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Ciara Phelan: Scale of Ukrainian accommodation crisis highlights a broken system

It's an unprecedented time but it's also an unprecedented spending of taxpayers’ money into a temporary system propped up by hotels across the country
Ciara Phelan: Scale of Ukrainian accommodation crisis highlights a broken system

Bunratty Castle Hotel in Clare. Picture: Facebook

No state could have been prepared for the almost instant influx of Ukrainians following the Russian invasion, but the scale of the accommodation crisis facing the Government should serve as a sobering wake-up call to the reality of a broken housing system.

So far this year, more than €617m has been spent on accommodation and services provided to all refugees that have arrived here.

Spending continues as the days roll on and thousands more Ukrainians arrive escaping a widening conflict and a harsh winter.

The Department of Integration, which is overseeing Ireland’s response to supporting Ukrainians, has said next year’s bill could topple €1bn.

It's an unprecedented time, the politicians will say, but it’s also unprecedented spending of taxpayers’ money who would much prefer the billions of euros be spent on building homes and not pumping cash into a temporary system propped up by hotels across the country.

Nine months on

Nine months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Government has done very little to avoid placing traumatised women and children who have left their sons and husbands behind to fight, into hotels.

Less than a month after Putin’s troops began shelling Ukraine, 9,000 Ukrainians had arrived in Ireland.

Yes, the State offered a céad míle fáilte to those desperate to get to safety, but there has been a serious failure to plan for the medium to long-term for what we now know will be 72,000 Ukrainians by the end of the year.

The first set of modular homes has been delayed until early 2023 and the second site isn't due to come on stream until February or March.

It is forgivable that the vacant homes call set up initially when Ukrainians started arriving here was messy and a slow process. But just nine months on the Government is relaunching the process which was dogged by confusion and poor communication for months.

As of November 15, it has been reported to the department that 5,313 Ukrainians have been matched to 2,009 pledged properties despite initial offers of housing exceeding 20,000.

A group of Ukrainian refugees housed in the Quality Hotel in Redbarn, Youghal, last June show their thanks to the Irish people for their hospitality. Picture: David Creedon / Anzenberger
A group of Ukrainian refugees housed in the Quality Hotel in Redbarn, Youghal, last June show their thanks to the Irish people for their hospitality. Picture: David Creedon / Anzenberger

There is no denying that the snail’s pace at which the vacant homes call-out was run, hindered the success of moving Ukrainians out of hotels and into communities.

A county-by-county breakdown of where Ukrainians are staying highlights a wide disparity in the numbers being accommodated in different areas of the country.

Naturally there will be more hotels, holiday homes and B&Bs in tourist hotspots such as Kerry, Clare, Cork, Galway and Donegal, but the doubling of population in some areas within weeks is having significant impacts on services.

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys is due to bring a proposal to a Cabinet committee on Ukraine in mid-December which will see a €50m fund being spread out to counties that have taken in a large proportion of refugees, through applications by local authorities.

The funding can be used for playgrounds and public transport, a source said.

Impact on schooling, childcare, and jobs

However, there are more specific challenges as a result of large numbers of people being placed in hotels in certain areas.

There is a knock-on effect on schooling for children, childcare and jobs as well as emotional and psychological support, especially for children who have experienced unthinkable trauma of the violence accompanying war and the disorientating separation from their home, familiar surroundings and loved ones.

The Eviston Hotel, Killarney, is a popular tourist spot.
The Eviston Hotel, Killarney, is a popular tourist spot.

Behavioural specialists have outlined the destructive impact children living in hotels can have on their development.

Delayed speech and an inability to learn to crawl or walk due to a lack of space are just two serious consequences.

Let’s not forget this is the same sorry situation thousands of Irish children living in emergency accommodation and their parents are dealing with and the homelessness figures continue to be on the rise.

Figures released on Friday show the scale of the crisis that might be hidden but that has not gone away. The number of people in emergency accommodation in Ireland surpassed 11,000 last month, the highest number ever recorded.

The Monthly Homeless Report from the Department of Housing shows there were 7,917 adults and 1,601 families accessing emergency accommodation in the month, including 3,480 children — many in hotels.

The figures represent an increase of 3.85% (422 people) in one month and a 29% increase (2,567 people) since this time last year.

They again shine an uncomfortable light on failed housing policies going back years — with a severe shortage of social housing, a lack of affordable accommodation and waiting lists of up to 14 years for some people as well as a lucrative rental market.

The whole system is creaking and is likely to get far worse before it gets better.

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