A county councilor has called for owners of holiday homes in Donegal to be approached to house Ukrainian refugees.
The government has asked the country’s local authorities to find accommodation for the more than 23,000 Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in the country.
Some are already staying in hotels and bed and breakfasts around the county and Donegal County Council is looking for large vacant buildings that could be used to house refugees.
Inishowen councilor Johnny McGuinness, who chairs the council’s strategic policy committee on housing, has called on the local authority to contact holiday home owners, many of whom reside in Northern Ireland, to use the properties for accommodate Ukrainian families.
“There are quite a few vacation homes in my own locality [Inishowen Municipal District] and all over the county, I imagine,” the Fine Gael councilor told a committee meeting.
“They are not currently eligible for the recourse program, but I wonder if this is an opportunity to contact these owners and see if they would be willing to offer some of these properties in the short term, to meet the needs of the some of the Ukrainians who come to our country, and a longer-term agreement, which can help them enter the recourse system, at a later date, when some of the eligible people have had their needs met.
The meeting was informed that the local authority is organizing a community response forum made up of local agencies to develop a response to the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in Donegal.
The council is also helping International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) find accommodation for Ukrainian refugees in Donegal.
IPAS falls under the Department for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Young People and is responsible for the provision of accommodation and related services to people in the asylum process.
Patricia McIntyre from the council’s housing department told committee members at last Thursday’s meeting that the council was assisting IPAS with accommodation for expected refugees.
“We make contact, try to find accommodation, through guesthouses, hostels and bed and breakfasts. We then pass these details on to IPAS, who conclude the agreements directly with the service providers.
“There is a national accommodation manager forum group representing all local authorities and Donegal County Council is involved in this group. We have had two meetings so far.
She said the council was looking for “ready to go” accommodation.
“We are also looking at large vacant buildings. Our staff has been involved in identifying properties, mostly private, throughout the county. We have been in contact with the owners to see what condition the properties are in and if they could be restored to production condition over a period.
“I understand, nationally, that these are being tracked by the Red Cross, in terms of further contact with owners to see if the buildings are in a suitable condition in the future. There is a lot of communication and cooperation between departments.
The council makes individual pledges of accommodation to the Red Cross, she added.
The council’s housing director, Patsy Lafferty, said the local authorities’ response to the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in Ireland was “in the early stages of development”.
“Due to the nature of the humanitarian response required and the fact that it came into play quite quickly, I think the country in general, and all the agencies involved, probably found it difficult to mount a coordinated response. .
“There has been a huge amount of good work done between agencies to help us, including ourselves, the local authorities.
“IPAS would be responsible for obtaining the necessary accommodation, but we have tried to help in this regard.”
Cllr Gerry McMonagle (Sinn Féin) said it was right to offer Ukrainian refugees “the hand of friendship”.
“We have listened to government spokespersons and we know that many Ukrainian refugees are coming to Ireland.
“We know from our discussions here at CPS the housing crisis we have in the county, so how are we going to play our part in supporting these refugees when they come here?
“They’re coming out of a war and it looks like it’s getting worse. I don’t know how we can do that given the housing crisis that we have to manage on our own and then this added burden.