AS I SEE IT
We may be one of the most distant destinations for refugees fleeing Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine but their reception in Ireland couldn’t have been warmer. Since Ukrainians began arriving here from March onwards, they have been taken into our hearts and our schools. Don’t we deserve a pat on the back for living up to our reputation as Ireland of the welcomes?
But just as we adjusted our haloes comes a warning that our generosity may get us into trouble. A supposedly secret memo told the Cabinet that our humanitarian response to the 30,000 plus refugees could cause social unrest. The finger wagging risk analysis suggests that their presence in towns and cities around the country could threaten social cohesion, especially in deprived communities.
Is this a whiff of begrudgery when these cruelly displaced people have barely arrived? You might think perhaps that our efforts to help would unite us, so what is behind this warning? Maybe this is really about Government failure to look after our own rather than our response to the Ukranians’ plight.
Consider our own homeless families for a start. At the end of March their numbers reached 9,800, up 23% on last year. Are they being looked after as promptly as the Ukrainians? People want their own front doors so why can’t there be a swift response like providing pre-fab housing at a fraction of the cost of traditional building at a time when there is a critical lack of workers in the building trade and costs are soaring.
And there’s the other side of the housing crisis, with sky-high rents which make saving for a home impossible and the challenge of even finding somewhere to rent where the supply of rental properties is diminishing daily. We lack imaginative solutions here too: why push landlords who ae leaving the market in their thousands out of the market with punitive tax and other measures? Why not have a scheme to back the conversion of unused buildings – from office space freed by WFH, to near empty convents and monasteries – into apartments? Another thorn in the side of young families hoping for a home is the crippling cost of childcare, something which is either subsidised or free in other countries.
How do asylum seeker from other countries – there are currently 6,000 plus of them in direct provision – feel about a situation where incoming Ukranians are immediately given PPS numbers, receive financial support, allowed to work and given medical cards? Did other asylum seekers get similar attention?
The memo also warns about disruption to transport and travel. Rubbish, this has nothing to do with refugees, our travel and transport are thoroughly dysfunctional anyway. The situation at Dublin Airport has been chaotic since April so that any of us wanting a well- deserved holiday face hours-long queues to check in and get through security. Yet, the problem wasn’t tackled and got so bad that over a thousand people missed their flights last weekend. But this is what happens when you have Minister for Bicycles Ryan in charge of transport. Then there’s the misery of long commutes and traffic chaos on our roads. The majority of us don’t live within cycling distance of work, take note Minister Ryan; public transport outside cities is abysmal so in rural areas three or four cars a household may be needed to get family members where they need to go. Think of the fuel costs and the carbon emissions.
The memo also warned about the unsustainability of our humanitarian response. It would be more helpful to have a proper plan for our guests rather than a whinge. The Ukranians – 80% of them are women and children (mainly primary school age) – aren’t overnight guests, although obviously many hope to return home. They want to work and contribute but they face barriers. There’s the language barrier, lack of child care and the need to have their qualifications recognised. There are around 14,000 Ukranians of working age here, but so far less than 1,500 have jobs in a country where in some sectors like hospitality up to 70% of employers are having difficulties filling vacancies.
There was a further warning about tourism given that many refugees are accommodated in hotels.
Considering the exorbitant charges for hospitality here – up by an average of 23% – not too many of us will be taking staycations. We are more likely to head for overseas holidays – as long as we can manage to get through the airport.