodation to be produced through modular volumetric construction, including associated site-enabling works on available and suitable State land. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will establish a clearing house to address contractual, operational and compliance issues associated with planning permission which has been granted but not yet activated. Much work is going on in respect of a lot of buildings that have been identified. Quite a number of religious organisations have put forward buildings as well, including former convents and monasteries, which are in use by refugees, particularly those from Ukraine.

I assure Deputy Boyd Barrett that every effort is being made to prevent evictions. The Minister has taken a series of measures to try to reduce and minimise evictions but the reality is that when more than 30,000 people come into a country within three months, fleeing war and the agony and trauma of war, the response has to be different from the normal response. That is why such a significant amount of accommodation is being procured by the State. We are trying to provide sufficient and adequate accommodation for Ukrainians who have fled the war. In addition to that, the work of the Irish Red Cross on houses that have been pledged is also ongoing to provide additional support.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Why not stop evictions?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The reconfiguration of buildings is important. The real issue here is to get scale and volume through existing buildings that are not being used, to get them refurbished, if necessary, and back into use.

In response to Deputy Paul Murphy, I met the Prime Minister of Ukraine recently at Shannon Airport but he did not ask me for a declaration of support for debt relief. He indicated to me that he was travelling to Washington to meet the IMF and various organisations to discuss how to support both the current budgetary needs of Ukraine and also the reconstruction effort in the event of the war coming to an end. I will be guided by the Ukrainian Government in respect of how it wants to progress this, working with bodies such as the IMF and the World Bank.

There is very strong international support for Ukraine from the G7, the European Union, the United States, Japan, Canada and many others. I have no doubt that will continue and that phase by phase throughout this war that will continue. The Prime Minister did seek some additional supports around the international aid that is flowing in, and that there would be a more proactive partnership with the Ukrainian Government on the ground in term of the deployment and disbursement of those resources.

Aontaím leis an Teachta Ó Laoghaire agus ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le scoileanna na tíre as an méid oibre atá déanta acu ó thaobh leanaí ón Úcráin de atá inár scoileanna anois. Tá suas le 6,000 díobh, is dócha, anois ag freastal inár scoileanna. Is iontach an scéal é sin agus caithfimid ár mbuíochas a ghabháil le húdaráis agus foirne na scoileanna, na múinteoirí, gach duine atá ag obair sna scoileanna agus na tuismitheoirí dúiche mórthimpeall. Níl aon amhras ach go mbeidh áiseanna á lorg ag na scoileanna. I dtús báire bhí sé práinneach iad a thabhairt isteach go dtí deireadh na bliana seo ó thaobh na scoileanna de ach beidh an Meán Fómhair ag teacht agus beidh gá a bheith feasach faoi sin, déileáil leis na scoileanna agus a fháil amach cad atá uathu. I mention the establishment of the schools and the challenges. I think we are looking at the next academic year. We are making certain provisions but obviously the priority was to get the students places in schools. Certainly the next academic year will be important in the context of resources.

On Deputy Brendan Smith's question, there is absolutely an urgent need to continue with the humanitarian aid. I fully appreciate the efforts the Deputy has made, and the efforts of all those in the House, in progressing this issue. On Deputy Lahart's point, I call out and support the very strong volunteerism, in particular that which he mentioned, namely, the South Dublin County Volunteer Centre, Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and public servants in general who have responded above and beyond the call of duty since this war began and this crisis developed.

I also salute Senator Timmy Dooley and Billy Kelleher, MEP, for visiting Ukraine early on during the war through the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, group. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has been to Kiev as well. We will consider that issue also. Again, we work with Ukrainian Government doing whatever we can to provide support.

I will pursue the issue raised by Deputy Barry if he could send on the details of the case to us.

1:32 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I will do.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Often an aspect of the war that is missed is the number of Russian citizens who have raised concerns about this war and who have been jailed for, literally, voicing dissent against the Russian Federation Government. It is quite shocking in terms of the anti-democratic impulse now going through Russia.

On Deputy Tóibín's question, first of all, action will be taken against anybody circumventing the sanctions. There is a role for the Central Bank in relation to that. It has done significant analysis in that regard.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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It told me it did not have a role. The Governor told me.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We are over time.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I apologise.