CALL With up to 1,000 additional Ukrainian refugees are expected to arrive in Mayo before the end of the year, Mayo County Council Director of Services Tom Gilligan is asking people with holiday homes to make their premises available.
Between 500 and 1,000 additional Ukrainian refugees are expected to arrive in Mayo before the end of the year. To help accommodate them, people with holiday homes are being asked to make their premises available.
A new Government scheme that would pay homeowners €800 a month to allow their empty properties to be used as emergency accommodation is expected to be launched on November 21.
Mayo County Council’s Director of Services, Tom Gilligan, told The Mayo News that the need for properties for house refugees is acute.
“At the moment we have approximately 2,300 Ukrainian refugees and we could expect anything from an additional 500 to 1,000 before the end of the year,” Mr Gilligan said.
“There is still a lot of refugees coming into the country, and we are still looking to provide that duty of care and humanitarian response. It is very fluid at the moment, but we are trying to comply with government policy in relation to this.
“There will be a new callout for vacant homes and unoccupied properties starting on November 21. The amount offered has been increased to €800 a month tax free, and we are already getting enquiries at the moment. I was talking to one of my team and she is already getting enquiries from people offering and pledging their property, particularly holiday homes.
“We have over 9,000 vacant homes in the county… we are hopeful we will get additional property as well, and we are constantly looking at other properties. The war in Ukraine is hitting a tough time, going into winter and with the electricity being cut off. It is a very difficult time for them,” he said.
Mr Gilligan confirmed that the arrival of 35 new refugees to stay in Ballinafad House near Belcarra is ‘imminent’, subject to a first safety-risk assessment. Additional refugees are expected in the future, once more remedial work is completed on the Georgian mansion.
‘Good will and support’
Ballinafad House is approximately 15km from Castlebar with no regular public transport services in the area. Mr Gilligan said that transport will be provided for the new arrivals, and that Mayo County Council and the owner are determined to make the situation work for them.
“We are having those conversations in assuring transportation is available and the support services are there. In fairness to the community of Belcarra, they have been very supportive of this. We have a huge amount of support and goodwill in relation to this and we are looking forward to welcoming refugees there. It is a fine location and we know we can make it work,” he said.
Concerns have been growing in a number of communities around Ireland regarding the arrival of additional Ukrainian refugees and whether local services will be able to cater for them. A public meeting has been called to discuss the refugee situation in Breaffy, and Mr Gilligan said he was well aware of the concerns among some of the public.
“My email and phone number is out there, and anyone can contact me and I am happy to talk to people. But the reality is sometimes the situation moves so quickly and things happen so fast that events can overtake us.
“I am very conscious of services being under pressure, but we have to provide that humanitarian response and duty of care to unfortunate people who through no fault of their own find themselves in this situation.
“The problem is nobody knows how long this war will last, and it is very unfortunate at this stage. We are coming into the winter and a bleak time weather wise and we don’t want to see people end up in tents in the middle of fields. It is very important at this stage that we do help and support them as best we can.
“We have the Ukrainian Response Forum, and it meets every fortnight. Apart from the council we have Local Link, Leader companies, An Garda Síochána, the HSE, the education sector and Tusla. We have a broad church of people on that committee, and we are all talking together and working towards the same thing, ensuring as best we can that services are available and provided.”
Lack of information
Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne said that local people have the right to raise issues affecting their communities without being branded as racist.
“The Government and our TDs in Mayo appear to have forgotten to tell us [councillors] what is happening and we are being asked questions, which we haven’t a clue on. More importantly that have forgotten to tell people in places like Breaffy and people have a lot of questions and they are entitled to know. Are we promising things that we cannot deliver?” he said.
“People have a right to raise questions without being labeled racists. They are raising questions because of the lack of information from the Government and they are not being treated great by the local representatives. We as councillors have raised many questions without getting many answers,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Mayo Branch of United Against Racism has said that the problem is not refugees but the Government’s handling of the crisis.
In a statement, the branch welcomed the response that refugees have received so far: “We take heart from the humane and generous response of the majority of local people to the plight of these refugees and asylum seekers and we want to acknowledge the legitimate concerns that many local people have with respect to the chaotic handling of the situation by the Irish government, which is creating a lot of unnecessary hardship and suffering for these victims of war, persecution, economic and climate crisis.”
The branch added that it ‘wholeheartedly welcomes all the refugees and asylum seekers who are seeking shelter in our towns and villages’ but added that it is ‘disturbing’ that ‘a tiny number of far right troublemakers have recently tried to manipulate the concerns of members of the local community to stoke up fear and suspicion towards these vulnerable people, many of whom have been traumatised by war and persecution and have made a perilous journey through fortress Europe to get here’.
“Refugees and asylum seekers don’t deserve to be put under suspicion or threat, they are human beings with hopes and dreams who want to build a life for themselves in our communities having had their own lives turned upside down.
“Our analysis of the rapidly deteriorating situation across the country indicates that the problems accommodating refugees and asylum seekers are directly linked to the housing crisis which has been created and worsened by government policy of promoting the private market as a solution to the social need for housing for all,” the Mayo branch of the all-Ireland organisation added, while also expressing concerns about the operation of the Direct Provision system over the years.