Ireland is expected to accommodate 40,000 Ukrainian refugees by the end of April, the deputy prime minister has said, amid a warning not to push the country “beyond its measures”.
The population of 5 million is set to jump by just under 1 per cent next month when tens of thousands more refugees fleeing the Russian invasion are expected to arrive, according to plans laid out by Leo Varadkar on Tuesday.
Micheal Carrigy, a Fine Gael senator, told The National that while Ireland’s warm welcome for Ukrainians was commendable, ministers should “be careful” about making pledges to accommodate people when the country’s public services are already overstretched.
More than 10,000 Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion have already arrived in the Republic, with many being housed in hotels, hostels and convents while they await more permanent accommodation.
The government is looking to adapt event venues and military barracks as part of a drive to provide more refugees with living space, Mr Varadkar said, as he admitted the influx would affect public services and the country’s finances.
Among the 27 EU nations, Ireland ranks 19th on the population scale, making up just 1.1 per cent of the overall number of inhabitants across the 27 member states.
Mr Carrigy, a member of the Seanad, the upper house of Ireland’s parliament, said it was time for countries across Europe and further afield to step up to the mark and take in more Ukrainians fleeing violence.
“I think we need to be careful as a country that we don’t go beyond our measures,” he told The National.
“We have a significant housing issues in our country. Housing for all is ramping up but the reality is that it’s going to take a number of years to deliver [new homes].
“I think it’s time for other countries within the EU and outside the EU to play their part.”
Earlier this month, Ireland’s Justice Minister James Browne said up to 80,000 Ukrainians could arrive in Ireland. But a figure more than double that was proposed by Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue on Tuesday.
Speaking to RTE Radio, he cited the latest UN refugee figures which show that almost 3.6 million people have fled Ukraine, and a further 6.5 million have been internally displaced.
“If, proportionately, the number that might go to Ireland coming out of that was to transpire you’d have to be in a position to plan for example potentially up to 200,000,” Mr McConalogue said.
Mr Carrigy said while accommodating 80,000 refugees would be “manageable” for Ireland, an influx of 200,000 would place an unimaginable strain on services.
“I was not expecting a figure like that, up to 200,000,” he said. “That’s a significant figure for a small country with a small population.
“I would say if that comes to pass, that number of people coming here, it would be extremely difficult for the state to manage.”
He plans to accommodate refugee children in his family home and also to host a family of Ukrainians in his late mother’s house nearby. “Our mother, God rest her, died during the Covid [pandemic]. It was her home and I know that she would say that’s the right thing to do.”
Marian Harkin, a member of the lower house of the Irish parliament, expressed scepticism that the number of Ukrainian refugees in Ireland would top 200,000.
Ms Harkin, who has also offered to host Ukrainian refugees in her home, told The National the influx would be a “huge challenge” for households and for the country as a whole. However, she insisted welcoming those fleeing the war was the correct decision, saying: “We don’t turn our face.”
“This is going to be a huge challenge. I cannot estimate the extent of it”, she said.
“If somebody had asked by six months ago if 10,000 [Ukrainian refugees] is attainable I would have said how can we do that, we have a homelessness crisis.
“We are in a war situation in Europe and the best role that we can play is to support these refugees. Most of us are no more than two or three generations from war.”
At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, attended virtually from Washington DC by Micheal Martin, Ireland’s prime minister, the government continued preparations for tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees arriving in the country in coming weeks.
Speaking on his way into cabinet, Mr Varadkar said: “What we are seeing unfolding in Mariupol are war crimes, there can be no doubt about that.
“Something we didn't think we would see again in the 21st century in Europe.”