The Government is targeting 20,000 holiday homes under the latest drive to find accommodation for Ukraine war refugees amid concern that local authorities were not rising to the challenge under the previous system.
More than 62,000 people fleeing the Russian invasion have arrived in the State and this is forecast to rise to 72,000 by the end of December with bombardment continuing and a very cold winter expected in Ukraine.
About 5,500 refugees are staying in rooms or houses pledged by private individuals since the outbreak of the war in late February under an initiative, administered by the Irish Red Cross, which involved local authorities matching people to properties.
However, thousands more properties have been pledged and some who have offered accommodation have encountered long delays in getting final approval. This has been due to logjams in the process, especially at local authority level, where there has been varying levels of engagement and buy-in from different councils.
Under the new plan, homeowners will be asked to register on offerahome.ie and will then be directed to the relevant local authority. “Owners will be dealing directly with the councils which effectively ‘cuts out the middle man’ and makes it more simple,” said a senior source.
The recognition payment for those providing a property is to double to €800 a month.
An internal briefing document seen by The Irish Times said there were more than 65,000 holiday homes in Ireland but that most were being run commercially. The document said a realistic target was the 20,000 or so holiday homes owned by individuals. “We would hope the owners would consider putting them forward,” it states.
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Announcing the initiative on Thursday, Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said local authorities were the best bodies to handle the scheme and they pledged to provide them with more resources and personnel to expedite the process.
The Ministers accepted that a rethink was needed on a situation where a voluntary organisation previously dealing with 150 applications a year was asked to run a “very large national scheme” involving thousands of properties.
“If we were doing it again, we would do it differently,” Mr O’Gorman said of the previous drive. “We have learned from that process. And this is why we’ve brought in the local authorities from day one in this scheme.”
Mr O’Brien said the deteriorating situation in Ukraine provided impetus for the changed strategy, with “more and more people” likely to seek refuge in Ireland in the coming months.
Asked about protests against accommodating refugees and asylum seekers in some locations, Mr O’Gorman argued the Government has “a moral and legal obligation to provide shelter to people fleeing” war and that nobody has a veto on who lives in their neighbourhood.
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“The alternative option is to leave people without homes. We do have to act quickly because of this crisis, because of this wartime situation.”
Concerns have been raised about some far-right groups trying to exploit community concerns about accommodating international protection applicants to further anti-immigrant sentiment. Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Thursday said the racism and xenophobia that motivate far-right political parties elsewhere in Europe “have not achieved critical mass yet in Ireland”.
“I think Ireland hasn’t had that far-right viewpoint in terms of being a critical mass,” Mr Martin said during a visit to Paris. “But one always has to be careful of exploitation of situations.”