‘We shouldn’t allow any one vulnerable group skip another vulnerable group’

The question of providing accommodation for Ukrainian refugees coming into Ireland came up at a meeting of Meath County Council when an independent councillor suggested that “one vulnerable group of homeless people should not be able to skip another vulnerable group” when it came to the allocation of houses.

Cllr Alan Lawes tabled a motion, supported by Sinn Fein Cllr Michael Gallagher, calling on the council to make an equal effort to help all vulnerable homeless people whether they be from Ukraine, Ireland or anywhere else.

Officials replied that refugees from Ukraine came to Ireland under the EU Temporary Protection Directive and, as such, did not avail of Meath County Council’s housing services.

Responsibility for sourcing accommodation for the refugees lay with the International Protection Accommodation Service which is under the remit of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability and Youth.

“The council has been providing assistance to that organisation in the sourcing of accommodation in the county on a temporary basis through the council’s Emergency Rest Centre at Mullaghboy, Navan”.

Cllr Lawes said that the Government had been coming out and saying that it would give emergency powers to councils around the country to purchase properties for Ukrainians, that Portakabins would be looked on, and taking back ‘voids’ (vacant council properties).

“These are all things that many homelessness activists have been asking to happen for years and years and while all of us in this room and beyond in the county of Meath welcome people from Ukraine, what I mean by treating everybody with equality is, when it comes to purchasing houses, we purchase houses for all vulnerable people and the most appropriate should be given the houses first. We shouldn’t allow any one vulnerable group skip another vulnerable group”.

He said that councillors had earlier heard a presentation from the Cultúr group and this group was now dealing with people who were in direct provision and who had come from war-torn areas who were quite as entitled to be treated as well as people coming from Ukraine and now we have a government treating them people differently. “It is causing resentment on the streets.

“We have people putting up posts on social media calling for our own people to be helped first. I would never agree with anything like that. I will help all vulnerable people,

“I don’t care where they come from, what country they come from but I think what we have to be careful of as a country and as a council is that we don’t actually cause discrimination against Ukrainian people by treating them differently, that we don’t cause and plant the seeds of racism where there is none.

“When you start treating one group better and you leave other groups behind, whether it be in direct provision, from different war zones or whether it be homeless people regardless of which country they come from. I think we are living on dangerous ground”.

He would like the council to take on board that everybody should be treated the same.

“We don’t want to treat any vulnerable group different to any other.”

He quoted a member of the Cultúr group as saying that some Ukrainian people had come to Ireland before the war and not allowed to move forward with their status and people who came after the war and having everything given to them.

“It’s causing resentment. It’s causing, and I think planting, the seeds of racism. We need to be very careful on how we treat all groups”.

Independent Cllr Gillian Toole said that up to 30th April 248 Ukrainian refugees had been accommodated at Mullaghboy on a temporary basis and all had been relocated to other accommodation facilities within the county.

It was about achieving fairness and balance and equality to any person regardless of ethnicity or originating country, and that the hand of friendship be extended to all people.

In terms of the relocation to other facilities, she wanted to know the format for that. She had no doubt that the council homelessness team took that on board but it just had to be “front and centre”.

Council official Barry Lynch said that the Minister had clarified some remarks on the question of “voids”. He had said that voids were for social housing purposes, not for refugees.

There were three particular streams where people coming into this country were being looked after – one as direct provision for asylum seekers, then there was also the group that had been given full refugee status and they had the same right to housing support as any Irish citizen, and Ukrainian refugees came in under a temporary protection order.