The Government has been secretly warned that the arrival of tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees into towns and cities across the country poses a risk to social cohesion and integration, particularly among deprived communities.
Ministers have also been told that the current humanitarian response could become unsustainable in the coming weeks, with a risk that those displaced by the war in Ukraine may not be able to secure accommodation, education, income support or access employment.
Stark details of a cross-government risk analysis were given to the Cabinet in recent days, with a memo identifying a number of top-level risks both for refugees arriving into the State and the wider population.
It identified what is being described as “downstream effects on local population, and in particular deprived communities” that “creates risks for social cohesion and integration”.
The blunt warning is the first evidence of concerns at the highest levels of government about the impact of this crisis on communities across the country — some of whom are experiencing a large influx of people who have fled their home country following Russia’s invasion at the end of February.
As well as identifying the unsustainability of the current humanitarian response, the analysis also outlined the potential risk to public services, where it noted that there is already unmet demand. It also highlighted the potential for disruption to transport and travel, the tourism industry, and the Coalition’s budget and policy priorities.
Ministers were also told of a looming accommodation crisis that could see approximately 5,000 people having no accommodation when 36pc of the State’s current contracts with accommodation providers expires at the beginning of July.
This is based on the assumption that around 250 people per day will arrive in Ireland.
Without the availability of independent accommodation, the Cabinet was told that by early July some people could be waiting up to 27 days for hotel accommodation, and up to 99 days for independent accommodation.
In a bid to support Irish people hosting refugees, the Government last week signed off on a €400 recognition payment for households that commit to accommodating displaced persons for at least six months. The payments are expected to begin issuing in July and will be backdated.
More than 30,000 people fleeing the war have arrived in Ireland from Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion, with more than 21,000 of these seeking accommodation from the State.
Under the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive, refugees from Ukraine are entitled to residency rights, allowing them to access employment, education, welfare, medical care, and accommodation.
More than 31,000 people have been issued with PPS numbers, with the majority of them — 28,500 — also being issued with income support. There are 16,141 primary claims with an average of 1.8 people on each claim. Child benefit is now also being paid in respect of 10,242 children, while over 16,000 medical cards have been issued.
Revenue records show that just under 2,000 people who have arrived in Ireland have active employment with just over 1,000 employers across a wide range of jobs. More than 4,000 children have been enrolled in primary school, with 1,900 enrolled in second-level schools.
Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea said that, with the State facing its own housing crisis, this has led to some resentment among his constituents in Limerick — although he stressed that it was relatively small.
“I am pleasantly surprised at the small number of people saying it to me. People are showing great fortitude and understanding, but some people are different,” he told the Sunday Independent last night.
“We do owe a duty of care to the Ukrainians. They didn’t cause this war, their country is being devastated, their homes destroyed.”
The risk-analysis exercise was undertaken by all government departments in recent weeks. It identified a number of issues which will be monitored in the coming weeks and months, amid expectations that the Europe-wide refugee crisis and the global energy and supply-chain crises will stretch into winter and beyond.
Among the risks identified for those arriving from Ukraine were challenges processing the refugees, plus the diminishing supply of appropriate accommodation. The health, well-being, and safeguarding risks associated with accommodation, along with the dispersal and the need for movement through different types of accommodation, were also identified.
Following advice from the Attorney General, all individuals over 16 in shared properties must be garda vetted, regardless of their previous vetting status. Over 300 persons have completed vetting requirements, but this has required over 1,000 calls to be made by the Irish Red Cross (IRC) which has finalised a vetting process with the Garda Vetting Bureau.
Discussions are ongoing between the IRC, gardaí and the Department of Children and Equality to increase the capacity of the vetting process, the Cabinet was told.
Other issues facing those who have arrived in Ireland include access to and engagement with education, as well as access to income supports and engagement with the labour market.
The analysis identified a number of impacts on the wider population as a result of the State’s effort to support refugees, including the unsustainability of that very model of humanitarian response, additional budgetary pressures, and increased demand for public services — which will be unsustainable for some services that already have unmet demand.
Potential travel and transport and downstream impacts on tourist-dependent local economies were also identified, along with the threat to the achievement of key commitments in the programme for government.
Fáilte Ireland and the Restaurants Association of Ireland have warned in recent weeks of the impact on the tourism industry of over 17,000 beds in hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses being booked up to accommodate refugees.
The memo to ministers on the risk analysis concluded that there was a “risk to social cohesion and integration” and “the downstream effects on local population, and in particular deprived communities, creates risks for social cohesion and integration.”
Of the over 25,000 pledges made to the IRC since the war began, around 3,000 properties that are assumed to be vacant and 6,000 that are shared have been processed with 900 persons placed in over 313 properties nationwide.
However, some of these pledges have been activated outside of the IRC process, although the Government has no figures on how many of these arrangements are in place.