Government officials are making preparations to accommodate thousands of Ukrainian refugees here as the Russian assault intensifies and hundreds of thousands of people flee the country.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee told Ministers yesterday that the EU is likely to trigger emergency provisions on Wednesday which would clear the way for Ukrainian refugees to gain entry to EU countries for between one and three years.
Ms McEntee told the Cabinet that Ireland could be expected to take in some 6,000 refugees but the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney later indicated that the figure could be as high as 20,000. He added that Irish people may be asked to accommodate the Ukrainians in their own homes.
Officials later played down the 20,000 figure and said that no plans had yet been drawn up to place refugees in private homes. Ms McEntee told the Dáil that as of Monday night 143 Ukrainians had arrived in Ireland.
“It’s not possible to be precise about the numbers Ireland is expecting,” the Government spokesman said last night.
However, preparations are under way to receive many more, with officials indicating that they will be able to access accommodation, social services, healthcare, education and be able to work while in Ireland.
The Department of Equality is developing plans to house refugees in hotels in the first instance, following models developed for direct provision applicants. Other options will be developed this week. The Department of Housing is involved in developing medium and longer term solutions outside accommodating people in hotels.
It is expected the first refugees will be friends and family, with upwards of 3,000 Ukrainians already in the State.
Meanwhile, the most senior official of the Department of Foreign Affairs told Russian ambassador Yury Filatov that Ireland views the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an assault on common humanity, the Cabinet was told on Tuesday.
Mr Filatov was twice summoned to the department last week, as Russian forces launched their assault on Ukraine.
The day after the invasion took place Ministers were briefed that Joe Hackett, the department’s secretary general, told the Russian ambassador that Ireland views the invasion as an assault of the principles of the UN charter, the rules-based international order, and “our common humanity”.
Elsewhere, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan has committed to selling off part of Ireland’s strategic oil reserve to ease global constraints, after moves to free up to 60 million barrels of oil around the world were agreed by energy ministers of members of the International Energy Agency on Tuesday.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar urged that new consideration be given to Irish security policy, in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He told RTÉ’s News at One programme that the invasion “does require us to think about our security policy”, a call echoed by several TDs during yesterday’s Dáil debate on Ukraine, though others spoke in defence of neutrality.
“I think we’ll need to think about deeper involvement in European defence, and we’ll also need to consider the triple lock” – the mechanism that requires a Government decision, a Dáil vote and a UN resolution before Ireland becomes involved in an overseas action. “Russia has a veto [on the UN security council],” Mr Varadkar said. “Essentially we’re giving Russia a veto on our foreign policy,” he said.
Senator Lisa Chambers, the Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on Foreign Affairs, told The Irish Times that on some issues – particularly cyber defence – “we cannot protect ourselves adequately and need to work with other member states and pool resources and knowledge”.