The projected shortfall of beds for refugees in the State could rise to 19,000 by the end of March in a worst-case scenario, a key Cabinet subcommittee meeting heard.
The Cabinet subcommittee on accommodation and supports for Ukrainian refugees met on Tuesday evening to discuss ongoing pressures on the reception and integration system.
It is understood that under the most grave scenario envisaged, involving the State losing 20 per cent of the current accommodation capacity by the end of March, there would be in a shortfall of 16,978 beds for beneficiaries of temporary protection – those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
That would occur alongside a shortfall of 2,000 beds for International Protection applicants, who come from elsewhere. Previously modelled shortfalls have not come to pass, with extra capacity found, but there is growing concern within Government about the political and social impact of the ongoing crisis.
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Even under more benign scenarios, a serious shortage in accommodation is envisaged – with up to 4,641 people fleeing Ukraine without a bed by the end of February, and 7,555 by the end of March, if current capacity is maintained.
Projections drawn up before Christmas envisaged an overall shortfall of around 14,000 beds.
Ministers were told on Tuesday there could be 137,000 people from Ukraine in the State by the end of the year. A further 4,000 people from elsewhere could be seeking protection here by the end of April – on top of the almost 20,000 currently accommodated by International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS).
All the scenarios presume that current trends on arrivals are maintained.
The State is facing a shortfall in hotel bed availability, which has been the backbone of Ireland’s response to the accommodation crisis. Sources cautioned that the nature of the system has always meant large numbers of contracts are due to expire at any one time – but nonetheless, Ministers were told that 44 contracts are expiring in February, affecting 2,500 people, and 150 contracts are due to expire in March, affecting more than 9,500 people.
Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman and Minister of State Joe O’Brien reiterated their urgent call to all Government departments to find accommodation that would get people off the streets and into safe spaces.
Minister for Justice Simon Harris told the subcommittee that checks by gardaí for people travelling with fake documents on aircraft arriving into the State have been stepped up. Gardaí are now travelling on some flights, he said. The subcommittee was told that 517 deportation orders were signed off between September and December 2022, with another 128 signed off in 2023 – bringing the total to more than 645.
Mr Harris also told ministers that the Department of Justice is aiming to maintain current trends where it is turning around applications from people seeking asylum from countries that are deemed safe, such as Georgia, in three months – it had previously been around 18 months.
The Government is set to approve another €10 million for communities where new refugee accommodation is opened – just weeks after approving an initial €50 million package. The second fund will be earmarked for communities that will host as-yet-unopened facilities, with many new accommodation centres expected in the months ahead.
A source said “the idea is to have [funding] available for a wide range of uses to respond to local issues raised when opening these centres, for projects that would be of immediate value to the community.”
It comes as fresh figures from Mr O’Gorman show more than €385 million was spent providing accommodation for some 47,000 Ukrainian refugees in Ireland in 2022.
As of early December 2022, Ireland was accommodating almost 65,000 people, between those fleeing Ukraine and international protection applicants. This included 47,420 Ukrainians who sought accommodation, and 17,515 international protection applicants who were in accommodation provided by the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS).
Mr O’Gorman, in response to a parliamentary question submitted by Fine Gael TD Colm Burke, said his department had sourced accommodation “for the equivalent of the population of Waterford city” in the last six months of 2022.
As of early December, more than 650 contracts had been put in place for Ukrainians, with more than 37,535 beds in hotels, hostels, commercial self-catering accommodation and emergency or repurposed settings. The majority of Ukrainian refugees were accommodated in Dublin (2,488 rooms), followed by Kerry (2,404 rooms) and Galway (1,705 rooms).
Meanwhile, just over 5,700 Ukrainians were in homes offered by the Irish public, while some sporting, military and tented facilities were also being used.
The State accommodated 6,566 international protection applicants in hotels in 2022, at a cost of €165.7 million between November 2021 and November 2022.