In the exceptionally sunny village of Baltimore, West Cork, this weekend, two flags fly from the ramparts of the restored 13th-century Norman castle, Dún na Séad. The tricolor in its usual place floating above the square; and now, the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian national flag.
It must be some kind of comfort to the Ukrainian family, a young mother and her three children, who fled the brutal Russian invasion of their country last month and now live in a house across the harbor on the neighboring island of Sherkin.
When children take the ferry to the mainland and the school bus two kilometers from the local school, they see more Ukrainian flags along the way.
This spirit of generosity is reproduced in villages, towns and cities all over Ireland.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his ministers have hailed this national response at every turn this week.
They have also embarked on the complicated but necessary process of financial planning – while more than 16,000 refugees have arrived from Ukraine so far – tens of thousands more are expected to follow.
Entering Cabinet on Tuesday, Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath outlined the government’s position: “The costs will be high, but these are costs we have to bear. It’s the right thing to do.”
He informed his ministerial colleagues that his department predicted that the Treasury bill could be in the region of 2.5 billion euros next year, if 100,000 Ukrainian refugees came here.
This stunning figure came with some important health warnings, however – which is not surprising, given that this was a scoping exercise.
Minister McGrath explained: “We just don’t know how many refugees will come here, how long they will stay and how many will want to work in the Irish economy.”
The Taoiseach later said the funds needed this year would come from the Covid Emergency Fund, with future funding built into the annual budget cycle – from October.
When RTÉ’s Morning Ireland first revealed the €2.5bn figure, it prompted an immediate response from Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrews.
The Dublin MEP tweeted: “What about the benefit of hosting Ukrainian refugees, many of whom are highly skilled and eager to work?”
It’s a sentiment I’ve heard around Leinster House all week – people fleeing the invasion of Ukraine present opportunities for Ireland as well as logistical challenges – helping them shouldn’t be reduced to a political football on the price to be paid.
But tough questions are being asked of ministers and they must reassure the public with thoughtful and detailed answers.
Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien was later put on the grid during an interview on Today With Claire Byrne, as he explained how an initial trawl by local authorities had identified 500 properties to help host refugees.
The minister added that other long-term options were being considered as it is “more than likely that many of our Ukrainian friends who are here will be staying for an extended period”.
When pressed, he said he estimated an additional 35,000 homes, over five or six years, might be needed to solve the housing problem presented by Ukrainian refugees.
The inevitable question followed – couldn’t people here complain that the government is acting quickly because of the refugee crisis, but they haven’t acted on the housing crisis in the country?
Mr. O’Brien maintained his accommodation for all plan was working to solve the housing crisis.
He added: “What we are going to have to do now – because of the most serious humanitarian crisis since the Second World War – is, of course, to intensify this. There is no doubt about it.”
The opposition parties do not see it the same way.
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Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said on Saturday with Katie Hannon, that Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman and his team were doing “a very good job” in their efforts to “identify emergency accommodation outside the mainstream housing system”.
However, he warned that the government needed to sit down “urgently” with opposition parties to ensure that what he called “resource competition” did not rear its ugly head.
MP Ó Broin claimed that the government’s housing for all policy was no longer ‘fit for purpose’ and the aim must now be to ensure that ‘no person or family can be left behind’ – whether it is a refugee, a homeless person or someone on a waiting list for housing.
New Labor leader Ivana Bacik explained in the same program that Ukrainians want to return home as soon as possible, but want to work in Ireland and contribute to Irish society.
She said Ministers O’Brien and O’Gorman needed to be ‘clearer on future supply plans’.
This debate is not limited to housing alone.
Independent TD Carol Nolan raised a question in the Dáil about the “current crisis in the allocation and provision of respite care services, particularly for children and adults with disabilities”.
MP Nolan quoted a statement by Minister O’Gorman on the war in Ukraine in which he said: “Ireland will not abandon people with disabilities as we respond to the crisis”.
She asked: “Every week in my offices I meet struggling families. They’re begging for help. They’re begging for respite for the adult children. health. won’t there be an erosion of the current services, weak and as they are, with the additional pressures exerted on the system?
This is a question the government struggles to answer when it does not have hard data.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said on Friday the latest figure for the number of Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland was over 16,000 – around half of whom have been able to find their own accommodation.
He said the government planned to bring between 40,000 and 60,000 refugees here.
Again, it could be much higher than that.
Government planning must consider all aspects of need – health, education, housing, etc. – as well as impacts on existing services, which are sometimes overloaded.
What we need is an integrated policy – designed to ensure that political discourse does not become a zero-sum game: Irish versus Ukrainian – which would be a tragedy for all concerned and should be avoided .
That said, the Dáil’s statements on the war in Ukraine over the week showed a high degree of unity – with Sinn Féin, Labour, Social Democrats, People Before Profit and Independent TDs all reiterating the point. view that refugees should be welcomed in Ireland and given the help they need.
Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath promised the government would act “…as I know the vast majority of Irish people want us to do”.
This widespread desire to help must be preserved. You can see it in plain sight in Baltimore this weekend – not just in the many Ukrainian flags around the village, but in the generosity of spirit with which the locals offered a safe haven to foreigners fleeing the war.