Ireland

Martin says he was not blindsided by Ukrainian refugees plan

Tanaiste Micheal Martin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan (Liam McBurney/PA)
Tanaiste Micheal Martin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan (Liam McBurney/PA) Tanaiste Micheal Martin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan (Liam McBurney/PA)

Government figures have claimed that reports of a row in Cabinet are “exaggerated” but admitted that Ireland’s system to house Ukrainian refugees needed to change.

The three coalition leaders have said that Ireland’s offering to people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine would need reassessment as tens of thousands more arrivals are expected next year.

At Cabinet this week, a proposal was discussed that would place a three-month limit on the period the state would be obliged to provide accommodation for Ukrainian refugees.

The Government is looking at moving from current open-ended arrangements amid concerns the state will have no accommodation left for the 30-50,000 Ukrainian arrivals expected next year.

The proposal would mean that after three months, Ukrainian refugees would have to find a place to live in the private sector.

Groups representing migrants have expressed concern about the plan, saying it is not feasible to withdraw all state accommodation supports without a follow-up plan.

Ministers Eamon Ryan and Simon Harris stressed the need to wait for the proposal to be brought to Cabinet.

In response to a question about whether he was blindsided on Tuesday by the proposal, Tanaiste Micheal Martin said that discussions had been held at Cabinet previously and informally between ministers.

“No, in fairness, there’s been ongoing discussion about this, before the Cabinet meeting, and there will be further discussions about this,” Mr Martin said.

“I mean, issues get discussed and teased out at Cabinet, and at Cabinet subcommittee level, and informally between ministers.

“So I think it’s a bit exaggerated to say there was a row.

“I think the real story is that Ireland has responded very generously, fairly effectively, in respect of the war on Ukraine. This is the first war since the Second World War on the continent of Europe, we must not lose sight of that.

“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin has weaponised migration deliberately, he bombed civilian infrastructure, energy infrastructure, to create panic early in the war and also to kill civilians, and then to create a migration crisis, the largest we have ever experienced on the mainland of Europe.

“Ireland has played its part admirably. We shouldn’t lose sight of that. And obviously, as the war goes on, we have to calibrate our response, reflect on it, that’s all very fair.

“I’m always conscious, fundamentally, we can’t let Putin win this war either. His inhumanity and the Russian invasion, I think, is the ultimate creator of all of this. And we’ve just got to be firm, deal with issues that arise, and we will.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rejected the claim that he blindsided Mr Martin during the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

“In fairness, I think the Tanaiste said that’s not the case. This is a row that is being exaggerated,” he said.

“Minister (for Integration Roderic) O’Gorman has had proposals for quite some time and they’ve been discussed at leaders’ level, and discussed at Cabinet sub-committee level as well.

“He asked for permission to raise something at the meeting, which I gave him, and that’s not an unusual thing at all. But it was never a case that a decision was going to be made absent of a memo (on the proposals).”

Green Party leader Mr Ryan declined to be drawn on the detail of what is planned, but did acknowledge there was a need for a change.

“It’s not agreed by Cabinet yet, and it has been discussed at length almost over the last year at the officials level, but it does have to be brought to Cabinet, it has to be discussed in Cabinet.

“In Government, I think when you work collectively, when you agree to Cabinet confidentiality, and you do your business in that way, I think it makes for better decision-making, better outcomes.

“So I’ll await my Cabinet colleagues’ conclusion on this.

“We do have to act. We do have to change the mechanisms. Every other country in Europe has done that, we shouldn’t leave ourselves out because then we would just see ever-increasing numbers coming into the country and we wouldn’t be able to manage.

“I’m convinced we will be able to manage but the exact mechanisms will have to be decided by Cabinet first.”

Minister for Higher and Further Education Mr Harris said formal proposals were needed to ensure the system implemented is “sustainable”.

Student accommodation financing initiative
Student accommodation financing initiative Simon Harris (centre) said the status quo cannot continue (Grainne Ni Aodha/PA)

“I think what is also absolutely clear, and you always have to be honest with this, the status quo can’t continue,” he told reporters in Dublin.

“We have to be supportive of Ukraine, but we also have to look at the entire package that we can provide to make sure it is sustainable, because we want to be able to continue to support. So it is done from a place of good, as many European countries are doing.

“In relation to Cabinet, it goes without saying, Cabinet meetings are private, but I think what Minister O’Gorman was doing, quite rightly, was highlighting to colleagues a real issue that we need to grapple with.

“And I think the responsible thing for all of us to do as a Government now is to await formal proposals. And I do think it makes sense when we’re looking at formal proposals for that to consider all aspects.”