The Government is drawing up plans to house more than 5,000 refugees fleeing the Mediterranean crisis in empty State-owned properties to ensure they are not thrown into the already over-crowded direct provision system.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Office of Public Works could provide the audit of available properties suitable for accommodation for several years — potentially including barracks and other locations — to Cabinet as early as this week in a bid to address the escalating humanitarian crisis.
In the first detailed response to the situation, officials said the provisional report is focusing on available buildings which could be suitable for families and provide them with suitable services for their needs.
The draft document, which is examining a large number of properties, has no clear spending limit and may need to be altered depending on how many people Ireland is asked to accept in an initial EU country-by-country proposal later this week.
However, it is expected to be central to the options available to help thousands of people risking their lives to flee war-torn states such as Syria, Libya, and Yemen and ensure the sudden influx of people does not further damage the direct provision system.
Initial details of the report, which began to be drawn up at the weekend and could be examined by Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday, came as Tánaiste Joan Burton said Ireland has “no upper limit” on how many people we will take in.
The Labour leader said the figure could ultimately be more than 5,000 and said Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald’s 1,800 rate is an “initial figure”.
The figure of 5,000 dwarfs the previous 600 over two years cap, which was scrapped by the Coalition after the death of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi.
“It could be 5,000, it could be more, I wouldn’t like to put an upper limit on it,” said Ms Burton. “They will go into accommodation, but they won’t be the same category as those in direct provision.”
The initial Irish plan is likely to play a role in any response the Government gives to the EU, which is due to send all member states proposals later this week.
The continent-wide initiative will then be discussed at a meeting of justice and home affairs ministers on September 14, which will be attended by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
Meanwhile, former justice minister Alan Shatter has called for the Dublin Convention — which allows countries to opt out of pan-EU measures — to be scrapped and replaced with a “common asylum system” in line with the 1951 declaration on the protection of refugees.
Mr Shatter was speaking as the LE Niamh rescued 329 people off the coast of Libya.
He said the move needs to take place to remove the “enormous burden” on Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, and Malta.
He said Germany has been “a beacon of light”, and hit out at Hungary’s response of building walls and shipping refugees away on trains as resembling “something of a neo-Nazi government”.
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