Rural transport and broadband issues hinder councils’ refugee placement plans

Displaced Ukrainian families

Ralph Riegel

Lack of rural transport and poor broadband connections have severely limited the ability of some Irish councils to provide a choice of suitable accommodation hubs for Ukrainian refugees.

Irish councils have been instructed by the Government to provide accommodation offerings in towns, cities and villages where refugees can best settle into Irish life.

While some temporary accommodation hubs have been provided in smaller villages, these will serve largely as transit centres for refugees being placed in longer-term accommodation.

By early March, 9,000 refugees had arrived in Ireland from war-torn Ukraine.

However, by April that number had soared to 17,000 – and is expected to dramatically rise further as refugees flee eastern Ukraine which is now expected to be the focus of Russia’s next major offensive.

Under instructions from various departments, local authorities have been directed to provide accommodation in cities, towns and villages which are well served by transport networks, have acceptable broadband services and are ideally within walking distance of shops and amenities.

However, infrastructural problems with transport links, broadband and even services in some rural areas have meant potentially suitable accommodation cannot be considered in these areas at the present time.

The Irish Independent has learned that this has ruled out accommodation being offered in some parts of rural Cork, Waterford, Kerry, Galway, Tipperary, Donegal and other counties due to poor broadband signals and lack of regular transport.

In Waterford, accommodation offerings for refugees have been focused on Waterford city, Tramore and Dungarvan. “One of the main reasons why we are looking at the more urban areas as opposed to rural areas is that one of the Department of Children requirements for accommodation is access to broadband,” Waterford Council director of housing Ivan Grimes told WLR FM.

“It is essential that they are able to communicate with their friends and family back in Ukraine. Broadband is considered to be almost top of the list in terms of requirements for accommodation.

“The guidance we are getting from the department is that accommodation should be within a reasonable distance of town centres. That is what we are focusing on.

“Because, obviously, you’re talking about families here and they need to access services. So, from Monday week the children will be going into schools, hopefully, from those centres.”

In Cork, council staff have also worked to ensure refugee housing is within walking distance of shops and amenities – again limiting the scope of rural accommodation available for consideration.

“It has been a limiting factor, there is no doubt about that,” one council source admitted.

Department and council officials have also been working overtime to ensure that all refugee children staying at temporary reception centres will have school places available when classes resume after the Easter break on April 25.

Teacher unions have urged the Government to provide the additional resources required for the schools involved.

A significant amount of church accommodation has been provided to assist refugees.

In the north Cork town of Fermoy, a Ukrainian priest, his wife and six children have been housed in the former convent of the Little Company of Mary.

Fr Roman Biletskyy, who is a priest of the Greek Rite Church which is affiliated to the Catholic Church, paid a special Easter”‘thank you” to Irish people for the warm welcome they have extended to Ukrainian refugees.