Photo credit: UNDP Ukraine (CC BY-ND 2.0

“Compulsion may be required”: emails from 2022 reveal state crisis over exponentially increasing numbers of refugees

Newly released emails show that the state’s preparations for the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in 2022 warned of “grim predictions” and that “the numbers of incoming refugees is almost overwhelming” with a “serious risk of not being able to find somewhere for everyone”.

The internal correspondence indicates that the state officials with primary responsibility realised quite early on in the crisis that resources were beyond capacity. This is something that has only been officially acknowledged in recent weeks. Yet, there appears to have been little practical response to that other than various, and some odd, proposals to invent new capacity.

Among the proposals, one of which was lobbied for on behalf of a third party by Dublin-based PR company, Paul Allen and Associates, as well as MI Hospitality, was to dock cruise ships at Cork, Cobh, Dún Laoghaire, Dublin Port – as well as taking over the fishery harbour at Killybegs.

Following months of consideration, with one company offering three ships with a capacity to house 800 refugees each, the cruise ship option appears to have been abandoned as “not to be appropriate.”

At an early stage, as an email of March 30, 2022 from Yvonne White of the Department of Transport, noted, it was decided that “no idea is off the table.”

This included the urgent need to build modular homes, and the fast tracking of the ports and CIE lands which was being considered by the Office of Public Works. The Coast guard warehouse at Ballycoolin between Finglas and Blanchardstown was also under consideration. So too were Croke Park, the Aviva stadium, churches, and even “school gyms.”

An internal DCEDIY email of November 4, 2022, stated that a specification and provider had been agreed for the building of modular homes. Sites for the homes had also been identified. This was specifically in relation to “the accommodation of UKR refugees.” However, the next paragraph might be interpreted as a reference to the tendering for similar accommodation for non-Ukrainian “international protection applicants (asylum seekers)”.

In a “brainstorming” email of March 23 from White to Ken Spratt of DECDIY, among the proposals that she lists are giving some of the “billions” that it would cost the Irish state, to frontline states such as Poland and Moldova to accommodate refugees there, and that Ukrainians be helped to rebuild their homes should they ever decide to return to them.

She wrote: “Accommodation is short‐term so we may need to focus on speed rather than perfection, including building standards, and planning permission etc.. State should be looking at buildings where people were accommodated or where there is a roof, space and plumbing ‐seminaries, boarding schools, Gormanstown, school gyms, conference centre, croke park, aviva, curragh camp and army housing, churches,. (Money spent on housing refugees counts towards foreign aid targets).”

Among the more radical ideas floated were that the state might consider building two new cities to accommodate “not just Ukrainians.” It was also felt that “compulsion may be required,” specifically in relation to “gathering holiday homes.”

That would mean taking people’s holiday homes from them, I presume.

“Longer term should we be building two new cities ‐15 minute ones ‐not just for Ukrainians. Could also bring developers on Board to build fast housing,” the emails spelled out.

Ironically, although perhaps fittingly given the prominence of the small Green Party in the current administration, there was reference made to how the whole thing might impact on “our targets” on electric vehicles, biofuels, carbon taxes etc.

Oh, and almost as an after thought, it was noted: “have we brought our current citizens on board with scale of what they are about to face?”

Part of which, it seems to be implied, is the future impact of “40k Ukrainian voters.”

White’s email was a response to a circular from Spratt earlier on March 23, whose subject line read “grim predictions.” This was a comment on the fact that “the numbers of incoming refugees is almost overwhelming” and that as a consequence they were “at serious risk of not being able to find somewhere for everyone.”

Of course, the Ukrainian crisis was unforeseen and in fairness it has been managed reasonably well all things considered, although the claim that unlike other EU countries that Ireland is somehow legally obliged to take in unlimited numbers is very much open to question, as Gript and others have pointed out with reference to the relevant EU Directive.

What has greatly exacerbated the crisis and led to escalating daily protests at this stage, are the huge and continuing numbers of people claiming to be refugees not from Ukraine but from what – at the risk of boring the heads off you all, again – are safe countries.  That is the elephant in the corner and it was being talked about long before it became the national issue it is now.

On July 1, 2022 International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) centre managers were sent an email from Paul Fay, IPAS Principal Officer, which referred to the “severe pressures in accommodation” brought about by “exponentially increasing numbers of arrivals.” This had led to a situation in which “we are now at a point where demand is far outpacing availability and all ‘overflow’ options are fully utilised.”

Good Afternoon Centre Managers, I have been recently appointed as the Principal Officer in IPAS and am looking forward to visiting your centres and meeting you in person in the coming months. You will be aware that IPAS is currently experience severe pressures in accommodation, with exponentially increasing numbers of arrivals over the last number of months. While our colleagues on the procurement side are doing all they can to secure additional accommodation we are now at a point where demand is far outpacing availability and all ‘overflow’ options are fully utilised.

 (Email from Paul Fay to IPAS centre managers, July 1, 2022)

Which begs one obvious question: Why did those in political leadership within the lead Department, that of Minister Roderic O’Gorman, not take measures to address that exponential increase, which as we have seen has been greatly added to by what are economic migrants from countries that have nothing to do with Ukraine; people who arrive here in their thousands having destroyed their documents, and thousands from countries in which despite all the relentless propaganda from the political and media establishment are NOT from countries in which there are wars or persecution?

And failing any political leadership in that Department, were there not others in Government who might have realised where all of this was and is leading to?

Presumably, there is nobody in Cabinet considering the building of two new cities, or doing calculations on the back of an envelope as to how the Ukrainian vote might impact on their chances of retaining seats.

What they have not only considered, but seemingly doubled down on is the placing of unknown and thus far potentially unlimited future numbers of people arriving here – mostly from other European airports and ferry terminals and over the border with the north –  with little or no consideration for the communities in which the unsuitable accommodation is situated, or targeted to be placed.

The emails from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) were released on appeal and published by The Story, where Ken Foxe made a brief comment on same pointing to fears of “opportunism” on the part of people seeking to gain from the crisis – which, it is alleged, also took place during the great covid panic that preceded the present crisis.

There is no shortage of accommodation options, the difficulties are in terms of the willingness to release, and the opportunism of some who will look to benefit from a crisis as we have seen in previous crises, and the need for leadership and co‐ordination.

(email from Department of Transport, March 23, 2022)

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