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Housing minister says government will pull 'every lever available' to house Ukrainian refugees

Vacant buildings are being examined to find spaces that can be converted to homes.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE HOUSING MINISTER has promised that the government will pull “every lever available” to provide housing for refugees who come to Ireland from Ukraine. 

However, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has previously said it will be challenging to secure the necessary amount of accommodation.

Local authorities’ records of vacant buildings are being examined to identify spaces that could be converted to multi-unit housing.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said that the 21,000-plus refugees who have arrived from Ukraine so far have been housed through the initial emergency response that’s being coordinated by the Department of Children and the Red Cross.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, O’Brien said that around 500 refugees are arriving in Ireland on average per day.

“In the short term, we’ve already done a trawl through the 31 local authorities of significant vacant buildings. I’m not talking about individual houses, I’m talking about old commons, it could be hospitals, it could be that type of thing,” O’Brien said.

“We’ve worked through that list, there were over 500 supplied initially. The work will conclude on that this week, as to identifying which ones are easily convertible in the short term and which are longer term,” he said.

“We got the initial list from the local authorities just over two weeks ago. I’ve had three retired chief executives from local government working through those lists to see how quickly and categorise them into the ones that can be converted quickly.

There are emergency provisions under procurement that we can follow, which I intend to do, to fast track procurement. We can’t follow the normal public procurement procedures here. We need to look at approved lists and just get the work done.

“With some, it will indeed take months and then we’ve got to look at additional homes. I’ve also sought from local authorities to identify land both public and private that is not already identified for social and affordable housing.”

Co operative housing 010 Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Asked about whether student accommodation buildings could be used, the minister said that would be difficult given the existing shortfall in student housing in Ireland.

“We have an issue in student accommodation already in providing affordable accommodation for our students… We have a situation now where student accommodation itself is very, very scarce.”

Beyond temporary housing, he said the “next phase” will be to look at finding permanent homes “because for many of the people who’ve arrived from Ukraine, unfortunately for them, their homes have been destroyed”.

Director of the Irish Homebuilders’ Association James Benson said that the use of existing housing stock, vacant units, and acting on uncommenced planning permissions should all be employed.

“It could be the case that you could have a single house that will need a change of use to bring it into a multi-unit dwelling that will provide refuge,” Benson said.

“You could also have unused commercial businesses, old banks that have been shut down or Garda stations that if they have a change of use through planning, they can be brought on stream,” he said.

“I think all listeners would identify within their own urban centres, suburban centres, towns, villages, right across the country, vacant and unused buildings.

He said there needs to be in-depth analysis of vacant buildings to identify the level of work required, but that the existence of infrastructure already in place would reduce the amount of time needed to make the spaces liveable.

“I think if you talk to home builders on a normal given day, the biggest impediment to delivery is infrastructure – our roads, our power supply, our water,” Benson said.

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“The advantage of identifying and targeting those vacant and existing stock is all of those are currently in place, so you have the water connection, you have the power supply, and the road infrastructure is there, and that’s all critically important.

“That could reduce the delivery time significantly.”

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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