Q&A: Why are we hearing about floatels for asylum seekers?

The nature of the refugee crisis means that more beds will be needed, sooner or later

Why are we hearing about floatels for asylum seekers?

The crisis in accommodation for asylum seekers is one of the most pressing challenges the Government is facing. At the start of last week, over 500 people who sought International Protection in Ireland had not been accommodated. The Government has cut this number to 199, through bringing on beds in places like Dolcain House in Clondalkin. While many of these projects have been controversial and led to blockades and protests, like Magowna House in Clare or Airways Industrial Estate in Santry, it’s clear they’re having an impact.

However, the nature of the refugee crisis means that more beds will be needed, sooner or later. Which is where floatels may come in.

Haven’t we seen this suggested before?


Yes. Several times, in fact. The use of cruise ships, specifically, was first mooted at the start of the crisis but was turned down by the Government then, despite several approaches from private sector operators.

So what’s happening now?

Around a month ago, the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) – the unit in the Department of Integration that looks after housing for asylum seekers – quietly approached some ports and asked them if they could take floatels or cruise ships. Around this time, the rhetoric in Government began to shift, with reports suggesting there was a newfound openness to the use of these vessels.

On Tuesday, the department confirmed that it expects to issue a tender – a call for expressions of interest from the private sector. That’s expected during the summer. It marks the firmest commitment to date from the Government to consider the use of the vessels.

Where might these ships be?

There’s three sites mentioned in dispatches: Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in Dublin (specifically, the eastern end, sources say – which is closer to the East Link bridge and further from the city centre), and in Cork, Penrose Quay and Horgan’s Quay. These are all centrally located berths, so could meet some of the logistical challenges associated with hosting these facilities. More on that below.

What kind of vessels are we talking about?

Cruise ships are most often mentioned – but in reality, as Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman outlined during the week, there’s not a huge amount of places in Ireland that can handle large ships like this. It seems more likely that floating barges would be the solution – basically a platform with a residential building on top of it. But we won’t know until the tender document is published.

When could it happen?

Government sources suggest this is later rather than sooner – on the basis that the tender runs through the summer, it could be towards the end of the year before the vessels appear, if they do.

What are the challenges?

How long have you got? In the first instance, the issue of who runs what on the quayside is a bit of a jurisdictional quagmire. In Dublin, Dublin Port basically owns the water but not the quay walls, which are owned by the local authority. In Cork, the port company is in the process of selling the quays to the local authority as part of its master plan. It would require a lot of joined-up thinking, something that the State is not famous for acquitting itself on.

The port companies are a volume business: they make money through turning over ships, loading them and unloading them, rather than hosting them for long periods. Then there’s the issue of the provision of services – whether that’s food and water, or the offloading of waste, or the kind of supports that asylum seekers would need, as well as security challenges associated with protests and blockades. They’ve been successful elsewhere, but have been massively controversial as well, including in the UK.

What are the chances of this actually coming together?

It’s more likely than at any other point during the crisis so far – but that doesn’t make it a banker by any stretch. The next step, according to the Department of Integration, is finalising berths, then it will publish the tender document. Watch this space. Or berth?

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times