The Department of Housing has slammed as “abhorrent” an attempt by a landlord to entice women fleeing the war in Ukraine into a sex-for-rent arrangement.
It comes after thediscovered a property in Clare being offered for free to a “slim Ukrainian” woman, with an expectation of sex.
The landlord has demanded a photo from a prospective renter before he will reveal the exact location of the property.
“Any attempt to target a vulnerable person with an offer of accommodation in return for sexual acts, including anyone fleeing the devastating war in the Ukraine, is abhorrent and to be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” said the Department of Housing in a statement on Monday night.
Sex-for-rent arrangements have been under investigation by the Irish Examiner since December.
In recent weeks, Justice Minister Helen McEntee told the Dáil there was no legislation in place to deal with the practice of landlords offering sex-for-rent arrangements.
Monday night’s statement said, however, that laws surrounding sexual offences have been significantly strengthened in recent years, including with the introduction of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017.
The statement added: “The legislation now makes it abundantly clear that consent must be freely and voluntarily given. In other words, submission when a person feels forced or has no other choice is not the same as consent.”
More than 20,000 homes have been pledged as accommodation for Ukrainians. Currently, no Garda vetting is required for such offers of accommodation and this has prompted concerns about the potential exploitation of refugees, the vast majority of whom are women and children.
The Irish Red Cross has received 15,000 pledges of accommodation. A spokesman said more than 5,000 further pledges had been made to other charities and they will be collated.
However, several other unofficial arrangements are being organised to house Ukrainians by people with personal connections to them.
Sources close to the process for assigning accommodation to the Ukrainian refugees says there is no vetting requirement at present for people pledging accommodation either in their homes, or in a different property.
One said that if Garda vetting was required, the process of accommodating the refugees could take months, adding: “The people who are pledging accommodation expect to receive a refugee now, and the Ukrainians who are arriving expect accommodation now.”
The Irish Red Cross will, however, visit the pledged homes before and after accommodating refugees.
Chief executive of the Together-Razem organisation, Wojciech Bialek, said vetting was vitally important to ensure the safety and protection of the mostly women and children who are arriving in Ireland after fleeing their homeland following the Russian invasion.
He pointed to one case in Poland in the past week, where a man was arrested in connection with an alleged sexual attack on a 19-year-old Ukrainian woman who he had taken in.
He said children needed to be protected too.
Policy and communications manager with the Nasc migrant rights centre in Cork, Fiona Hurley, is urging Ukrainians arriving into Ireland not to consider sex-for-rent accommodation arrangements, saying there are options available through the Irish Red Cross.
She said legislation was now going through the Dáil to outlaw such practices. She said there was a need for people who are offering accommodation to Ukrainian refugees to be Garda vetted, and trained.
She said: “There needs to be protections in place for the people arriving from Ukraine and the families supporting them. We do need to put protections in place as well.”
Chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland Brian Killoran said the concern was that there would be opportunistic people who would “take advantage of chaos”.
He said there was anecdotal evidence of trafficking at the Polish border, for example.
He believes vetting needs to be discussed in the Irish response to the Ukrainian crisis. However, he acknowledged there were “capacity issues” which could result in a long process, adding the housing needs of Ukrainians arriving in Ireland were immediate.
A spokesman for the Department of Housing said on Monday night that the International Protection Accommodation Service, based in the Department of Equality, Children, Disability, Integration and Youth, was currently managing arrangements to receive those fleeing the Ukrainian conflict into IPAS accommodation.
He added: “A webpage on the whole-of-Government response to the situation in Ukraine is now available which includes information on supports and services available to people arriving from Ukraine.”