Families who have taken in Ukrainian refugees are seeing household bills soar and need help, Dáil hears

Refugees queue after fleeing from Ukraine at the border crossing in Medyka, south-east Poland. Photo: Sergei Grits/AP

Senan Molony and Gabija Gataveckaite

PEOPLE who have taken in Ukrainian refugees are seeing their household bills soar and are feeling ignored by the State, the Dáil has been told.

While they don’t for a moment regret their decision, they are getting no financial help - and their energy and food bills have increased.

Meanwhile the Ukrainians involved need their social welfare payments for themselves, said Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick of Louth.

He said he had been approach by families, some of whom had driven to the airport to offer accommodation, who now felt isolated with no support.

They expected the war to last only a few weeks, he said.

The British Government is paying €350 a month to Ukrainian refugee hosts, but Ireland pays nothing. “We need to support the Irish people who have been good enough to open their homes,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

The householders who took in refugees would not hesitate to do so again, he said. “But they have very little if any contact from the relevant government departments and no support.

“They feel they have nobody to go to for support and advice. As I have said, they have absolutely no regrets in opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees, but they find it difficult and financially challenging. They have increased energy and food bills,” Mr Fitzpatrick told the Taoiseach.

“Yet when they look for support and assistance from these departments they feel they've been ignored. The commercial hotels and bed-and-breakfasts are getting paid to house Ukrainian refugees, but the people who opened our homes to the same refugees are not getting any support. Disadvantages must be addressed.”

Mr Fitzpatrick added: “We need to come to the aid of the Ukrainians in their time of need, but we need to also support the Irish people who have been good enough to open their homes. These people receive absolutely no support for taking in refugees, unlike B&Bs or commercial hotels.”

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He said the Taoiseach in his speech to President Zelensky had been clear that “our homes are your homes”, but it was right to care for those who cared for them in a family atmosphere.

“Irish people have always put their shoulder to the wheel when needed, and they would do it again. But they have absolutely no support.

“They are dropping Ukrainian children to school every day and are doing a number of other things, and they’re looking for absolutely nothing. But everything is increasing in price.”

In reply, Taoiseach Micheál Martin commended all those volunteers “who are doing so much to help Ukrainian refugees settled in this country”, but did not specifically address the concerns raised by Mr Fitzpatrick, although he acknowledged the point.

“As I said this morning, our home is your home and the initial focus of our response has been, first of all on the accommodation. As of today 19,283 people have arrived from Ukraine and of these 11,800 have sought accommodation. So there's been a huge effort. We've never had to respond so quickly to such refugee crisis.”

Mr Martin noted however that there was “income support immediately in terms of social protection, once refugees come into the country”.

He also said the community response forums now being established would see each local authority coordinate local responses to the Ukraine crisis. But he made no mention of any social protection payments for host families.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the families are not looking for profit. They are simply looking for support for the extra costs that have been caused.

“These families went up to Dublin Airport and collected these families in good faith. And then they realised that there is a serious cost here. They have children of their own and ESB bills and other bills are all going up.

“The Government is quick enough to pay the hotels and the B&Bs. These refugees are getting social welfare, which is fine, but they need that money for themselves.

“They thought this war was going to last maybe four or five weeks. Now all of a sudden the families don’t know. But Taoiseach, not one family who contacted me said they would change their minds. But they can’t afford to pay the bills.

“The last thing you want to do is have to conflict between them. We have done very well on Ukraine - please don't put a dampener on it.”

Mr Martin said he appreciated “where the Deputy is coming from”.

Meanwhile, 2,000 Ukrainian refugees will be housed in college accommodation for the summer months.

Further Education Minister Simon Harris said today: “We have now significantly increased the number of student accommodation that we’re able to provide for Ukrainian refugees for the summer period.

“Previously we had confirmed that there would be 1,000 student beds available to Ukrainian refugees for the summer period and this would provide an opportunity for shelter but also a little bit of time while the State puts in place more immediate arrangements.”

The refugees will be housed in college-owned student accommodation, which is normally on campus accommodation from May until August.

Previously, it was planned that 1,000 refugees would be housed in student accommodation.