The Government has commenced scenario planning for dealing with the estimated 80,000 Ukrainian refugees in Ireland once the war there comes to an end, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar confirmed that preliminary work has begun to prepare for the time when the war ends and it is safe for families to return to Ukraine. He also said it was likely that some of those who have sought refuge in Ireland would seek to stay here because they had put down roots, or their children were in school, and the Government would have to look at mechanisms to allow them to do that.
The Taoiseach said that there would be costs associated with allowing Ukrainians to repatriate and to settle in their native country, and also costs associated with putting in place arrangements for those families and individuals who want to remain.
He stressed that there were no firm proposals at this stage, rather that some forward planning had started. He also said there were no signs of the conflict coming to an end.
Speaking in Co Tipperary on Friday, Mr Varadkar said. “We have been scenario planning, thinking ahead as to how we can help Ukrainians to go back to Ukraine once it’s safe. Or for those Ukrainians who have become established in Ireland and who want to stay, how can we facilitate that?
“We are nowhere near operationalising anything like that yet because the war is still ongoing and the European directive [to give Ukrainians temporary refugee status] remains in place at least until March 2025.”
In an internal paper shared with the Cabinet earlier this month, the Department of Justice said that a survey among Ukrainians in Ireland showed that 40 per cent, or 33,000, have decided to stay permanently in Ireland and only a quarter of those living here (20,000) intend to return to Ukraine as soon as they can. Some 32 per cent (27,000) are unsure.
The paper said that both repatriation, and putting in place permanent residency arrangements in Ireland, would bear a considerable cost.
The paper outlined the cost, policy, and legal, knock-on impacts such decisions might have: “It will also necessary to consider how any agreed approach may impact on the international protection system, particularly in cases of people who do not avail of voluntary returns, or are not in employment and do not qualify for appropriate residence permissions.
“Furthermore, if residence permissions are granted to those in employment in the State, there is potential for an increased influx of family reunification applications.”
Mr Varadkar also defended the level of resourcing and training in the Garda Síochán, notwithstanding criticism from the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) that its members were not receiving “proper training”.
The Taoiseach said Garda Commissioner Drew Harris had assured the Government that it had adequate training and resources. He said if more resources were needed the Government “would not be found wanting”.
“I know that policing these protests is very difficult. I’ve seen the kind of abuse the gardaí have received. We stand fully with them. I also think sometimes the public don’t understand why gardaí don’t intervene in a protest. But there’s a way of managing protests.”
He continued: “I think it will be important that there is an engagement now between the Garda Commissioner, his team and the AGSI certainty. The assurance that we have from the Garda Commissioner and the Minister (for Justice, Simon Harris) is that the guards have operational integrity, that they have the resources that they need and that training has been provided.”
Earlier on Friday, the general secretary of the AGSI, Antoinette Cunningham, called for “proper training” for frontline gardaí and better resources for dealing with anti-immigration protests. Ms Cunningham told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the AGSI had grave concerns about comments by the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris that the force had the personnel and resources to deal with protests.
“We have written to the Garda Commissioner to seek to meet him as a matter of urgency to make sure he understands from the frontline membership what their concerns are”.
Ms Cunningham said that frontline gardaí felt they had not received proper training about peaceful crowd management when dealing with protests.
“The thin blue line remains an area of concern for us all. Because if the public order units aren’t there, it falls to the frontline to deal with the matter as they find it”.
In Clonmel, the Taoiseach repeated his view that the blockade of the roads leading up to a temporary accommodation centre in Inch in Co Clare should end. He said that Minister of State for Integration Joe O’Brien had visited the area on Thursday and had given assurances that there would be no further people accommodated at the centre until the hotel was fit for occupancy.
“I think that should be enough for the protesters. Communities have a right to information, they’ve a right to consultation, they’ve a right to have their views heard.” But no community can veto other people from living in their area and nobody should be able to prevent people from having free movement across the public road. I really think that the blockade should now end,” he said.