The accommodation crisis for Ukrainian refugees may force the Government to house them at an army camp.
It comes as a group of Ukrainians was transported to a hostel on Arranmore island off Donegal.
Carol Baxter, assistant secretary-general in the Department of Children, said the risk was that officials would run out of accommodation for refugees at the end of June as one-third of the State’s contracts with hotels expire.
She revealed the possible use of Gormanston army camp in Meath was “on ice” and a “last resort” if they run out of other options.
Ms Baxter, who was addressing the Faculty of Public Health Medicine summer scientific meeting at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin, said: “We would love to tell you we have a pipeline of accommodation.
“But at any one time we have a couple of days and sometimes only a couple of hours of supply.”
Around 32,000 Ukrainian refugees are now in the country, and while many are staying with family and friends, thousands are in serviced accommodation, hotels, guest houses, repurposed buildings, nursing homes and holiday villages.
Ms Baxter said officials were working to actively process pledges of accommodation from the public – but it was a complex matter to match people to the right setting.
It can also take time to repurpose office buildings for accommodation and ensure they were adequate for families who might also have pets.
Ms Baxter told the gathering of public health specialists that they were now heavily reliant on student accommodation but that must be vacated at the end of August. Around 33pc of contracts with hotels will expire at the end of next month and even if 20pc of these decide to “go down the tourism route”, she said the issue was “a real problem”.
The Citywest hotel, in a suburb outside Dublin, is a central hub for processing refugees who need essentials such as PPS numbers and health assessments. But in some cases, refugees have to bed down temporarily in the centre until a place is found for them.
In other cases, they end up on camp beds in dormitory-style community centres, operated by the civil defence or volunteers, with little access to shower facilities.
Refugees may also have to temporarily leave a hotel if it is hosting a wedding. They can end up having to move frequently.
Ms Baxter said holiday homes may be the next available supply and some can be in a very rural setting.
People coming here now, as opposed to those who arrived earlier, may have come from the heart of the war and could have greater vulnerabilities, she added.
Dr Margaret Fitzgerald, who has worked in third-world countries and is now the HSE’s public health lead on social inclusion, told the conference that health and other key staff had been providing care and supports for Ukrainians first at Dublin Airport and now at Citywest.
At one stage 700 people a day were arriving through Dublin Airport, she said.
“The biggest challenge was the volume of people coming in,” she said, adding that several arms of the health service are involved.
She said the task of health staff was to oversee their care, which could involve supplying insulin to diabetics, ensuring cancer patients get treatment, and creating awareness around issues such as post-traumatic stress syndrome and gender violence.
“We want to promote resilience, not dependence and get people on their feet as much as possible.”
Some refugees had suffered war injuries or were injured on the journey.