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Taoiseach says Republic of Ireland will be ‘stretched' on Ukrainian refugee accommodation

Taoiseach Micheal Martin. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire
Cate McCurry and Dominic McGrath, PA

The Republic of Ireland’s housing of Ukrainian refugees will leave the country “stretched”, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheál Martin, speaking in Helsinki, admitted the Republic of Ireland will face challenges housing the refugees set to arrive into the country.

Around 20,000 Ukrainian refugees have reached the Republic already after fleeing Russia’s invasion of their home country.

It comes as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar played down suggestions Ireland may expel the Russian ambassador after two Irish diplomats were asked to leave the Irish embassy in Moscow.

The move came two weeks after four senior Russian officials were asked to leave Ireland because their activities had not been “in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour”.

Mr Martin, who is visiting Finland and Estonia, said he had a “very good” meeting with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto.

“We had a very broad discussion in terms of the international situation, particularly the war in Ukraine and the degree to which the multilateral order has been turned upside down, the sheer barbaric nature of attacks on Ukrainian civilians and the implications for the security architecture of Europe well into the future and the capacity of open economies to continue to do what we do best,” Mr Martin said.

“All of that is under threat by the Russian attack so we had a very interesting discussion around those issues and how all has changed in terms of this Russia attack and these implications for the future.”

Asked how close Ireland is to running out of accommodation for refugees, Mr Martin said: “What is remarkable is that over 20,000 refugees have come into Ireland from Ukraine. We have never experienced such a rapid inflow of refugees fleeing war before.

“On the accommodation front, it is stretched but then there are lots of new initiatives coming on stream. It will be difficult in the coming weeks, of that there is no doubt.

“We are bringing more staff in, particularly on the pledging side, to get through that list faster and to release homes faster for refugees coming into the country.”

He indicated the Government is looking at options “through local authorities, through vacant properties and the reconfiguration of properties”.

And he said housing minister Darragh O’Brien is working to “fast-track decisions to get facilities on stream more quickly”.

He said: “We will fulfil our obligations as best we can in relation to that and we are in close solidarity with Ukraine.

“There is no doubt that there is a strategic approach behind the Russian bombardment of cities and towns and the intimidation and desire to create migration as a leverage.

“We have got to resist that and we are all part of a community within Europe and we have stand up against that type of naked aggression. It will be challenging for us.

“This war will have impacts on us all and our challenge is to put humanity first and do everything we can to protect the lives.

“We have strengths and resources as a country and they will be stretched.”

Speaking in the Dublin suburb of Inchicore, Mr Varadkar said a response from Moscow to the decision to expel Russian diplomats was anticipated.

While he rejected calls for an immediate ejection from Ireland of Yury Filatov, he said expelling the Russian representative had not been ruled out.

“I suppose the reason why we don’t want to expel the Russian ambassador at this stage is that if we get to that point where we’re expelling ambassadors, we could see an end to diplomatic relations between the two countries. That’s very hard to put back on again. We do have citizens of Russia that we want to look out for.

“And also, ultimately, there will be peace talks. There will be a ceasefire. There will be some sort of foreign peace agreement. And I don’t think it would make sense for us to cut off diplomatic relations in that context.”

He said he would rather “get to the point where we have a ceasefire and where we can start to talk about de-escalation of this conflict and coming to a solution”.

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