A “pathway to permanency” should be opened for tens of thousands of Ukrainians, clearing the way for them to ultimately apply for citizenship or long-term residency, the new Minister of State for Integration has said.
Joe O’Brien said the Department of Justice is looking at options to give Ukrainians a status to remain for up to five years, after which they could apply for citizenship.
Currently, those fleeing the war are classified as beneficiaries of temporary protection, the EU agreement that enables them to live, work and claim benefits within the bloc. It was renewed recently until the end of March 2024.
A “significant proportion” of Ukrainians here will ultimately decide that Ireland is “the better place for them,” said Mr O’Brien.
“If you have someone in the country with pretty much the full rights that Ukrainians have for two years plus, you will need to open a pathway for them to permanency,” he said. “My understanding is that [the Department of] Justice are beginning to look at status options for people in the long term.
“[After] five years residency here, you can apply for citizenship. I would expect that we need to open a pathway before that, just for integration purposes.”
In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr O’Brien also said that government departments should plan for the same numbers of people fleeing here from Ukraine and elsewhere this year as in 2022, and said every county in the State would have to accommodate modular building projects at a level far in excess of the 700 currently planned nationally.
[ Record number of people sought asylum in Ireland in 2022 ]
Mr O’Brien declined to put a figure on how many modular homes would ultimately be needed, but agreed it would be a multiple of the 700 mapped out in the pilot programme that is currently being rolled out.
Outlining his belief that many Ukrainians would stay on in Ireland and that a formal recognition of this would be needed, the Green Party TD said that there will be children who will have all their formative years in school here and “they’ll start beginning to see here as home, and families will start beginning to see here as home”.
While many Ukrainians’ hearts remain in their home country, he said ultimately “time will move on and I think the response that people have felt in communities across Ireland will mean that we will see a significant proportion of Ukrainians deciding that here is the better place for them”.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland welcomed the suggestion. Its chief executive Brian Killoran said a significant volume of people will not be able to return and it would be a “huge challenge” to deal administratively with each application to stay after the temporary protection status ends.
Without it, “you’ll end up with 70,000 becoming undocumented in the short term if they don’t have a scheme in place, and that’s not desirable from anyone’s point of view.” He said that the ICI understands from the Department of Justice that it is “conscious of the issues and have commenced the thinking on what will come after temporary protection”.
Asked about new pathways, the Department of Justice said beneficiaries of temporary protection are entitled to associated supports in Ireland for as long as the directive is activated.
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“Ireland will remain in step with our EU counterparts in that regard, including with respect to the dimension referred to by [Mr O’Brien],” a spokeswoman for the department said.
Mr O’Brien also said that the state would have to acquire a lot of properties to accommodate people seeking protection here in the coming months and to reduce its reliance on the private sector.