Government leaders have formed a special high-powered committee to handle the national response to the devastating Ukrainian war refugees crisis.
They will have access to a special fund of €3billion for next year, up from an agreed figure of €2.5billion just last week.
Other measures decided on at Cabinet yesterday afternoon included the housing of refugees in college dorms when the students have gone home for the summer – this could add another 6,000 beds to the accommodation tally – and the speeding up of the conversion of vacant social houses, also known as “voids”, into refugee housing, delivering up to another 2,500 more beds.
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Ministers have conceded they had to get more directly involved and the crisis committee is a response to the worsening situation.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Greens chief Eamon Ryan will head up the new Cabinet super-committee.
We have now welcomed more than 25,000 Ukrainians who have escaped the war. The Government’s latest estimate is that we could be providing sanctuary for up to 33,000 by the end of May.
Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien told the Cabinet he is securing emergency powers to make it quicker to convert empty council houses.
Last night, Minister O’Brien confirmed that an extra 5,000 beds for Ukrainian refugees will be provided through local authorities.
He said his department has identified 89 specific vacant properties that belong to local councils and can be retooled quickly to provide “safe and secure accommodation”. Mr O’Brien also said there would be special, high quality, modular housing built for the Ukrainians, although he would not be drawn on the numbers that could be delivered.
Mr O’Brien told RTE’s Drivetime: “It’s no mean achievement that we’ve managed as a country in a short period of six weeks to accommodate through pledges and other things 25,000 people, many of them being women and young children.
“The next phase of the response, which is about additionality, it’s about looking particularly at the larger buildings around the country and how they can be repurposed…to house people in the medium to longer term.” He also added that “work is ongoing in that space” when asked to confirm whether there would be cash payments of up to €400 a month to reimburse households for hosting refugees.
Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath told reporters on the way into the crunch Cabinet meeting yesterday that “the system is under real strain”.
But the Taoiseach and ministers have repeatedly said there will be “no cap” on the numbers of refugees we will take in.
The availability of hotel and guesthouse rooms for refugees have dried up as those businesses who took up short contracts now need the rooms for tourists.
More than 16,000 Ukrainian refugees have been successfully housed by the State.
Currently, hundreds are living in emergency accommodation in a tented village on the grounds of the old Millstreet arena, now called the Green Glens, in Cork.
Mr McGrath said: “We are at a point where we are offering accommodation that is not at a standard that we would like, but which is necessary because these refugees are fleeing war and our first duty is to provide safety and security for them and to meet all of their basic needs.
“The costs will be very significant. We have made provision in our stability programme update for costs of up to €3billion next year – that is a high level estimate.”
The Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Mr Ryan will be joined on the special committee by Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.
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