Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Editorial: Government response to Ukrainian refugees is admirable but why wait for another crisis to act?

You have to admire the speed with which our governments can sometimes move…well, if not admire, then certainly take note of it. Faced with Ireland having to fulfil its EU responsibility in accepting refugees from Ukraine, and wanting to for humanitarian reasons anyway, our present Government seems to be moving mountains in a bid to house our European neighbours.

And this, of course, is a good thing. The number of refugees – people like us who have no choice but to leave their own country because of a war their country did not start nor want – that will settle here is unknown, but the figure seems to increase every week.

We are told that more than 2.3m people have fled Ukraine and that as many as 20,000 have either already arrived in Ireland or will soon do so. It could rise to 80,000, apparently. 54% of these refugees are women. An Taoiseach Micheál Martin has stated the obvious in noting that the availability of accommodation for them here will be ‘stretched’ and there will be ‘difficult’ weeks ahead.

“We have never experienced such a rapid inflow of refugees fleeing war before and I want to pay tribute to the public device in terms of responding at a number of different levels,” he said. “On the accommodation front, it is stretched, but there are lots of new initiatives coming on stream. We are bringing more staffing, particularly on the pledging side, to get through that list faster and to release homes faster for refugees coming into the country.”

Where, then, was the urgency to create accommodation before Covid-19 and before the Ukrainian war?

The homes An Taoiseach is referring to, we understand, are largely those which have been pledged by members of the Irish public. Offers of accommodation have been made not simply in terms of pledging holiday homes or unoccupied private homes, but would include offers of accommodation on a shared basis with families living here.

Such urgency. We also saw government moving at break-neck speed when the Covid-19 pandemic began, and the need to get the homeless off our streets and into some kind of secure accommodation was clear. So, it is clear that in terms of accommodation, when government decides to do something quickly, it can do so.

Where, then, was the urgency to create accommodation before Covid-19 and before the Ukrainian war? For years now, Ireland’s accommodation crisis has been growing; today it is simply a monumental problem requiring monumental solutions, and we haven’t seem much of those.

What of the surge in rents nationwide over the past four years? How quickly did government act then? Setting rent caps in a handful of cities is a pitiful response to such a serious and growing problem.

Government will speak of its initiatives to enable local authorities to partner with housing associations, leading to the building of more social and/or affordable homes, but the deficit in Ireland’s housing stock and the labour shortage so obvious that no substantial inroads can be observed. The more houses are built, the more need to be built.

And still Government is slow to respond to the presence in the market of vulture funds which sweep in, purchase entire apartment/house schemes and rent them out with huge profits assured, leaving Irish people with nothing to buy, even if they could afford the huge price tags.

Now comes the Ukrainian refugee crisis – another day, another crisis, another pressure point on our accommodation supply chain.

Ireland and its governments are good at many things, but planning isn’t one of them. Disastrous decisions, made during the 2008-2011 financial banking crisis and financial meltdown, are now coming home to roost. Government’s failure to ensure Ireland’s housing stock was being added through the 2010-2020 period is leaving thousands of people in a perilous situation: nowhere to live, nothing to buy and no mortgages affordable to buy homes with, even if they were available.

It is good to see government respond positively to Europe’s refugee needs, it is the right thing to do and nobody could argue otherwise; but it’s such a pity that we didn’t, literally, ‘get our own house in order’ before this nightmare landed on our doorstep (if we’re lucky enough to own one).

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