The Coalition may turn to the private sector to fast-track the delivery of modular units for refugees and asylum seekers under new plans being considered by senior officials.
Politicians will also be told this week that more beds are going to be lost in the next two weeks because hotels are pivoting back to using their rooms for tourism purposes, while up to 128 asylum seekers and refugees could shortly be placed in new tented accommodation in Mullingar Barracks.
Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman has confirmed that officials are now examining whether they can get access to privately owned modular developments.
It comes after The Irish Times revealed earlier this month how up to half of the 700 quick-build modular houses approved by the Government to house Ukrainian refugees might not be completed by the end of 2023 over difficulties assessing suitable sites. The original completion date for those modular units on State land was November 2022 but the process has been beset by delays.
“I am advised by my officials that within the work of the Government accommodation working group established by the Taoiseach, discussions are taking place on the feasibility of accessing privately owned modular developments and the steps involved. To date, my department have not contracted any private modular developments,” Mr O’Gorman said in parliamentary correspondence to Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe.
Mr Kehoe said he had been contacted by two private firms which indicated that they could roll out their own modular units within weeks. He said that given the urgency posed by the accommodation shortage, the Department of Integration should consider getting modular units developed outside of the normal tendering process.
“If we are really serious about solving this issue, we should be willing to look at everything and every option. On this occasion, we may have to throw the long-trail process out the window. It could be 12 months before those units are available through the tendering process. There are companies here that can solve this problem that we have. These are highly rated modular units that could last many years,” he told The Irish Times.
Meanwhile, the Joint Committee on Integration will be told by senior officials on Tuesday that there is “an unprecedented level of demand” for accommodation for international protection applicants.
Assistant secretary general in the Department of Integration Carol Baxter will tell the committee that there are now 20,648 people being accommodated in the international protection system, compared with 11,000 this time last year.
So far this year, 5,880 extra beds have been procured. However, Ms Baxter will tell the committee that 2,500 beds have been lost in this period as hotels return to offering their rooms to tourists. A further 92 beds are scheduled to be lost by June 10th, she will say.
She will also say that “in spite of intensive efforts, demand for accommodation has outstripped available capacity over the last 18 months”.
At present 102 people are accommodated in tents at the Knocklisheen accommodation centre “and there will shortly be tented capacity at Mullingar Barracks for 128 people” for both refugees and IP applicants, Ms Baxter is expected to say.
The Citywest Hub in Dublin was forced to pause entry in January and continues to operate over capacity. As of last week, there were 627 adult males temporarily accommodated there. The facility has capacity for 600 people. As of last week, 217 adult males are without accommodation or shelter in Ireland.
In answer to a parliamentary question, Mr O’Gorman said Ireland had responded to “the largest displacement of people on the European Continent since the second World War”.
“Since February 2022, my department has worked extensively to accommodate over 83,000 arrivals fleeing the war in Ukraine, of which 60,000 have sought accommodation from this department.
“Overseeing provision of accommodation on this scale during this time frame for all those who require it remains immensely challenging. Due to the urgent need to source accommodation, the department has contracted in excess of 47,000 beds to accommodate Beneficiaries of Temporary Protection [BOTPs] in more than 770 settings including hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs, hostels, commercial self-catering accommodation and certain other repurposed settings.
“The priority is to place people fleeing the war in safe and secure accommodation.”