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Council struggle with refugee commitments

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SITUATION REMAINS 'VERY FLUID' Tom Gilligan, Mayo County Council.

Edwin McGreal

Mayo County Council may struggle to hit their projected target of being able to accommodate 5,000 Ukrainian refugees.
That’s according to Mayo County Council Director of Services Tom Gilligan, who is in charge of the council’s Housing department and their Ukrainian response.
Official figures as of July 11 state that there are 1,224 Ukrainian refugees in the county but the true figure is likely to be slightly higher.
“We’ve been straight and upfront about this from the outset. The Government were initially talking about a figure of 200,000 refugees. On a pro-rata basis that would mean 5,000 for Mayo. Currently there is no cap on the number of people who can come in,” Mr Gilligan told The Mayo News yesterday.
“Providing for 5,000 is a very hard target but a lot depends. We’re relying on people’s generosity in providing homes, other hotel accommodation and pledges of properties. In autumn and winter more accommodation should be available,” he added.
The height of the summer season and demands on hotel beds with bookings made months back have presented challenges, Mr Gilligan says. Refugees have been housed in hotels such as Breaffy Woods in Breaffy House Resort, the McWilliam in Claremorris and the Great National in Ballina.
“Then you would have weddings and various weekends. Ballina was very busy with the salmon festival so refugees that were there had to go somewhere else temporarily. It got very acute in Dublin,” said Mr Gilligan.
“In March, April and May we were sourcing accommodation and a lot were coming in hotels and B&Bs. This is much more difficult in the summer months with the busy tourist season and with bookings made in advance so this stream of accommodation is not as plentiful,” he added.
They are still looking for accommodation while he added they have ‘mobilised’ once more the Quay Community Centre in Westport as a ‘rest centre’.
He said the situation remains ‘very fluid’ with circumstances changing continually.
“Up to today (Monday) we had 162 vacant pledge proposals, including after a call out for pledges we made. Of those 99, or 61 percent, did not materialise. Of those, 82 were withdrawn, because personal circumstances had changed. The other 17 we could not get in contact with.
“So that left us with 63, 39 percent. Ten of those are currently not available. They’re in use at the minute but the owners hope to make available in the coming weeks. Twelve properties need work done or insurance sorted. Twenty-one are ready for use and we’re in the process of getting people into while 20 are in use,” he explained.

Stepping up
He expressed his gratitude to those who have provided accommodation.
“We cannot thank the accommodation providers enough, hotels, B&Bs and homeowners. They’ve been very helpful and accommodating.
“Every part of the county has stepped up. Bonniconlon, Newport, Westport, Achill, Louisburgh, Swinford and Foxford to name but a few.
“There is no doubt that it is a challenge but at the same time it is so important to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Through no fault of their own they’ve found themselves in this terrible situation. From a humanitarian point of view and a duty of care we’ve to do the best we can.”
Accommodation has been a challenge nationally in recent days with some refugees being houses in tents in Gormanston. By July 10 a total of 43,256 Ukrainian refugees had arrived in Ireland.
Mr Gilligan also confirmed that following discussions with the Department of Children, accommodation costs for children and adults who were flown into Dublin Airport in May by the Candle of Grace charity and subsequently housed in Mayo will be covered by the State.
He also issued an appeal for assistance with the provision of camp beds (new or nearly new) and bed linen (new) for Ukrainian refugees. Anyone who can assist is asked to email ukraineresponse@mayococo.ie.

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