Tuesday, 14 November 2023
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I submitted this Commencement Matter because I was curious about this issue when we were going through budgets, expenditure details and so forth. I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this matter today, which I have submitted on a number of occasions previously. I am seeking information in relation to a number of departmental expenditure queries I received. As outlined by the Cathaoirleach, this query relates to the amount of money being spent on the international protection accommodation service, IPAS, on Ukrainian accommodation, on different subsistence payments and on related services. I am sure the Minister of State will have a very detailed response to my query, which I look forward to hearing.
Since February 2022, as part of the whole-of-government response to the war in Ukraine, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has supported approximately 100,000 people who have sought temporary protection in Ireland, over 80% of whom have sought State-supported accommodation. On average, approximately 650 people per week seek accommodation from the State. In addition, Ireland and many other European countries are experiencing a significant increase in people seeking international protection. Over the period from 2017 to 2019, an average of 3,500 people applied for protection each year, averaging 67 people per week.The arrival numbers remain significantly elevated. In the first 44 weeks of 2023 nearly 9,600 international protection applicants arrived in Ireland seeking accommodation from the State, averaging 218 people per week which is more than triple the average between the period 2017 to 2019. In recent months there has been a significant increase in those seeking international protection who require accommodation from the State, with numbers exceeding 250 per week in recent weeks.
The Department holds responsibility for the provision of immediate temporary accommodation for the beneficiaries of temporary protection who seek it. Other Departments and agencies are also involved in the whole-of-government response to the crisis, which is co-ordinated by the Department of the Taoiseach. The situation as regards the availability of accommodation for beneficiaries of temporary protection arriving in Ireland remains extremely challenging. If arrivals continue at the current high levels there is forecast to be a shortage for beneficiaries of temporary protection accommodation in the coming weeks. The Government is committed to taking all actions necessary to deliver a sustainable humanitarian response and to welcome people seeking protection in Ireland as part of the European Union's overall response. Ireland's supports remain under review.
I am advised by Departmental officials that the total expenditure to date, as of 9 November 2023, by the Department on the Ukraine crisis since the Russian invasion in February 2022 is €1.795 billion. Of this, approximately €1.287 billion was spent on Department-provided accommodation alone, excluding the CityWest Transport Hub, local authority accommodation, pledged supports, transport, and facilities management etc. Approximately €58 million has been paid to local authorities to provide emergency accommodation. The total spend on International Protection Accommodation Services, IPAS, accommodation in 2022 was €356,554,000. There were 19,202 people in IPAS accommodation on 31 December 2022. The average cost of accommodating an individual residing in IPAS accommodation in 2022 was €76 per night equating to nearly €28,000 per annum for each individual.
Services for all international protection applicants, including healthcare, are mainstreamed and are accessed through the same referral pathways as Irish citizens. Residents in accommodation centres access GP services within the local community. Mental health services are accessed through the same referral pathways as Irish citizens, that is through primary care, GP referral, and emergency services. A weekly personal allowance is also paid to each international protection, IP, applicant. In 2021 this was increased to €38.80 cent for adults and to €29.80 for children.
The figures are eye-watering to say the least. I am a supporter of what we have done for the people of Ukraine. It was curious, I was talking to a member of the Government of Georgia recently. It has a similar type of population to ourselves and is on the doorstep of Ukraine. Georgia has 40,000 Ukrainians in its country and Ireland has approximately 100,000. I have no problem with the number of Ukrainians Ireland is taking, or international protection applicants for that matter, personally - or as a party - we have no problem with that. The money we are spending is more than €2 billion, and all of the figures are not in this. In a calendar year I am looking at approximately €2.3 billion here and I am sure there are a whole pile of other ancillary figures behind this that are not shown here. This is very simple, just feeding and accommodating these people. It really is an incredible figure. I am just curious and I saw one of the figures.To be exact, it has gone up by 95%. The money spent on accommodation has increased by 63% in a year. These are the figures for the last year alone. They are out of control. We have to do our thing. We are good Europeans and stand four-square behind Ukraine and the people coming here from war-torn areas seeking to be rehomed but we have to be practical. I am curious as to the Minister of State's further thoughts on the matter.
The State has a legal obligation to assess the claims of those who seek international protection and, in that time, to provide accommodation and supports in line with the recast reception conditions directive, given effect by Statutory Instrument 230 of 2018. Under the temporary protection directive, 2001/55/EC, beneficiaries of temporary protection receive accommodation or access to means to source accommodation, if needed, as well as access to the labour market, social welfare income supports, education and medical care. The Government is committed to meeting our legal obligations and to supporting those seeking refuge in Ireland and is stepping up action to maximise the pace and scale of delivery of the accommodation strategy for people seeking international protection in Ireland.