'Red tape' blocking willing hosts for Ukrainians fleeing war

'Red tape' blocking willing hosts for Ukrainians fleeing war

Polina Movchan, left, and Viktoria Tymoshchuk must quit their temporary accommodation
in Cork, having fled from Ukraine. Ms Movchan is 33 weeks pregnant and does not know where she will go next. Picture: David Creedon

Families are struggling to meet requirements to take in Ukrainians fleeing war, contributing to accommodation shortages.

Figures released by local authorities show that most accommodation pledges have been withdrawn, after those who pledged homes were contacted to fulfil their pledges.

However, the figures do not show the full picture, according to some whose pledges have been considered 'withdrawn' due to what they describe as 'red tape'.

Joan Gallagher and her husband are one of many families who pledged accommodation for Ukrainians earlier this year but have not been able to take any in. Her property will be subject to Department of Housing rules on private residential tenancies, and local authorities have been tasked with ensuring accommodation is up to standard.

“We are prevented from continuing due to the red tape that is being placed in our way,” she said.

Ms Gallagher, who lives in Ransboro, Co Sligo, was told she would need an electrical report, an oil report and must install vents in the bedrooms and living rooms, costing about €1,000.

“While we could bear the cost of the work we cannot find tradesmen willing to undertake it,” she said. “I texted every tradesman I could think of after the engineer’s visit, and nobody would even answer my call.” 

John Regan, a construction organiser with Siptu, said labour shortages are causing difficulties. He said there is not enough upskilling within the sector and young people aren’t entering trades enough to meet this demand for labour.

The head of the Irish Red Cross, Liam O'Dwyer: 'This is a voluntary offer the pledgers make and if there’s additional cost to the pledger, we’re happy to support that.' File picture: Lorraine O'Sullivan
The head of the Irish Red Cross, Liam O'Dwyer: 'This is a voluntary offer the pledgers make and if there’s additional cost to the pledger, we’re happy to support that.' File picture: Lorraine O'Sullivan

Ms Gallagher said she is not looking for money from the Government, and although she wants to go the “official route”, she said she is “seriously thinking of going the unapproved route” and informally taking a Ukrainian family.

Liam O’Dwyer, secretary general of the Irish Red Cross, said issues with properties not meeting minimum standard is likely to be “very small”.

“We’re very clear there should be no cost to the pledger,” he said. 

“And we said from day one that this is a voluntary offer the pledgers make and if there’s additional cost to the pledger, we’re happy to support that. 

"Obviously, to a degree — we’re not in a position to fund rewiring your house.” 

The Gallaghers are not the only family affected by this issue. Figures released to the Irish Examiner from local authorities show high numbers of pledges not meeting requirements or pulling out.

Local authorities have been assisting the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in processing the pledges, which includes inspecting pledged accommodation to ensure it is suitable and meets agreed standards, set by the Department of Housing.

Of 623 shared accommodation pledges referred to Cork County Council by the Department, 229 have been withdrawn, 116 have engaged with the council and the remainder are being contacted. 

Ukrainian refugees who now have to leave their temporary accommodation at the Student Village on Carrigrohane Rd in Cork. Picture: David Creedon
Ukrainian refugees who now have to leave their temporary accommodation at the Student Village on Carrigrohane Rd in Cork. Picture: David Creedon

Of 237 vacant properties referred by the Department to the council, 173 owners could either not be contacted to date, have been withdrawn or were deemed unsuitable. Of the remaining 64, Cork County Council has carried out 36 inspections so far to date and 32 properties have been assessed as suitable. The remaining inspections are ongoing.

The Department of Housing provided Cork City Council with details of 43 vacant properties, but just one remained available and suitable. 167 shared accommodation pledges were referred to the council, and around 60 were deemed suitable after filtering through the system.

In Sligo, where Ms Gallagher and her husband live, less than 20% of vacant properties have passed through filtering, while less than a third of shared accommodation pledges are progressing.

In Dublin, 144 of 206 vacant property pledges have been withdrawn or could not be contacted. Of the remaining 92, Dublin City Council carried out 36 inspections, 14 of which were deemed suitable.

‘I’m scared I’ll give birth on the way to Citywest’ 

As Ukrainians prepare to move from student accommodation across the country, one pregnant woman fears returning to temporary housing will prompt a premature birth of her child.

Ukrainian refugees Oxana Savela with her daughter Vlada and her sister Polina Movchan who are temporarily staying at the Student Village Accommodation on the Carrigrohane Rd, Cork, and have nowhere to go to now. Picture: David Creedon
Ukrainian refugees Oxana Savela with her daughter Vlada and her sister Polina Movchan who are temporarily staying at the Student Village Accommodation on the Carrigrohane Rd, Cork, and have nowhere to go to now. Picture: David Creedon

Polina Movchan is part of a group of 300 Ukrainians who must leave a student village in Cork City as students seek to take their spots for the coming academic year. 

However, at 33 weeks pregnant, and amid fading prospects of being housed by families in the area, she is “very scared” about the birth of her child.

She left Kyiv the day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February. She travelled west to Lviv while two months’ pregnant and waited in lines for 18 hours to get out of the war-torn country. 

After living in Poland for a short time, she came to Ireland at the end of April, spending time in Citywest and in a house with 10 people while sleeping on the floor. She then spent time near Kanturk, Co Cork, before moving to the student village.

Ms Movchan said the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Ipass, who pair Ukrainians with Irish families who have pledged their accommodation, are offering two or three families a home each day. Just days remain to house her family, otherwise they have been told to expect a move to temporary housing in Citywest, Co. Dublin.

“I’m trying to be calm and not feel stressed because of the pregnancy, but it’s still scary,” she said. “If it is possible to keep normal conditions, I would like that.” Ms Movchan fears the journey to Cork or the stressful environment at Citywest may cause her to have her baby premature. She is also worried she will be too far from a hospital in Citywest, as she is currently just a five-minute drive from Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH).

Her family of five is difficult to accommodate, which she understands is a big ask considering the average size of Irish homes, but after spending some time in a sports hall in Citywest back in May they are hoping a family will accommodate them near CUMH in the coming days.

However, amid continued delays in the system of vetting Irish families and their properties, there is unlikely to be enough movement before their deadline of August 20.

Some Ukrainians from the student village have accepted offers in Cork’s suburbs of Carrigaline and Ballinhassing, but for many, their futures remain unclear.

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