Gráinne Ní Aodha and CIllian Sherlock, PA
Minister for Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman has said he has Cabinet support to meet the accommodation demands of international protection applicants, but added the “Government collectively needs to do more”.
Speaking to reporters in Dublin, Mr O’Gorman said his department hopes to make an additional 350 beds available for international protection applicants within the week across a number of centres around the country.
He said: “This will allow us to offer accommodation to a significant number of international protection applicants, including some who are currently rough sleeping.
“However, we’re still under significant pressure and we as a department will still need to continue to procure additional accommodation in the weeks ahead.”
It comes after a protest was held outside the Magowna House hotel in Co Clare in response to more than 30 asylum seekers arriving by bus on Monday.
Mr O’Gorman said he and his Green Party colleague, Minister of State Joe O’Brien, had a “good conversation” with TDs and senators from Clare on Wednesday to discuss the concerns around the use of the site in Inch.
Mr O’Gorman said: “We went through a number of the local concerns that the TDs and senators raised, particularly in terms of transport for international protection applicants.
“We set out there would be a shuttle bus and addressed a number of issues.
“We said we were open to engagements and indeed meeting with a delegation of locals from the Inch community and that’s something we’d look to advance.”
However, he said he made clear that the accommodation “had to be used” in light of the pressure the system is currently under.
Mr O’Gorman said the blockade outside the centre in Co Clare is “entirely unacceptable”.
“People have the right to protest, people have the right to disagree with Government policy, but to prevent people accessing the accommodation that they have is not acceptable.”
The Minister would not be drawn on whether he would travel to Co Clare, but said he was open to an online discussion or a meeting of a delegation to address local concerns.
Approximately 480 asylum seekers have been left without accommodation due to a severe lack of housing supply in the State, resulting in some people sleeping in tents.
Mr O’Gorman said accommodation needed to be provided as there was a “risk inherent where people are sleeping under tents”.
Asked about reports that he had not used accommodation offered by Cabinet colleagues, Mr O’Gorman said: “Our department has accepted any offer of usable accommodation that we’ve received.
“We are using former barracks, we’re using refurbished office buildings, using former educational facilities, we’ll be using student accommodation, anything usable we’re using because we don’t want to see people on streets.”
He said his department had been provided with “very significant financial resources” but there were still hundreds of people without accommodation.
Mr O’Gorman said: “As long as that’s the case, you know, Government collectively needs to do more to address that.”
The Minister said the weekly number of international protection applications has “decreased quite significantly” since February.
Mr O’Gorman said: “You’re looking at around 170-180 per week now currently, which is still significant but significantly reduced to this time last year.”
Asked by reporters if the Government could “get ahead of the numbers”, he said the department would have other accommodation after the 350 beds announced this week.
Mr O’Gorman added: “I think the real reason that we, I suppose, ‘fell behind the curve’, as you described it, was because at the end of March a significant number of hotels ended contracts with the department as they indicated.
“And a lot of new accommodation we procured had to be used to accommodate people already in the system.
“So we brought on 5,000 international protection beds since January, but about 2,500 of those had to be used to re-accommodate people.”
He said he believed “significant strides” would be made in coming weeks.
Mr O’Gorman said a further 5,000 beds had been provided for Ukrainian refugees since January.
He said: “So since January, 10,000 additional beds have been delivered by our department and that’s through our own procurement, and through engaging with other Government departments as well.”
Earlier, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said finding accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees is “a collective endeavour” by the Government.
When asked whether Mr O’Gorman has the support he needs, Mr Martin said “yes”.