A significant disagreement occurred within the Cabinet on Tuesday regarding the ongoing refugee accommodation situation in the country. Sources with knowledge of the discussions among government ministers have characterized it as one of the most divisive and heated debates since the formation of the coalition government.
The dispute was initiated by a presentation from Minister for Integration, Roderic O’Gorman, in which he proposed a new approach to house new arrivals fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. This approach suggested that these refugees should only be accommodated for a period of 90 days before being transitioned to the private sector.
Notably, there was no formal memo for decision presented during the Cabinet meeting. However, it is understood that the proposal had been under discussion among the leaders of the three coalition parties in their weekly pre-Cabinet meetings for the past two weeks.
Sources familiar with the Cabinet discussions reported that Minister O’Gorman expressed concerns that the current approach was unsustainable and could lead to people becoming homeless. He emphasized that the state could not continue to accommodate the present influx of arrivals.
In response, Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Micheál Martin pushed back against the proposal, asserting that it was essentially transferring the responsibility to the Department of Housing, which would be required to provide housing or homeless services for those leaving state-provided accommodation after just 90 days. Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien, shared these concerns. Tánaiste Martin also raised apprehensions about the impact on the education of children who had to exit their accommodation so soon.
In response to these objections, Minister O’Gorman expressed his frustration, highlighting the numerous Cabinet subcommittee discussions that had taken place without any decisions or outcomes. In return, Tánaiste Martin argued that Cabinet proposals are often deferred.
There were also concerns raised about the presentation lacking an official memo. However, the proposed approach is reportedly closely related to one discussed at a Cabinet subcommittee meeting two weeks earlier.
Government sources later clarified that plans to establish “five or six” major centers for Ukrainian refugees across the country and gradually reduce the use of hotels were not yet ready for approval by the government. The main point of contention revolved around the proposal to require refugees to leave the temporary centers after just 90 days.
Additionally, there is a belief among some members of the government that Ireland’s comparatively high rates of social welfare might be attracting Ukrainian refugees.
Earlier, Tánaiste Micheál Martin mentioned that there is evidence of people fleeing the war in Ukraine arriving in Ireland from other European countries rather than directly from the conflict zone. He described this as a “phenomenon” and suggested that it was being examined with regards to future arrivals.
Under the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD), individuals escaping the conflict have the right to reside, work, travel, and claim benefits in the European Union. However, the Tánaiste did not elaborate on government plans to reform the system for accommodating and supporting people in Ireland or whether these reforms would target those arriving from other EU states. He stated that he could not provide a specific number of people arriving through this manner.
Proposals put forward by officials, including the idea of time-limiting accommodation for new arrivals under the directive, were discussed by coalition leaders but not yet ready for cabinet consideration. Tánaiste Martin emphasized that he would not discuss potential reforms until the government had completed its deliberations, a process he anticipated would conclude soon.
Tánaiste Martin also commented on Ireland’s response to the Ukrainian conflict, noting that the country had received favorable comments for its efforts. He acknowledged the severity of the war and emphasized Ireland’s contributions in terms of political and humanitarian support, particularly by accepting refugees from the war.