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Minister for Integration Roderic O'Gorman. Leah Farrell/
accommodation crisis

Minister says Govt 'under real pressure' to accommodate refugees in coming months

Roderic O’Gorman said a significant increase in arrivals “particularly on the Ukrainian side” is putting additional pressure on accommodation.

MINISTER FOR CHILDREN and Integration Roderic O’Gorman has said the Government is “under real pressure” to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers ahead of the autumn period. 

O’Gorman said a significant increase in arrivals “particularly on the Ukrainian side” is putting additional pressure on accommodation, with between 600 and 650 people having arrived in July and August.

It comes after it was announced that 750 Ukrainian refugees would be housed in tents at the site of Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Co Laois for a six-week period. 

Student accommodation units had been used during the summer months to house many of those who were entering Ireland, but the units are no longer available following the start of the academic year.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, O’Gorman said the lack of accommodation during this period had been anticipated by Government.

He said that around 250 of the 70,000 Ukrainians currently being accommodated in Ireland are in tented accommodation, while around 300 of the 23,000 international protection applicants are being accommodated in tented accommodation.

“Tented accommodation is a small part of our offering right now when you look at the overall scale of the number of people we’re accommodating. I’ve been very clear it’s not the optimal method of accommodating people,” he said. 

O’Gorman said he was satisfied that those living in the tented accommodation in Stradbally are safe. “We wouldn’t put people into unsafe accommodation.

“In the tented accommodation in Stradbally, family groups are able to have their own tents so they have have a degree of privacy. There are full facilities there, meals are provided on site,” he added.

“We were always very clear that Stradbally was a temporary site for use into the early autumn. People will be there for maximum six weeks, but if we can move people on more quickly, we’ll do so.”

He said the Government have been “very open” with the Ukrainian ambassador Larysa Gerasko about the struggle to find suitable accommodation for new arrivals.

“We’ve asked her to deliver a message to Ukrainians who are considering leaving the country right now that if they’re safe where they are at the moment, that might be a better option for them because we can’t guarantee them accomodation in Ireland right now.”

He said the Department will do “everything we can” to ensure that asylum seekers do not having to sleep on the streets of Dublin.

That was a clear breach of our international obligations. It’s not something any of us want to be standing over.

“That’s why even tented accommodation, suboptimal as it is, at least ensures people are sheltered and at least ensures people are close to the services that can be provided by NGOs, by our department, and have safety as well because we saw when people are sleeping on the streets, they are at much, much greater risk,” he said.

“We’ll do everything we can to avoid that but not knowing the numbers of arrivals that we’ll see over the next number of months, unfortunately, I’m not in a position to give any absolute guarantees.

In relation to the procurement of additional accommodation, the Minister said his department is continuing to work to add beds from hotel and guesthouse accommodation, as well as pledged accommodation. 

Over 800 Ukrainian refugees are living modular accommodation, while over 13,000 refugees are currently residing in pledged accommodation. 

O’Gorman said the Government is considering making a renewed appeal to members of the public who own vacant homes to make them available to refugees. “That has worked very well in terms of giving people a good degree of permanency in terms of taking on those units.”

Under the scheme, which is led by local authorities, anyone who makes a property available will be granted a recognition payment of €800 a month.

Asked if the Government would consider increasing the payment in order to attract more interest, O’Gorman said they had to be careful in terms of having wider impacts on the housing market. 

“We’ve always been very clear that our response to the needs of Ukrainians being here shouldn’t impact on the wider pressures that we see within the housing market and that would certainly be a consideration there.”

Childcare funding

The Minister also announced a second year of Core Funding for childcare providers.

The Core Funding scheme, which is designed to support providers of early learning and school-age childcare, sees childcare providers freeze fees at September 2021 rates in return for State funding.

The Department of Children has said that 90% of Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School-Age Childcare (SAC) services have signed up for Core Funding.

Core Funding Year 2, which runs from this month to August 2024, will see the State provide €287 million in direct funding to childcare providers. This is an increase of €28 million on last year, according to the Department.

The funding will be allocated based on a service’s capacity, with services with longer opening hours and higher places receiving more funding. The Department has said that smaller services will also see a “significant increase in publicly-funded financial support”.

However, the Federation of Early Childhood Providers (FECP) has said that claims and promises made by the Department of Children have been “largely unmet” and called for a change in how the sector is funded.

In a pre-budget submission, published earlier this week, the FECP claimed that the increase in core funding “is well below inflation and cost of living, with industry costs rising six times faster, making more service closures inevitable, unless Government immediately changes course”.

When asked about the matter, O’Gorman said he would “love to know” what promises he has broken.

“When I came into this department, I set out goals to cut the cost of childcare for parents, to increase the rate of pay for childcare professionals and to make services more sustainable so we see fewer closures and I believe we’ve really advanced on all three headings.”

He said he felt it was legitimate for the State to expect some conditions for the funding going into childcare services.

“One of those conditions is the fee freeze, that the fees charged this September will be the same as September 2021 and that’s to ensure that when we cut costs for parents through increasing the subsidy, the National Childcare Scheme, that isn’t wiped out by fees then being raised by childcare providers.”

He said the capacity across the childcare sector has grown and that the number of service closures this year is lower than the previous five years, but added that capacity still needed to grow.

Looking ahead, O’Gorman said he is hoping to announce a capital scheme where current childcare services will be able to seek money to expand while new services would also be able to seek funding.

Along with that, he said he is hoping to extend the National Childcare Scheme to include childminders “so the parents who use child minders can benefit from that cut in costs as well”.

He also said he is working with local authorities to ensure that more childcare facilities are built when housing developments are completed.

“As you know, under planning laws, when a certain number of houses are built, a childcare facility has to be built. They’re not always delivered and we’re working with planning authorities to make sure that those facilities are actually delivered and usable for parents.”