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Asylum seekers queueing outside the Refugee Application Centre on Mount Street

'Onus on us all to challenge narrative that single males pose threat to communities', TDs told

The Department of Integration says finding accommodation for asylum seekers is “extremely difficult”.

LAST UPDATE | 16 Feb 2023

THERE IS AN onus on politicians and Government to challenge the narrative that single males arriving under the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) pose a threat to communities, according to Secretary General of the Integration Department, Kevin McCarthy. 

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told that the department is seeing a significant reluctance among providers to provide accommodation for international protection applicants. 

The secretary general said the department has run into particular challenges in accommodating single males. 

“It is a particular challenge as I mentioned with single males, because a narrative seems to have gotten out there that single males somehow present a threat to communities – there is no evidence.

“In fact, the evidence over the 22 years is to the contrary. So it is a narrative we need to challenge. These people do not present a threat to communities. I think there is an onus on all of us to challenge that narrative, but certainly it has fed into a reluctance and we are seeing the impact of that in trying to secure contracts for international protection,” said McCarthy. 

The secretary general was also asked if the protests that have taken place across the country outside accommodation facilities have had an impact on providers renewing contracts with the State.

“There is no question that there is a considerable reluctance on the part of providers to become involved in international protection provision, a reluctance we don’t see on the Ukraine front. So that has been a huge challenge,” he told the committee. 

Screenshot - 2023-02-16T114311.092 Secretary General of the Integration Department, Kevin McCarthy.


“The protests are not helpful from that point of view, to be perfectly frank about it,” he added. 

He said providers are now hesitant, stating that they have “concerns and fears around bringing trouble onto themselves, on to their communities, so that is certainly a challenge”. 

A number of politicians raised the issue of the lack of consultation with local representatives about the use of some buildings in their area. 

Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy disputed a department statement that before the opening of a facility that engagement with local politicians would take place. He said that is not the case and politicians often find out along with everyone else. 

Social Democrats c0-leader Catherine Murphy gave a number of examples where she was only informed retrospectively. 

McCarthy told politicians th window in which the department can inform politicians is often narrow, stating that they are only told when a contract has been signed off on and secured. 

“For reasons beyond our control” McCarthy said information can be leaked, however he acknowledged the need a better level of engagement with local representatives and communities. 

“We operate on trust,” Murphy told the secretary general, stating that there is a level of disrespect there that they cannot impart information to their constituents. 

“At the very least, what people expect from us is to be honest with them,” she said. 

A group within the senior officials group is looking at the whole issue of communications, including the timing of the release of information safely, said McCarthy. 

McCarthy said due to the “sheer scale and urgency of need” to provide accommodation to people arriving into Ireland, the time window for consultation with communities is limited.

However, he said the department is aware of the need to address “information deficits” within communities.

“We are committed to working with elected representatives, local authorities and local communities in this regard to ensure that local dialogue is fact based and to counter misinformation that is used in some instances to generate fear and resistance,” McCarthy said. 

Loss of 3,000 bed spaces ‘conservative’

Concerns were also raised at today’s committee meeting over the ending of State contracts with 700 providers, with many of the contracts due to expire in March. 

McCarthy said that contracts to house Ukrainians have not been lost to date, but on the international protection front the department is losing contracts “which creates a difficulty for us”. 

He said the new accommodation contract that has come into effect sets out that refugees  will now pay for their own meals. The secretary general said that there is a clear risk of losing contracts, adding that the estimate that 3,000 spaces will be lost is a “conservative” estimate. 

“We have to plan on assumption that a number of people will decide not to renew,” he said, adding that there will be a significant shortfall across April and May. 

The committee was told there are now 172 emergency accommodation centres accommodating international protection refugees, with the estimated expenditure for 2023 coming in at €363 million – an increase of 9% on 2022 expenditure.

Second transit hub ready in months

McCarthy said the department is also in negotiations in relation to the procurement of a second transit hub, separate to the Citywest complex, which has come under significant pressure in recent weeks. 

It is hoped the new transit hub will be ready in the next number of months.

The second transit hub should “take pressure off” the Citywest hub, said the secretary general, who added that the January decision to pause entry into the overflow facility was “taken over concerns of the impact of the sheer numbers that were arriving”. 

Having a second transit hub “doesn’t necessarily solve our problem”, he added, stating that, to date, the State has not been able to provide accommodation to 203 people. 

The broader accommodation concerns still stand, said McCarthy, stating that in the absence of the procurement of onward additional accommodation “we will quickly run into the same problem again, to be frank about it”.

When asked about some hoteliers running into problems with getting payments from the State, McCarthy said that additional resources have now been put in place to deal with payments to hotels.

When raised that this could be a deterrent for accommodation providers renewing their contracts, McCarthy said the pace of paying out has picked up as there are now 700 providers on the books, and this did create a challenge where invoices were building up. 

However, he acknowledged that it was not in the State’s interest to make people wait for payment when they are trying to keep people on board. 

“Intensive efforts are being undertaken daily by staff in the Department to source emergency accommodation. However, procuring enough bed space to keep pace with incoming arrivals remains extremely challenging,” McCarthy said.

At present, the State is accommodating 77,000 refugees, with 57,500 arriving from Ukraine while 19,741 are International Protection applicants. This time last year, Ireland was accommodating 7,500 International Protection applicants.

“Meeting this ten-fold increase in the overall numbers accommodated has involved huge operational challenges over the course of the last year,” McCarthy said.

Today’s meeting comes after The Journal reported last weekend that no new buildings have been made available to the Department of Integration since Minister Roderic O’Gorman appealed for vacant buildings late last month.

O’Gorman had appealed for sports centres, conference facilities, arts centres, student leisure centres and any other large buildings that are “deemed safe” to house refugees.

While departments are understood to be in the process of reaching out to bodies within their sectors to find out if more accommodation is available, it is understood that no new buildings have been immediately made available following the call out. 

Meanwhile, Minister for Justice Simon Harris has announced that the temporary protection permission for those fleeing war in Ukraine will be extended for a further 12 months to March 2024.

“The Irish government and our colleagues across Europe continue to stand resolutely with the Ukrainian government and its people.

“The commitment to European solidarity is evident now more than ever and is reflected in the recent EU Commission decision to extend temporary protection until March 2024.

“In that regard, I am pleased to announce the extension of temporary protection permissions to people fleeing the war in Ukraine for a further 12 months to March 2024.”

He added that it would give certainty to those in Ireland and providing accommodation. 

“This will give reassurance to the people who have sought shelter and security here from the war in Ukraine that they will have continued access to the supports that they need.

“It also provides certainty to the various organisations involved in providing those supports of the future requirements and expectations.

“Ireland has never before seen so many people arrive in such a short time frame. It is our moral imperative to provide support to the Ukrainian people and I am proud of the welcome and support our communities across the country have delivered.”

Tadgh McNally & Christina Finn
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