The Cathaoirleach of Donegal has called for a suspension of the number of Ukrainian refugees arriving into Donegal.
Cllr Liam Blaney today expressed concerns that the county is now ‘saturated’ with refugees, leading to unsafe accommodation in places and strains on services.
He raised concerns about overcrowding and unsafe accommodations for some refugees in the county and suggested that they would be better accommodated in other counties where few arrivals have been sent so far.
“To have more of a balance, and for the sake of the refugees themselves and to the local people I think we need to suspend the introduction of any more until analysis is carried out on the conditions they are living in.
“Do we know where they all are? Do we know the premises they are staying in?” Cllr Blaney asked the Letterkenny-Milford MD on Monday.
“This motion is especially about living conditions,” Cllr Blaney told members.
“In no way are we saying nobody is welcome here, it is about making them feel at home under the right circumstances.”
Cllr Blaney has asked for a full inspection and report to be carried out by the government on the conditions of accommodation for those currently here and analysis of services available to them including educational, health, social integration at community level.
He said Donegal already has a much larger percentage of Ukrainian refugees than other counties. He said he believes that when the distribution of refugees in Donegal is analysed, no area would be suitable for taking in any more people.
It’s believed that Donegal has the second highest percentage of Ukrainian arrivals per population after Dublin.
“I think every county should be asked to accommodate a certain amount,”Cllr Blaney said.
The matter was discussed at length during today’s meeting. Cllr Donal Coyle, who seconded the call for the suspension, said he had grave concerns in relation to numbers and to the welfare of many of the Ukrainian people already housed in Donegal.
“The situation in the Ukraine is absolutely horrendous for the people involved there,” Cllr Coyle said.
“It is a war zone. People are displaced. At the beginning of the war there was great empathy and sympathy and a very caring attitude towards the people who came into this country.”
Cllr Coyle said it was great to be able to provide accommodation services at that time. Since then, numbers have doubled.
Cllr Coyle said he was particularly concerned about private homes being provided to refugees and the system being exploited.
“Back at the beginning €400 was offered to take Ukrainian families. Since then we all know people have moved out of private houses themselves and moved Ukrainians into them.”
Cllr Coyle said he knew of no typical family home in Ireland housing 25-30 people and said overcrowding was “exploitation of the worst type.”
“I worry about the welfare of people in those houses, this part of this whole thing has a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths,” he said.
He said that local schools are at capacity, and that children arriving with poor English were putting a strain on classrooms.
Cllr Blaney also said he knew of post-primary school children being bussed to other counties due to Donegal schools being full.
“That is not good for young people at an age where they are very vulnerable,” Cllr Blaney said.
Cllr Gerry McMonagle said the situation was ‘getting out of hand’.
“We are coming at this for refugees’ personal health and wellbeing. It was right what we did welcoming these people and providing shelter but it’s the type of shelter we are offering.
“I have been in a number of homes that aren’t fit for purpose. There are multiple people in them and it has to be a fire hazard, it’s certainly a health risk.”
Cllr McMonagle said the government’s relaxation of planning laws for housing Ukrainian refugees has led to self-regulation, “and we all know where that leads to”.
“Profiteers seem to be running the show, taking the money and they don’t care,” Cllr McMonagle said.
“Nobody has been appointed to come and do an inspection,” he said.
“We need to ensure they (government) are given the resources to employ inspectors to ensure accommodations are up to standards expected.”
Cllr Michael McBride said the influx of refugees this year has increased Donegal’s population by around 3.5%. “That is a big job to absorb that amount of people. I have to tip my hat to the people in this county who worked above the call of duty to make this happen,” he said.
He praised the “unbelievable efforts” of support workers and service workers who are helping refugees, but added his concern about people being accommodated in local hotels.
“Come holiday season there won’t be a hotel left for people to stay in. People will be driving into this county and driving out,” Cllr McBride said.
Cllr McBride added that Mica families searching for properties should not be forgotten about.
Mayor of Letterkenny-Milford Cllr Donal Kelly said that the welfare of the Ukrainian people is the number one issue. He credited the solidarity shown by the Ukrainian community members who held a vigil for the Creeslough tragedy victims.
“They gathered out of their own good will and that shows to me what kind of people they are.”
“Personally I hate the word refugees. They are Ukrainian people,” Cllr Kelly added.
Director of Services, Liam Ward acknowledged that it is difficult to get an accurate number of Ukrainian people currently in Donegal, but estimated that the figure is more than 4,500 and probably closer to 5,000.
“It is evident from the education providers and from the health service executive that we are certainly struggling in terms of school places and access to GPs,” Mr Ward said.
Mr Ward confirmed that, following the passing of Cllr Blaney’s motion this evening, the council will write to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland Roderick O Gorman seeking the suspension of any further refugees to Donegal.
The council is also set to ask for an update on numbers in the county, as well as details on additional resources that have been provided to date to various support services such as education, health, and local development.