Minister for Housing, Roderic O'Gorman

Government: We’ve found 500 houses we can give to Ukrainian refugees

I am starting to wonder if the entire Irish establishment has gone mad.

200,000 refugees? For whom there are suddenly 500 homes? Are they trying to write an advertisement for the so-called far right?

Because here’s a secret: You’re not a racist – or in any way anti-Ukrainian – if this both mystifies and infuriates you:

LOCAL AUTHORITIES HAVE identified approximately 500 properties that could be repurposed to house Ukrainian refugees, the Minister for Integration has said

Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman and Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys were speaking following a Cabinet meeting held this morning to discuss Ireland’s response to the growing refugee crisis as a result of the war in Ukraine.

Ireland has had a much-ballyhooed “housing crisis” now for several years. And yet, suddenly, when the need arises to provide spaces to people fleeing Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Irish Government can find – in a matter of weeks – 500 properties than can be repurposed to house people?


Now, to be fair, perhaps it is not quite as simple as all that: No doubt, there are complications with housing an Irish person that don’t necessarily arise with a Ukrainian person. It’s not as easy to move somebody from the housing list in Shankill, Dublin, to a re-purposed property in Ballina, Mayo, as it is to just direct a Ukrainian family there. There’s an extent to which Irish people will be more particular about their housing needs than somebody whose house has just been blown to smithereens by a Russian shell.

Saying all that, though, the excuse still doesn’t fly.

For one thing, it’s a matter of effort: These homes – or potential homes – are not new. They were not erected yesterday. They have all been vacant for some time. They were available to the Government, and yet, nobody thought to use them before now. And, while it is true that some people would not move from, say, Dublin to Mayo for a home, it is certainly true that some people would.

Self evidently, the “house the Irish first” people on social media will have a field day with this. “See?” they’ll say, “The government will move heaven and earth to house foreigners, but they won’t lift a finger for our own”.

If you wanted to write an advertisement, or a recruitment campaign, for the so-called “far right”, then you couldn’t do much better than this.

And that fact speaks to a fundamental societal problem: Most people – normal, decent, people – have no issue at all with refugees, or migrants, in so far as we can help them. The problems always arise, ultimately, when a perception develops that refugees or migrant families are being treated better, and are a higher priority, than people who have lived here and paid taxes all of their lives.

In this case, it is undeniable that the Government, faced with a problem, is moving heaven and earth to solve it and provide people with housing. But it is also self-evident – or at least, looks self-evident – that they did not do this when the people without homes were Irish.

The Government, no doubt, will point to the fact that many of these homes, slash potential homes, were actually uncovered by the new teams assigned to each council area to find such properties last year. In other words, they will say, “these houses were actually intended as part of our housing crisis solution, but now there is a more urgent need”.

Again, this won’t fly. Being, as it is, an admission that the needs of Ukrainian refugees are more urgent than the needs of an Irish family that has nowhere to live.

The problem of course is that this simply is not how our leaders, or much of our establishment, thinks. To them, saying that we should prioritise Irish needs over Ukrainian needs would be almost horrifying – a truly gauche display of parochialism, bigotry, and selfishness. When they get up on that moral high horse, as they are now, there is no talking to them. “Fulfilling our international obligations” simply matters much more than housing that pain in the arse single mother from Athlone. There’s much more glory in it. Much more praise to be found both in the domestic media, and on the international stage. If you object, you are a fundamentally selfish person.

The other phenomenon is that these people simply do not want to consider the political and social consequences. What happens at the next election when politicians knock on doors and are confronted with families whose children have nowhere to live, but see three Ukrainian families in council housing just up the road? Are those people mean and cruel for resenting the politicians, and voting accordingly? It hardly matters. Their votes count the same as that of Roderic O’Gorman.

And – whatever our imagined betters might think – they have every right to be steaming with rage over this.



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