Ukrainians to be housed in tents and prefabs as capacity stretches

Tents, prefabs and emergency dormitory-style units will have to be used to house refugees arriving in the State from Ukraine within weeks because emergency accommodation will be used up, the Cabinet has been told.

Meanwhile, the bill for providing accommodation, health and education to the refugees – which could reach €1.7 billion this year – will sharply curb the Government’s ability to respond to mounting inflation pressures caused by the Russian invasion and the dramatic rises in world food prices and fuel that have followed.

A Government spokesman confirmed on Tuesday night the costs of catering for refugees would be met in the first instance from the €2.5 billion Covid reserve – which has already been tapped for measures to alleviate the rising cost of living.

Briefings to the Cabinet by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath suggested the number of refugees expected to arrive in the coming weeks could exceed existing capacity in emergency accommodation in hotels, bed and breakfasts, and private houses.

Modular units

“If the current trajectory of arrivals continues, there could be the need for short-term, including emergency, accommodation in the near-future,” a Government spokesman said.

Government officials are in discussion with construction companies about modular housing units to cater for demand, while the Defence Forces are constructing tented accommodation at Gormanston camp in Co Meath. Dormitory-style accommodation is being prepared at the Millstreet Arena in Co Cork which will have capacity for more than 400 people and is expected to be ready by mid-April. Efforts to identify other accommodation options are ongoing.

Officials said 14,611 refugees had arrived by Tuesday, with about 600 new arrivals every day, with three-quarters needing accommodation. Ministers were told Ireland could have 21,000 arrivals by Easter and 30,000 by the end of April, but officials stressed the unpredictability of the numbers that will arrive.

Diplomatic expulsions

Some 22,657 pledges of accommodation have been offered through the national pledge being organised by the Irish Red Cross, officials said. However, there is some concern that not all will prove suitable, and some may be withdrawn.

Meanwhile, four senior officials from the Russian embassy in Dublin have been asked to leave the State, the Government said on Tuesday.

The news was part of a co-ordinated move among several EU countries to expel Russian diplomats for security reasons. The Russian government is expected to retaliate.

Mr Martin told the Dáil the four had been asked to leave “because their activities are not in accordance with the international standards of diplomatic behaviour”.

He said the Government wanted to ensure diplomatic channels were maintained and that was “the motivation behind that decision not to expel the Russian ambassador at this stage”.

Security sources say the four diplomats were selected because they had previously been identified by the Garda Security and Intelligence Unit as likely to be engaged in espionage activities. Specifically, they are suspected to be members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence unit, and to have used diplomatic cover to carry out intelligence-gathering activities.

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