A minister of state has thanked the people of popular tourist counties for their response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis but said it is time now “to transition” people out of hotels to ensure the industry's continuity.
Anne Rabbitte, minister of state at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, said concerns for the future of the hospitality industry in tourist-dependent towns were “very understandable”.
“We need now to recalibrate how we go forward. This crisis is no longer a crisis. It is more a long-term event,” said Ms Rabbitte.
Speaking after the citizenship ceremony in Killarney, she was asked about concerns for the 2023 tourist season in towns where large numbers of refugees have been placed by her department's international protection agency.
Ms Rabbitte said that “more than hotels” in Killarney and in towns all along the west coast had built their businesses on tourism — shop keepers, craft makers, jam makers, taxis, and bus drivers were all involved.
“Fáilte Ireland needs to be able to ensure the continuity of the tourist service,” she said.
The plan now is “to transition” Ukrainian people out of hotels and into rapid build accommodation on land owned by the HSE and other State bodies.
“We need to create accommodation, not take from,” she said.
The planning for such homes is “well underway” between her department, the OPW, and the Department of Housing, she said, with 750 one- and two-bedroom rapid build units to be built by end of January.
Idle HSE lands such as St Finan’s lands in Killarney, if it was serviced with electricity and water, would make an ideal location for the rapidly assembled units, she said.
Asked about ongoing social welfare and other supports for refugees, Ms Rabbitte said the response initially “was to support people when they arrived”.
"The 12-month visa was to ensure we could support people when they arrived and it was a whole of Europe response which was open to review," she said. It was obvious the damage that had been done and it was not easy for people to go back, she added.
The need now is to integrate people into the jobs market and make professions such as caring, mental health, disabilities, and older persons attractive for the Ukrainian refugees, she said.