The Government is planning to tender for floating accommodation to house asylum seekers amid unprecedented pressure on the State’s integration system, which Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described on Tuesday as a “major crisis”.
However, if it proceeds, the use of so-called floatels is not expected until later in the year, meaning it will not help the Coalition’s push to drive down the current number of “unaccommodated” asylum seekers.
Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman said this figure stood at 199, but Government sources said the aim was to get it below 100 before the June bank holiday.
His department has previously said it is considering the use of floatels but confirmed on Tuesday it expected to launch a formal process.
A spokeswoman said it had received a number of offers of floating accommodation. “Following detailed investigation and analysis of its use, and in consultation with various stakeholders including the Maritime Unit, Department of Transport, the department is expected to publish an RFT [request for tenders] for same shortly.”
Government sources said several sites were under consideration for berthing floatels, including Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in Dublin. The Port of Cork confirmed Horgan’s Quay and Penrose Quay had been identified as possible locations for accommodation.
A Cork port spokeswoman said: “These discussions are at a very early stage and any decisions as to the locations of any such facilities will be made by IPAS [International Protection Accommodation Service], in consultation with Cork City Council and the Port of Cork”.
A spokesman for Dublin Port had no comment.
Elsewhere, Mr O’Gorman confirmed plans to house 300 asylum seekers in a building in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Galway city. A briefing for local TDs outlined asylum seekers would be placed in a “repurposed and refurbished building” in Ballybrit, about 4km north of the city.
The asylum seekers would be male international protection applicants, it said. The property had capacity for 302 people in 62 rooms across two blocks. The document said it was “not possible to say with certainty what the length of stay will be”.
Fianna Fáil TD for Galway West Éamon Ó Cuív told The Irish Times he accepted the accommodation centre was necessary. Sinn Féin’s Mairéad Farrell told Galway Bay FM the provision of services would be crucial for the accommodation and there needed to be additional help for local and community groups.
Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Mr O’Gorman said “the nature of this crisis means we do not always get to do the level of engagement we would like”. He also said when they had gone public prematurely or misinformation about the use of a building had been circulated, “accommodation providers have faced threats and in some cases arson”.
He said his department and the Department of the Taoiseach were working to expand capacity to improve the level of community engagement. However, he said the reality was that while the work was ongoing, “the need to get vulnerable people off the streets and into accommodation dictates that moves have to happen faster than a full information campaign can allow”, he said.
“Whatever concerns may exist locally, I do not believe that a blockade of accommodation is appropriate,” he said, saying “masked men filming and intimidating those going into and out of accommodation centres… are not concerned locals”.
“They are far right, peddling lies about vulnerable people in order to further their own particular agenda. This has been an increasing theme in the past six months.”
Minister for Justice Simon Harris said he had met the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to discuss attacks from the far right. “We should not overstate the threat, but we cannot, and we should not in any way, shape or form, tolerate it,” he said.