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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee speaking outside Government buildings this morning. Leah Farrell

Justice Minister says 'no cap' on Ukrainian refugees arriving despite accommodation challenges

Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman earlier said “grouped” accommodation will be a “more substantial part” of housing refugees.

LAST UPDATE | Apr 21st 2022, 8:06 PM

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE Helen McEntee said that Ireland will not cap the number of refugees it accepts even as the Government admits it is facing a struggle to house arriving Ukrainians.

Around 25,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Ireland since the war began at the end of February, with around 16,000 of them seeking accommodation.

While numbers arriving have fallen in recent days, the Government expects it to rise again in the coming weeks.

McEntee, speaking in Government Buildings this morning, insisted that Ukrainian refugees will continue to be welcomed.

She indicated the Government will avoid, if possible, forcing people or businesses to give up property or open their homes to Ukrainian refugees.

The Millstreet Arena in Co Cork is being used to house at least 70 refugees, with the expectation that mass or emergency forms of accommodation will play a more central role in Irish efforts to welcome Ukrainians.

“Obviously we want to make sure that we don’t find ourselves in a situation where we don’t have space and accommodation, because we’ve been very clear we’re not going to turn people away. We’re not going to put a cap on the number of people,” McEntee said.

She said “every option” is being explored.

“We want to encourage people to come forwards, not to force anybody to have to give up their property or accommodation.”

McEntee said she would back plans to financially help households taking in Ukrainian refugees.

“There are people who are looking for it, there are others who aren’t, but I think obviously if we get to a situation where we want to encourage more people to offer up accommodation, that might be an option.

“We’re very aware that there’s an increase in costs in electricity and fuel, even in food prices.

“So I think what we’d have to establish is how we would cover those costs. I don’t think anybody’s looking to make money out of this.”

‘Grouped’ accommodation

Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman this morning said that ‘grouped’ accommodation like at the Millstreet Arena, Co Cork is going to become a “more substantial part” and “a larger feature about how we provide for people” fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We have to be upfront about that,” he told Morning Ireland.

The refugees currently being housed at the Millstreet Arena due to a shortage of hotel capacity are expected to be there for a number of weeks, O’Gorman said.

O’Gorman said that measures taken in other countries like large sports stadia being decked out with camp beds are “going to be part of the solution, I believe”, and that tents at Gormanstown is a “contingency” measure in the event of a large influx of refugees over a short period of time. 

O’Gorman said that the Millstreet accommodation is indoors, it’s partitioned inside with two-, three-, or four-bed units, it’s carpeted with overhead heating, there are shared living and dining spaces and WiFi available, as well as other supports.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin echoed these comments this evening and said more longer-term ideas are being thrashed out by civil servants. 

He said: “We’re looking at this on a number of levels in terms of short-term possibilities. In terms of bigger facilities, public servants have come together under the aegis of the Minister for Housing, and they’re examining a whole range of buildings to see can we reconfigure those to make them suitable for for refugees.”

Noel Buckley, Chair of Millstreet Community Council told Morning Ireland that “strangely they were in great form, very humorous people considering what they have gone through and what they have left behind because of the madness of one man”.

“It’s not the preference, it’s not the gold standard… but we are in a crisis situation,” O’Gorman said, adding that they had reached the limit for other forms of accommodation “particularly as we come into the summer season”. 

He said that around 4,000 student accommodation beds are expected to become available from the end of May, which will help alleviate the pressure over the summer.

The Government is also examining whether people who house Ukrainian refugees will be paid for doing so. “When we engage with people making pledges, it’s not a priority for them,” O’Gorman said.

O’Gorman said that the numbers of people arriving in Ireland this week and last week has dropped “substantially”, but that this may rise again as Russia begins its attack on the Donbas region. 

Ukrainian ambassador Larysa Gerasko told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland that EU sanctions that impact on ordinary EU citizens was necessary to take action against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

She said that the Ukrainian Prime Minister asked the Taoiseach “to be a leader” in the process of Ukraine’s application to be an EU member. 

On Millstreet in Co Cork: “Of course it concerns me because it’s not the best accommodation but I fully understand that Ireland is facing a housing challenge, but also Ireland is a small country. But we have to think about how to accommodate our new arrivals quicker,” she said.

She said that most Ukrainians are very grateful to Ireland. 

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