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Varadkar: 'No limit on the compassion of the Irish people ... there is a limit to our capacity'

REPORTS OF A coalition row on the issue of accommodation for Ukrainian refugees are “very much exaggerated”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil this afternoon. 

An overhaul of the Ukraine refugee response is currently being worked on by Government, with significant changes due to be made in areas like accommodation, social protection and education. 

As reported by TheJournal last night, there were heated exchanges between ministers at cabinet yesterday when Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman, who is heading up the government response on the issue, raised Ukrainian refugee support reforms – particularly the idea of limiting time in State accommodation to three months.

While there have been reports of a split in cabinet, this has been denied by a number of senior political sources with one stating: “It’s not a disagreement, it’s about looking at all angles such as social protection, education, alternative housing – so it’s a whole re-packaging of supports.”

“It was a discussion. We all agreed more work needed to be done,” the source said.

Another source said they weren’t sure if the three month limit would ultimately be agreed – but added that a package of reforms in the area was needed.

The Taoiseach said today that he had been proud of Ireland’s response to the refugee crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but gave a clear indication that the Government’s current policy would change. 

He said the overall intention was to bring Ireland’s offering more in line with other European countries.

“While there is no limit on the compassion of the Irish Government and the Irish people, there is a limit on our capacity and we are very much at that,” Varadkar said. 

Ireland has welcomed almost 100,000 Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war in February of last year. 

“I’m very proud of that as a country,” he said.

“We’ve done that in the past two years, and notwithstanding the difficulties that has caused and the enormous challenges and cost, I think when we look back on this period of history, being a small country that took in 100,000 Ukrainians is something that we should be proud of and will be proud of.”

He said “we just don’t know” if we are in a position to support the additional 30,000 to 50,000 refugees that are projected to arrive in Ireland from Ukraine over the next year.

Secondary movements

“There are now a lot of secondary movements, Ukrainians who have been living for months in other parts of Western Europe, relocating to Ireland,” Varadkar said. 

“It’s a long-standing issue in international protection, people who have been living safely in other parts of Western Europe for a period of time, then coming to Ireland and claiming asylum.

“And some of that is linked to the fact that we have a better offering in Ireland than will be the case in Northern Ireland or Britain or France or other countries that are not too far from us. And that’s why we have to review the situation. And we’re doing that at the moment,” the Taoiseach said.

The Taoiseach added however that in coming to the new approach, recognition will be given to the housing shortage and cost of living in Ireland.

“We have to adjust for the fact that the cost of living is higher in Ireland, that we have a very serious housing shortage that we don’t want to make worse.”

The government, he said, would have to tailor its approach “for the very real situation that we face here at the moment in this country”.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin also spoke yesterday of what he described as a “phenomenon” which sees people from Ukraine arriving in Ireland having previously been based in other European countries.


Speaking to reporters at an event in Dublin this morning Joe O’Brien, the junior minister in the Department of Integration, said the government needed a more sustainable medium-term solution to the housing and welfare support system currently in place for Ukrainian refugees.

The Green Party TD said that in some ways the Department of Integration was a “victim of its own success” and had done “remarkably well” in securing accommodation for refugees over the summer.

According to O’Brien, the government is “reorienting our response to a more medium-term one that’s sustainable and fits the Temporary Protection Directive that we’ve committed to, and stay 100% committed to”.

The Temporary Protection Directive is an EU-wide mechanism that grants people fleeting Ukraine collective protection status. 

He insisted nothing solid had been decided on changes to government supports.

“There’s no memo gone to cabinet. There are discussions ongoing at the moment but it’s important now that we have frank and honest and open discussions about how we maintain our support for Ukraine into the medium-term.”

O’Brien said his discussions with O’Gorman had been centred on “getting out of this position where we’re very close to not having accommodation for people”.

tent2 An example of tented accommodation in Stradbally, Co Laois. Some of the tents at the site were damaged during Storm Agnes, and have since been repaired.

Speaking at a road safety event in the capital Jack Chambers, the junior minister in the Department of Transport, said the Irish response has always been a humanitarian one, but that it also needs to be a sustainable so it can be “managed into the medium-term as the war continues”.

The Department of Integration confirmed last month that tents would likely continue to be used over winter months due to a lack of alternative accommodation. 

- Reporting from Jane Matthews, Liam Coates, Christina Finn and Daragh Brophy